If Lane Kiffin can get half the bounce out of similar circumstances that his predecessor and mentor did, the Trojans are poised for greatness.
USC withstood a furious fourth quarter charge by No. 4 Oregon for a 38-35 upset win Saturday night at Autzen Stadium in front of a beyond-capacity crowd of 59,933 to end the Ducks' 21 home game winning streak and 19 game conference winning streak.
"SC is back," wide receiver Robert Woods said. "That's all I got to say. SC is back."
Kicker Alejandro Maldonado hooked a would-be game-tying 37-yard field goal wide left as time expired to send the Trojans (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) back to Los Angeles with a win in the Beaver State for the first time since their 45-13 triumph over Oregon in 2005.
Quarterback Matt Barkley and running back Marc Tyler botched a handoff at the Oregon 11-yard line, which was recovered by defensive end Brandon Hanna. The Ducks (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) drove 66 yards in 15 plays, but ran down almost all of the 2:31 left on the clock, forcing them to settle for Maldonado's kick with five seconds left to play instead of trying for the end zone and a chance to escape with the win in regulation.
USC players were quick to credit the miss to their field goal block team, notably the presence of left tackle Matt Kalil, who has blocked four kicks this season.
Barkley admitted he was preparing for overtime as Maldonado missed.
"I was thinking offensive plays in overtime, but I was watching it," he said. "I really think after watching it that they were scared of Matt. His presence in the middle, I definitely think it affected his kick."
The junior quarterback turned in the signature performance of his career, completing 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns to put him in the thick of the muddled Heisman Trophy conversation.
"This was a defining game for us," Barkley said. "It's such a great moment right now."
He found freshman receiver Marqise Lee down the sideline for a 59-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter, setting the tone as Barkley would expose the Oregon secondary through the use of his top targets.
Lee finished with 187 yards on eight receptions, including an acrobatic 41-yard snag on an underthrown ball that could have been intercepted to set up a Tyler three-yard scoring run.
"Man, he did some crazy stuff for us," Tyler said.
Woods, who did not practice late in the week because of lingering elbow and shoulder injuries, had seven catches for 53 yards and two scores, both in the first half as USC opened up a 21-7 lead.
Barkley was also intercepted once by safety John Boyett in Oregon territory, setting up the Ducks final touchdown.
But the USC defense and special teams also chipped in with key plays. Defensive tackle George Uko, who started in place of an injured DaJohn Harris, forced running back LaMichael James to fumble as Oregon was positioned to score at the end of the second quarter. Safety Jawanza Starling fell on the loose ball, one of three empty red zone possessions for the high-powered blur spread offense.
James managed just 78 yards on 20 carries with a one-yard touchdown, while quarterback Darron Thomas was 23 of 35 for 265 yards and one touchdown.
Kenjon Barner added 123 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
Only freshman running back De'Anthony Thomas, the one-time USC commit from Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw, was able to provide Oregon's trademark explosive plays. The speedster scored on a 29-yard reception and 96-yard kickoff return, finishing with 214 all-purpose yards.
"They got a 4X100 track team in their backfield, you know," Harris said. "The best thing you can do is contain them [and] eliminate big plays."