USC powers past Oregon
LOS ANGELES — Southern California coach Clay Helton was afraid his team might look past struggling Oregon toward next week's marquee matchup against College Football Playoff contender Washington.
Fortunately for Helton, there were no such issues as Ronald Jones tied a school single-game record with four rushing touchdowns and the Trojans demolished Oregon 45-20 on Saturday.
"Now y'all can ask all the UDub questions you want," USC safety Chris Hawkins said.
Sam Darnold had 309 yards passing and two touchdowns with one interception, and Deontay Burnett had seven receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown to help propel USC (6-3, 5-2 Pac-12) to its first five-game winning streak since 2013.
After rushing for a career-high 223 yards in USC's win over California, Jones again feasted on one of the worst rushing defenses in college football. The sophomore exploded for a 66-yard touchdown run on the third play of the second half before picking up a fourth score early in the fourth quarter to match a mark last accomplished by LenDale White in 2005. Jones finished with 171 yards rushing on 20 carries.
"I hold my breath every time he touches it because I know there is a chance he can go all the way," Helton said. "Between himself and a very effective offensive line, they are doing some special things right now."
Freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, who tied school single-game records for touchdown passes and passing yards in his two previous starts, threw for 162 yards and one touchdown as Oregon (3-6, 1-5) was assured its first losing record in conference play since 2006. Pharaoh Brown caught a touchdown, while Charles Nelson had a touchdown run.
USC jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, scoring on each of its first three possessions. After settling for a 35-yard field goal by Matt Boermeester on the opening drive, Jones ripped through the middle of the Oregon defense on a 23-yard touchdown run.
Jones' second touchdown run was even more spectacular, bouncing outside for a 3-yard score after spinning free from twoOregon defensive linemen who immediately met him behind the line of scrimmage.
The Oregon defense then responded by forcing punts on USC's next three possessions, benefitting from several dropped passes and penalties by the Trojans. But Oregon's offense was unable to mount a similar resurgence, aside from a one-play touchdown drive after a short USC punt.
Nelson took an end around 25 yards into the end zone with 15 seconds left in the first quarter, but Aidan Schneider missed the extra point.
"Our guys rallied, but just didn't seize enough moments there early," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "As soon as you plugged one hole in the dike, another one opened up. Those guys are talented enough to make you pay for it."
Oregon went three-and-out on four of eight possessions in the first half, unable to consistently block the aggressive USC defense and gaining just 125 yards. The Ducks finished with just 85 yards rushing in the game, with Royce Freeman running for 38 yards.
Dakota Prukop rushed for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to extend Oregon's streak of games with at least 20 points to 39, the longest active mark in the FBS.
Burnett caught four passes for 42 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown, on USC's last drive of the half to extend the lead to 24-6. Tight end Taylor McNamara added a touchdown reception in the third quarter.
Helton did offer a brief initial scouting report on the Huskies, praising sophomore quarterback Jake Browning and coach Chris Petersen.
"It ought to be a lot of fun," Helton said. "We played our way into a really big game in November, and that's what you hope to do."
Oregon: The Ducks' streak of 11 straight bowl games is all but over. Oregon now needs to win its final three games to reach the six-win mark, but winning one game against resurgent Stanford, Pac-12 South challenger Utah or improving Oregon State would be a big ask of this flawed team.
USC: The Trojans are talented but temperamental. No one can doubt USC's athleticism across the board, but there are too many stretches where the offensive line misses blocks or the receivers drop passes. It will require a near-perfect performance to win in Seattle against a legitimate College Football Playoff contender next week.
Oregon: Hosts Stanford in a diminished edition of what had annually been the Pac-12 game of the year since the conference expanded in 2011.
USC: Travels to face Washington in what might be the Pac-12 game of the year.