By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
EUGENE, Oregon -- Jeremiah Masoli is no doctor, but he seemed to dress up as one on national TV in Oregon's Halloween blowout of visiting USC at Autzen Stadium last night.
With surgical precision, the Ducks quarterback (pictured, right, scoring a first-quarter touchdown) carved up the Trojans defense for 386 total yards and a pair of touchdowns as the home team took control of the PAC 10 race and handed USC its biggest loss of the Pete Carroll era, 47-20.
Masoli passed for 222 yards and a score and ran for 164 more yards and another touchdown as Oregon outscored Southern Cal 23-3 in the second half and improved to 7-1 overall and 5-0 in the conference. The Ducks piled up 613 yards of total offense, including 391 rushing yards.
Redshirt freshman LaMichael James, who took over at running back for LeGarrette Blount after the Boise debacle, picked up 183 yards and a touchdown against a USC defense that was ranked fifth best against the run, allowing only 80 yards a game.
Masoli and James have been leading an offense that's probably playing better than anyone in the country, and Oregon's defense has been no slouch either. The Ducks Saturday night played aggressively and held the high-flying USC offense to 327 total yards.
"It was a real mess for us tonight," Pete Carroll told reporters after the game. "Oregon did everything that they wanted to do."
The Trojans fell to 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the PAC 10, beginning the month of November in fourth place in the conference they've ruled for so long.
On Wednesday, the Ducks concluded practice by running their two-minute offense. On just their second play during the drill, Masoli hit one of his receivers on a 60-yard catch-and-run play that resulted in a go-ahead touchdown. A few minutes later when Masoli spoke to reporters, he seemed more calm and confident than any player I've seen this year, answering questions thoroughly and sincerely and even sprinkled in a smile or two. It showed on Saturday night during a nationally televised game at Oregon's notoriously raucous stadium, on Halloween, against the seven-time defending PAC 10 champions.
"I was as relaxed as I've ever been in my career," Masoli told the Associated Press after the game. "Even me and LaMike (broke) a couple jokes every so often. It feels great."
The Ducks did seem to benefit from that two-minute workout, not because they they were at any point in a hurry and in desperate need of a late-game score, but because coach Chip Kelly and his offensive assistants dialed up a perfect quick-strike game plan that produced six scoring drives requiring no more than 3:02 for each.
Many felt prior to the game that a USC win would have given the one-loss Trojans much-needed BCS cred in a year when an unbeaten Texas appears headed to a championship-game clash with the winner of the SEC.
Those same observers probably weren't thinking the Ducks, ranked 10th in last week's BCS standings, were capable of dominating one of the sport's elite teams this decade. Oregon has won its share of big games in recent years, but hasn't been able to keep its foot on the gas and finish the season with sustained success. Or in the case of 2007, when quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon led the Ducks to a defeat of USC but later went down with a season-ending injury.
But now that Oregon seems to be playing lights-out and is focused, healthy, well-coached and recovered from the season-opening fiasco at Boise State, the Ducks should without question be in that title-game conversation. If I had a vote, I'd have no problem at all ranking them ahead of the Broncos, and I'd say confidently that if the teams met again today Oregon would handle Boise State.