In a season that for many reasons will not be recalled fondly, the Oregon Ducks successfully defended their Pac-12 conference crown with a 31-24 win over the USC Trojans Friday evening in Los Angeles.
The door to the repeat opened when the Washington Huskies fell victim to the Covid protocols for the second week and was unable to field 53 scholarship players as required by conference rules.
Unable to settle the northern division title between themselves the week before, the Ducks found themselves in the fabled Los Angeles Coliseum facing the 13th-ranked Trojans for the big trophy despite having dropped their last two games.
Opportunity taken is the fuel of champions and that exactly what Oregon did from the start, forcing two turnovers defensively on USC’s first two possessions and cashing both in for touchdowns to jump out to a 14-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Deommodore Lenoir picked of USC quarterback Kedon Slovis’ third down pass and returned the ball to the Trojan nine-yard line to set the Ducks up early.
On 3rd and goal from the USC two-yard line back-up quarterback Anthony Brown made his first appearance in an Oregon uniform and promptly connected with Jaylon Redd for the Ducks first score.
After an exchange of punts, Oregon’s defense struck again with Jamal Hill picking Slovis to give the Ducks possession at the Trojan 32-yard line. Travis Dye picked up four and then fourteen on the ground then Tyler Shough found tight end Hunter Kampmoyer for the 14-yard pitch and catch.
The Trojans answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive to halve the lead but would get no closer.
The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter to end the half with the Ducks in front 21-14.
Having deferred their decision after winning the opening coin toss, Oregon took the opening possession of the second half 83 yards in 14 plays to double up the margin once again 28-14, and once again back-up quarterback Brown capped the drive with a touchdown pass, this to Dye out of the backfield from the four.
Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat had been the story of the Trojans undefeated season but there would be no fourth quarter magic this time.
Having narrowed the deficit to seven at 31-24 with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth, the Trojans were driving for the tying score only to be stopped cold by Hill’s acrobatic interception of Slovis’ pass at the Oregon 31, allowing the offense to mostly run out the clock and seal a second straight conference title for the Ducks.
The win is the sixth in the last eight tries against USC and the fourth of the last five in LA. Since incorporating divisional play and a conference championship game, the northern division has won nine of the 10 contest with the Ducks now owners of a record four of those championships.
While the history books will require a thousand asterisks to fully document the 2020 campaign, the Ducks will own the conference championship for at least another year.
~ Rick Morgan