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DUCKS NOTES: Defense knew it was in for a fight at USC

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Josh Huff, hauling in a touchdown catch at USC, says it was fun to have so much offensive balance in a game won by Oregon 62-51.Oregon forced three turnovers against USC, including Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's interception of Matt Barkley in the end zone.

The Ducks forced a USC punt in the second half, and the offense scored at the other end to pretty much put an end to the Trojans' comeback hopes.

That was pretty much the extent of UO's defensive highlights in their epic 62-51 win at USC.

Despite Oregon's monster night, the Trojans produced 615 yards offense, with Matt Barkley (35 of 54 for 484 yards and five scores), Marqise Lee (12 catches, 157 yards, two scores; 251 yards on eight kickoff returns), Nelson Agholor (six catches, 162 yards, TD), Robert Woods (six catches, 71 yards, TD) and running back Silas Redd (18 carries, 92 yards, two TDs) making the USC offense go.

In any other game, 615 yards and 51 points would probably have been enough to beat the opponent — just not against the Ducks on Nov. 3, 2012.

"When you give up that many yards, it's hard to feel good about too many things," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti says. "But, we won the game."

College football observers — remember, it's an opinion-driven sport — might say the Trojans exposed the Ducks' defense.

Says Aliotti: "I don't really care, because we're 9-0." And the Trojans' offensive personnel are pretty darn good, he adds.

•Â Ekpre-Olomu defended Lee one-on-one much of the night. He got beat, but he also had the key interception. And, he almost intercepted Barkley on third down before the pivotal second-half USC punt.

"Being a competitor, you want to play against the best people," he says. "We played against one of the best receivers in the country. Great player. I thought we played good against him. ... He's just always finding some way to get open, especially in zone coverages. He's able to get to those safeties, get on their feet, break their cushion and project the deep route, that's why he gets that short, underneath stuff."

Lee also abused safety Brian Jackson on a beautiful 75-yard TD reception, and Agholor beat Terrance Mitchell and safety Avery Patterson on his 76-yard TD reception.

"(Lee) just made a move and got himself into space. It was frustrating, being put in such a tough position," Jackson says. "When I have to cover three-fourths of the field with him, and with another (Trojan) coming at me, it's a tough play. I felt like I could have made a play on the ball, but Barkley threw that ball so far, only (Lee) could get to it. That's what made it such a special play."

Adds Jackson: "At the end of the day, it's all about getting the win. They hit us with their best shot. We knew we were in for a fight."

•Â The USC offensive line played well for its skill players. Adds linebacker Michael Clay: "I think we played hard all four quarters. They have spectacular athletes that make spectacular plays. It was what we expected, a dogfight."

•Â And, remember: The Ducks could see the Trojans again at Autzen Stadium in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Trojans beat Arizona State and UCLA, they'll be the South Division representative. Of course, the Ducks have to beat Cal, Stanford and Oregon State for the North title.

• It helped having Dion Jordan (shoulder) and Kiko Alonso (wrist) playing in the game, Clay says.

"Everyone's comfortable with them," he says. "They're senior leaders, great players. You want to keep them on the field as much as possible."

Alonso had an interception and led the Ducks with 10 tackles, while being one of the primary pressure players on Barkley (the Ducks sacked him only once).

"Kiko Alonso played an unbelievable game for us," coach Chip Kelly says.

Defensive linemen Wade Keliikipi and Ricky Heimuli appeared to be hurt during the USC game.

• Kenjon Barner, who has 1,295 yards rushing and 20 TDs with five games potentially remaining, climbed past Jonathan Stewart and into third on UO's all-time rushing list with 3,151 yards. He also moved into third in all-time scoring (282), and second in all-time all-purpose yardage (5,304).

Barner's school-record 321 yards came on 38 carries against USC.

"I don't know if he was getting stronger or they were getting worn down," Kelly says. "It's a combination of the two. Kenjon is really conditioned and understands that he could be called on for an entire game. The way he's practiced and prepared, he's built to do that."

• The Ducks tied the BCS-era record for most consecutive games with 40 or more points — 12, sharing it with Texas (2004-05).

• The Ducks moved up to third in the BCS standings behind Alabama and Kansas State, and held steady at No. 2 in polls behind the Crimson Tide.

Is Oregon the best team in the country?

