"Credit SC they are a good football team," said Oregon Head Coach Mike Bellotti. "They did what they needed to do."
USC quarterback Carson Palmer had waited four years to finally beat the Ducks and he did so at the tune of 448 yards from 31 completions on 41 attempts and five touchdowns. Palmer was 12 for 14 in the third quarter and racked up 133 yards and two TDs. The senior signal caller for USC was able to find freshman Mike Williams who ended up the day with 13 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns. The Ducks who had led at halftime 19-14 appeared to have no answers for Palmer and Williams in the third quarter and to make matters worse for Oregon, SC running back Justin Vargas also contributed 75 of his 139 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. Oregon on the other hand was only able to make one first down in the entire third quarter and gained only 18 yards in total for the third quarter.
"(Oregon) didn't play a very good third quarter," said Bellotti. "Which is an obvious understatement."
Jason Fife finished the afternoon with 336 yards on 30 for 45 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, 155 of those yards and the two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter against USC's backups and when the fate of the game was well determined. Onterrio Smith was held short of a 100 yards rushing for the first time this season. Smith ended the game with 79 yards on 19 carries and no touchdowns. Keenan Howry was the leading receiver for the Ducks with 147 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns. Howry extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one catch to 43. The Ducks were off balance in the third quarter both on offense and defense. Defensively, the Ducks appeared to be playing on their heels while on offense Oregon looked like they were trying to tip-toe through a mind field while blind folded. Going into halftime the Ducks should have felt very confident about the game and seemed to have plenty of enthusiasm coming back out onto the field for the second half. However once play started, the game quickly deteriorated and USC scored on all of their possession in the third quarter.
"The results obviously say that I've got to look at how we prepare for that quarter (third)," said Bellotti.
One of the few bright spots for the Ducks against USC was the play of special teams and kicker Jared Siegel in particular. Siegel was 4-for-4 in field goals with kicks of 44, 41, 48 and 31 yards. The Ducks also managed to block a field goal attempt and a point after. Smith and Allan Amundson had success returning kickoffs, but the offense was unable to capitalize on the good field position.
"We can't trade field goals for touchdowns," remarked Bellotti candidly.
The Oregon cornerbacks were tested again by Palmer, but on Saturday, USC was able to connect on underneath or short patterns and rely on their receivers the run after the catch. Oregon continually switched defensive packages but the final results were much the same as had been in the last two weeks. Oregon gave up over 500 yards passing to Arizona State and 317 yards to UCLA. Despite the numbers given up, Bellotti defended his young cornerbacks that have had to step in and replace two players that have gone on the NFL from last year's squad.
"We are playing some people that need to mature and get better," said Bellotti. "I think they have the physical talents and mental attributes to play."
All season long the Oregon coaching staff has preached to the team to play with enthusiasm and with great determination. Bellotti was not panicky about what was necessary for his team to improve for the rest of the season.
"The reality is we have to play hard and fast," said Bellotti.
The players echoed their coach and felt that concentrating on the little skills that make up the bigger picture will solve the problem on winning football games.
"What we want to worry about next week is play a full four quarters," said Fife. "When we get a drive going, don't kick field goals make sure when we are in the red-zone (within the 20 yard line) we are scoring."
Defensively, Oregon needs to be able to slow down the opponents passing attacks and in order to do so they must play with not only their skills but also their hearts and courage. As Bellotti indicated the players have the talent and mental ability to play the game now they must work on the intangibles of the game.
"It's making plays," said junior linebacker Kevin Mitchell. "That's what it comes down to, you're going to want to have the heart and desire to go out there and make a stop."
Oregon falls to 6-2, (2-2 Pac-10) while USC improves to 6-2 (4-1 Pac-10). The Ducks face Stanford next Saturday at Autzen Stadium with kickoff scheduled for 12:30 p.m.