Defensive Meltdowns Spell Duck Defeat

In a game rife with big time implications for the No. 4 Oregon Ducks, key blunders on defense and terrific offensive execution by USC quarterback Matt Barkley and the Trojans snapped Oregon's 21 game winning streak at home and dashed potential BCS National Championship aspirations for the Ducks.

(PHOTO) Oregon Ducks free safety John Boyett (20) closes in on Southern California Trojans wide receiver Marqise Lee (9) after a pass reception during the first half at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Z. Rider

"We just got beat."

Indeed, that's all that can be said about the punch to the gut delivered to Oregon by a game USC Trojan football team with nothing to lose. Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti's simple and concise explanation seemed to sum everything up perfectly.

8-2 and bowl ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, the No. 18 USC Trojans strolled in to town and effectively crashed what was supposed to be a wild party in Eugene commencing the Ducks' rebirth as national title contenders.

Blame USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley and true freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee for being the Buzz Killingtons.

In the Trojans' 38-35 win, Barkley and Lee put on a display inside Autzen in front of a national audience and the watchful eye of NBA superstars LeBron James, Chris Paul and others that won't soon be forgotten.

"I thought Matt was outstanding," said Oregon head coach Chip Kelly of Barkley. "A couple of those deep balls he threw were right on target.

"It always seemed like he had an answer."

Barkley was all that and then some, shredding the Oregon secondary throughout the game to the tune of 323 yards and four touchdowns, mounting a seemingly in surmountable 38-14 lead late in the third quarter that wasn't answered by the Ducks until late in the game.

"(Barkley)'s the top quarterback that we've face this year in a game situation," stated Kelly. "I'm not talking the course of the season who's better or who's not...I'm saying in this game, that's the best a quarterback has played against us."

The brilliance of Barkley shouldn't be overstated, however. Lee and sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods played integral roles in knocking off of the Ducks Saturday night. Particularly Lee, who in his first game inside the hostile confines of Autzen Stadium, torched the Ducks for 8 receptions for 187 yards and one touchdown; appearing completely unphased on a huge stage.

"I was just focused on making plays for our offense," remarked Lee. "Robert not playing (as much) was a big deal. We had the opportunity to step up."

Time after time, Lee was on the receiving end of a key Barkley throw that either set up a USC score or extended a drive to keep the Oregon offense chilling on the sideline. On a handful of occasions, redshirt freshman cornerback Troy Hill was victimized by Lee, who had maybe his most impressive outing as a collegian.

"He's a good player, I'll give credit to him," said Hill. "(But) I think it was more about my end...My mistakes and not being as focused as I should have been coming out.

"I let my emotions get to me more than my focus out there."

Aliotti seemed to agree to a certain degree, as often times, Lee and other Trojan receivers capitalized on defensive backs failing to make relative makable plays.

"There was some times when we had a chance (to make plays)," said Aliotti. "You can't blame it on any one thing.

"They were able to throw the ball and they were able to run the ball. That's just the way it was."

Arguably the most noticeable thing lacking concerning the Oregon defense was the absence of a pass rush, something the Ducks have prided themselves on creating all season long. Senior linebacker Dewitt Stuckey and junior defensive end Dion Jordan missed much of the game with undisclosed injuries, hamstringing Aliotti's ability to rotate fresh bodies. That, however, wasn't an excuse for the performance of the defense in the eyes of Aliotti.

"Any time you lose two good football players like that, it's tough," said Aliotti. "But that's not the reason we lost...we didn't play good enough defense."

The Ducks now will join the many who will wonder what could have been if the Ducks had knocked off USC and continued their winning ways against Oregon State and a possible opponent from the Pac-12 South in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship. Entering Saturday, the chips were laid out on the table and the Ducks knew what needed to be done to get back in to the national title discussion. With No. 2 Oklahoma State falling to Iowa State on Friday, it's natural to ponder whether the Ducks let that creep in to their minds.

According to sophomore wide receiver Josh Huff, signs his team was letting its guard down revealed itself hours before kickoff.

"We weren't mentally ready," said Huff. "We just thought we were going to come in against USC and just run over them...Our players were running around in the hallways (after Oklahoma State went down last night).

"I was laying in bed and I was really upset with them because we had a big game today. We were acting like we weren't ready for it."

Ready or not, Oregon State comes calling next week in the 115th installment of the Civil War. The Ducks still are in play for their third consecutive Pac-12 title should they beat the Beavers and win the Pac-12 Championship game the following week, as well as a third consecutive BCS bowl appearance in as many seasons. Yet, as much as there is to still be achieved, the sting of bitter loss will undoubtedly linger.

"It's going to hurt for a while," admitted Aliotti. "The losses really hurt more than they did way back when, but our kids will bounce back.

"We've got to sharpen the spear all the way up until Friday and play another game (next) Saturday."

Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney

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