Final Thoughts: USC-Oregon

That was the win that USC had been waiting for. It's impossible to simulate the emotion of a signature win. It can only be felt by getting a big win, which is exactly what the Trojans got on Saturday.

The Oregon Ducks have been the top team in the conference for the past two seasons and seemed to be playing their best football of this season recently. The game was at Autzen Stadium -- a venue that is as loud as any in the country and one which has not been kind to the Trojans.

This USC team went into the game feeling good about themselves too. It was also playing its best football of the season, but after a couple seasons of rough sledding there was still doubt as to how far back the program had come. In order to truly prove that the transformation was complete, the Trojans needed to come away with a win in this game, under these circumstances. And that’s exactly what they did.

Now there will be talk about where this win puts USC in the national landscape. There will be speculation about the futures of Matt Barkley and Matt Kalil and others who will have NFL options to consider. There will also be preparation for one more opponent, as the Trojans have a game this upcoming Saturday against crosstown rival UCLA with a chance to knock the Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game.

Before getting to all that, let’s recognize this victory for the important milestone that it represents. These recent seasons have been uncharted waters for the Trojans, and there was no certainty of how long the problems would last. The games leading into Oregon showed signs of promise -- Lane Kiffin talked about the storm clouds disappearing -- but there was still the need to completely prove it to themselves and leave no doubt.

Now the Trojans know they are back. They can feel it. This was not a fluke win -- it was a win built on a solid foundation. This team may not be able to go to a bowl game, but it knows exactly where it stands.

Extra Points

Hayes Pullard had a tremendous night with 14 total tackles, 12 of them solo. He also added a forced fumble and two sacks. Pullard was all over the place, preventing the Oregon run game from getting started. And with Dion Bailey banged up the past two weeks, Pullard has smoothly stepped into the lead role for the defense when it really needed it.

Kudos to the USC offensive line for keeping the pressure off Barkley. The Ducks came into the game with 32 sacks while giving up only seven. They only got to Barkley once while the Trojans sacked Darron Thomas three times.

That intentional grounding call was a strange one. Shouldn’t there be a way for the replay booth to overturn such an obvious incorrect call?

The two Oregon turnovers in the first half were critical. The first Barkley fumble looked like trouble because of the quick-strike ability of the Oregon offense from close range. To have the Ducks give the ball back on a backwards pass was a real gift. Then George Uko came up with a monster play when he caused the LaMichael James fumble inside the USC 10-yard line at the end of the first half. It so important for the Trojans to go into halftime with that 14-point lead, as an Oregon score would have ended the half on a down note.

Another game, another huge special teams play for the Trojans. This time, it was the blocked punt by T.J. McDonald in the third quarter. That block gave USC the ball at the Oregon 12, and the resulting field goal from Andre Heidari proved to be the scoring difference in the game.

As for Heidari, his tackle of De’Anthony Thomas was the second straight week that a USC special teams kicker has made an impressive athletic play. Thomas is not an easy man to bring down, but Heidari really made an amazing effort to go low and make the play.

The move of Ross Cumming to fullback has not only coincided with the success of the USC ground game, but it also allows the Trojans to use Rhett Ellison as a tight end in a two-tight end set. It was really noticeable Saturday, as Cumming was the lead blocker in several critical run situations. Cumming is also the one who returned the blocked McDonald 17 yards.

Curtis McNeal responded once again with a solid performance -- 20 carries for 94 yards on a night when the Trojans needed to maintain offensive balance. Let’s not forget Marc Tyler too. He did have a bad fumble late on a missed exchange with Matt Barkley, but he also ran hard with 12 tough carries for 49 yards and a touchdown.

This game was notable for Lane Kiffin and his coaching rivalry with Chip Kelly. Kiffin is obviously known for his offensive prowess, as is Kelly. Kiffin stood toe-to-toe with Kelly last night and matched him in almost every offensive category. Oregon had the slight edge in first downs (26 to 23) and total yards (474 to 462). The teams were basically even in third down conversions – 7 of 13 for USC compared to 9 of 17 for the Ducks – while the Trojans handily won the time of possession battle, 36:27 to 23:33.