Four. That’s the number of gifts the USC football team handed to Pac-12 Conference rival Oregon on Saturday. Because of their giveaway generosity, the Trojans are now looking up to Utah in the chase to win the Pac-12 Conference South Division.
USC had also better keep a side-eyed look at UCLA, who is now tied with the Trojans for second place in the division. The Trojans are now scrambling to salvage their season because of one thing they consistently did wrong: turn the ball over. Those doggone turnovers. They will come back and bite you in the rear end every time.
Turnovers can have the impact of drastically changing the outcome of a game or a season like nothing else on a football field. The USC football team got hit square in the mouth with that harsh reality in their 56-24 defeat to No. 7 Oregon.
If you missed the first half of the USC-Oregon football game and turned on your television set during intermission and saw that the scoreboard was paying it forward with the Ducks commanding a 28-17 lead, you would have thought that the visitors from up North were running wild at United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
That would have been an incorrect assumption. The USC defense had Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert and the rest of the Ducks on lockdown for the first two quarters, giving up just 113 yards in total for the first half. The Trojans dominated both sides of the ball and fueled aspirations of a possible upset of the Ducks.
USC controlled the clock on offense, holding onto the ball a little more than nine minutes outside of what the Ducks had to operate with (19:36-10:18). The Trojans were a lot more efficient at moving the chains for first downs (19-11) and held a 211-113 advantage in total yards of offense.
So, the question becomes why were the Trojans staring down the barrel of a double-digit deficit after all of that? It’s pretty simple: The Trojans were too busy playing Santa Claus on the first weekend of November.
“You can’t make mistakes like that against a top 10 team,” USC running back Christian Rector said after the game. “It’ll definitely cause you to lose games and that’s what happened.”
By most accounts when a team surrenders only 113 yards in total offense-that unit is doing a pretty darn good job defending their turf on the defensive end. The Trojans were more than holding their own against Herbert and his Oregon teammates. Sometimes, though, unmitigated circumstances can change the course of everything.
For USC, those unforeseen happenings would come in the form of the momentum-swinging plays department. There were five of those immeasurable moments to be exact during the first 30 minutes of action that flipped the script against USC.
To the dismay of USC coach Clay Helton, the Trojans turned the ball over three times in the first half and surrendered a lights-out 100-yard kickoff return by Oregon’s MyKael Wright with just 20 ticks left in the second quarter. Wright’s touchdown was the knockout punch that leveled USC for the rest of the game. The Trojans just couldn’t recover from that hit.
“We started off the game really well with pressure and stopping the run,” Rector said. “Turnovers and non-offensive touchdowns hurt us.”
Two killer picks thrown by quarterback Kedon Slovis and a fumble committed by the freshman signal-caller led to 21 Oregon points in the first half. It was the last two mishaps by Slovis that effectively turned the game upside down for the Trojans. That fumble that Slovis coughed up came at the most inopportune time as the Trojans were looking to build on a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
Instead of getting more points, the Trojans got nothing with Slovis getting a mouthful of Coliseum turf after being smacked by a blindside hit, forcing him to give up the ball. Oregon kindly thanked Slovis and the Trojans for their miscue by driving 92 yards on nine plays, capped off by a short touchdown run by Jaylor Redd, which put the Ducks in the lead for good.
Then before the Trojans could blink, Slovis connected with Oregon defensive back Brady Breeze for a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. In a matter of minutes, the momentum shifted from being in USC’s favor and on the side of Oregon.
That’s the thing with favor. Sometimes it’s fair Sometimes it is not, and it was quickly leaving the Trojans’ sidelines by this point. Slovis and USC looked like they had gotten their mojo back when Michael Pittman hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left on the clock in the second period, allowing the Trojans to slice into Oregon’s lead (21-7).
But as fate would have it, Oregon stung the Trojans once more before halftime. Wright would do the honors, thanks to his stunning kickoff return that was pretty much the final kick in the Trojans’ collective guts. Oregon scored two touchdowns apiece in the third and fourth quarters, respectively, and methodically ripped apart USC upset thoughts.
The Trojans are now left with what could have been, what should have been, and an uncertain immediate future. They’re now is winning the remaining three games on their schedule, including a crosstown matchup against UCLA, to have a remote possibility of winning the Pac-12 Conference South Division.
For USC players, this means that they have to quickly get over their Oregon humiliation.
“The real world doesn’t care about your feelings,” Helton said. “It wants you to get up and go get the next one. “It’s on us. We beat ourselves with the mistakes that we made tonight,”
Dennis is editor and publisher of News4usonline. A news and sports reporter, Dennis has written about civil rights, education, government, crime, and social justice. Dennis covers the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, and NCAA. He is a graduate of Howard University. HU!!