" I feel like we're the best team in the country on any night," Barner says. "If you don't feel like that about your team, why are you part of the team?"

Adds QB Marcus Mariota: "That's for outside opinions. We want to continue to get better every day. Continue to compare against ourselves. We don't want to compare ourselves to anybody else. We want to compare ourselves to our former selves."

• It deserves another mention. Beyond the school-record 730 yards offense and Barner's school-record 321 yards rushing, the most impressive thing about UO's game Saturday:

The Ducks' first eight touchdown drives went 75, 75, 80, 88, 81, 75, 74 and 85 yards. That's an AVERAGE of 79.2 yards on eight scoring drives. Soak up that information, folks. That never happens against really bad teams; usually, a turnover or big kickoff return or something provides some better field position. Eight scoring drives averaging 79.2 yards? Unbelievable.

The ninth UO touchdown came after a USC failed fourth-down conversion, a measly 20-yard drive.

• Mariota was terrific, going 20 of 23 for 304 yards passing and rushing 15 times for 119 yards (96 yards officially, counting three sacks).

Starting on the first drive, he found guys open downfield, particularly Josh Huff, who caught six balls for 125 yards and two scores. Colt Lyerla and De'Anthony Thomas also had receiving touchdowns. The Ducks often lined up with four receivers, as USC stacked the box to stop the run.

"It was fun to throw the ball, a lot of fun," Mariota says. "Get Josh some looks — we're going to continue to find ways to get him the ball, and De'Anthony and Kenjon. We have so many guys that can really take it all the way, it's a fun offense to play in. I'm excited to play (Cal)."

Of his performance, he adds: "I have a lot of confidence in myself. The guys around me show they have confidence in me."

Adds Kelly of his redshirt freshman QB: "Very efficient, real intelligent. Playing like we expected him to play."

Huff's 125 yards was a career-high, which helped UO's great offensive balance.

"We've been having balance throughout the whole season," he says. "This particular game, we saw a way to make the game a lot more ... fun. Not saying it hasn't been fun getting the ball outside, but it makes the game a lot more fun when you have a balanced attack."

• Mariota ran smack into USC linebacker Hayes Pullard on a second-quarter play, and he could be seen nursing his shoulder (with training staff help) on the sideline, and even playfully throwing left-handed just before the third quarter. But he played fine, in pain or not.

It's a scary proposition, Mariota getting injured, or Barner. Those are Oregon's two most valuable players who cannot be lost to injury.

"I got hit a pretty good one," Mariota says. "I got up. I felt a little sore afterward. I was fine."

• Other than the fantastic punt return and touchdown against Colorado, De'Anthony Thomas' highlight tally has really slowed in the six Pac-12 games. Against USC, back in his neighborhood (he played at Crenshaw High), Thomas had three carries for nine net yards, five receptions for 59 yards (and a touchdown) and three kickoff returns for 68 yards.

Still, he carried a paddle in his hands — yes, a paddle — a token of team pride given to a player each week.

"I practiced hard and being there for my team and just having fun," says Thomas, on why he earned the paddle.

Of the win, he added after the game: "We just came here as men of Oregon, got the job done. God bless the offense and our defense for staying in there and holding them back ... It's a great feeling. Now we'll see who our next opponent is and continue to be the team to beat." Memo to De'Anthony: The next team is Cal.

• The Cal game, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at revamped Memorial Stadium, was set to be a challenge for the Ducks — until the Bears (3-7, 2-5) displayed such inconsistency, then lost receiver Keenan Allen and QB Zach Maynard to injuries. Junior Allan Bridgford has replaced Maynard. The two running backs, C.J. Anderson and Iso Sofele, appear to be healthy.

The Bears lost to Nevada, played well but lost 35-28 at Ohio State, thumped UCLA 43-17 and take a three-game losing streak into the UO game (losing to Stanford, Utah and Washington).

"But they still have talented players," Kelly says.

Brennan Scarlett, ex-Central Catholic High star, plays linebacker.

"You've got to prepare for everybody like it's a big game," Kelly says, "and that's what we're going to do."

Coming back to earth after the big USC win won't be difficult, he adds.

"These kids understand what this is all about," he says. "We still have three regular-season games to do. It's a 'what-have-you-done-for-me-lately' in college football."