EUGENE, Ore. -- In the end, it didn't matter. None of it.
Not the bad week of preparation, as it turned out. Not the inability to stay disciplined. Not the lack of poise to stay penalty free. Not the failure to be able to play fast. Not the drops and missed tackles. Not the miscommunications and the missed calls. Not the missed teammates out for the season with injuries.
Not the 12 penalties for 124 yards. Not the three fumbles. Not the dozens of arm tackles. Not the dozen or so blown coverages.
None of it.
Nope, the Trojans, several of them smiling and jostling to be in the onfield photo afterwards with fellow Pasadenan Vernon Adams Jr. after his record-setting torching of USC (six touchdown passes, 20 of 25 passing for 407 yards), live to fight another day.
If they have any fight left in them, that is. This was bad football played by, on this day, a bad football team.
"God granted us a gift," is how Chris Hawkins described it after admitting as much as he "hated to say it," he was rooting "for the other team across town," to beat Utah.
Which the Bruins did, setting up the Pac-12 South title game Saturday at the Coliseum between a pair of three-loss teams.
UCLA fans were jumping off bridges a week ago when their guys lost at home at the buzzer to Washington State. USC fans are following suit today after the 48-28 loss to an impressive Oregon team (8-3, 6-2 in the Pac-12) that keeps improving while the Trojans are stuck in abject mediocrity despite coming in here with a four-game win streak and a No. 23 ranking coming in here.
Now they get to see which team's season will be less disheartening when the LA schools meet at the Coliseum.
And we'll see if this is the very end -- or was -- for Clay Helton's quest to remove the "interim" from his title and take over this team. This last week won't help.
"A great week of practice," is how Helton described it, losing for the second time in six games over two seasons as USC interim coach. "It didn't carry over to today."
Which is what they pay you to do in this business. You have to be able to connect what you do in practice to what happens on Saturday. "That's my job," Helton said.
"Against that team, you can't beat yourself . . . We've got a lot to get corrected in a short amount of time.
Although that may not be fair. This has been five years in the making thanks to the misguided hiring of two completely unqualified coaches, as football people and people people, in the face of the ridiculous NCAA sanctions.
So now what. Listen to Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. "They (USC) are just so talented. A couple times we got lucky, but we responded. We always respond the right way. We learned what happens when you line drive it down the middle to Adoree' Jackson, who is a phenomenal player. Just a huge win."
It was for Adams, the graduate student transfer from Eastern Washington who became eligible in August. “I was a big USC fan growing up, being from that area," Adams said. "It is an awesome feeling . . . It is a great feeling.”
And this postgame era of good feeling didn't end there when Adams talked of his USC buds like Kevon Seymour and Steven Mitchell Jr. : “They didn’t really talk trash. They told me to stay still so they could get to me. They are friends that I grew up with. After they game we were able to talk and take pictures, so it was fun.”
Fun for some. Not for all. USC secondary coach Keith Heyward was clearly perturbed by his players' failure to execute. "We have to cover better, it's one on one, you and me," Heyward said. "If you have to cover 10 seconds, you cover 10 seconds . . . you have to do your job."
USC didn't. "We've got to fix it," Heyward said.
And yet, as badly as they'd played, here were the Trojans, after two straight scores and three straight stops, with the ball at their own 26, down just 38-28. And with 13 minutes left to make up the 10 points.
But the snap was low and to the right. Cody fielded it, like he usually does, tracking it down like a shortstop and headed to get out of the pocket so he could throw it away. Only he didn't make it.“I picked it up and tried to scramble," Cody said. "I didn’t want to put us in a deeper position for third down. I was trying to get outside the pocket so I could throw it away and get us to the next play and I obviously didn’t see the guy coming from behind."
That was Arrion Springs, without a sack in his career until that play. "That sack was huge," Helfrich said as DeForest Buckner fell on it and the Ducks scored on the next play a 26-yard Adams TD pass to safety/wide receiver Charles Nelson. It was 45-28 and it was over.
Only if you listen to the USC guys, it's not over. There's next week. But as much as they tried to talk it up, they would end up sounding like Kessler here: "It’s unfortunate. There are so many plays and so many opportunities we had today, whether it was a penalty, or a missed assignment, or that we just didn’t make our play. We had that all day."
But they had Cody getting sacked (five times) and hurried and hit countless others. as he completed 30 of 41 for 238 yards and two touchdowns. Not bad. But on this day, not nearly enough.
USC ran the ball for 181 yards with Justin Davis' career-high 141 on 16 carries. Didn't matter. No one will remember it on a day when USC got smoked.
And when they continued to shoot themselves in the foot like when they came up short on third down but had fourth down and less than a yard before a late personal foul on Chad Wheeler set them back 15 and instead of fourth and short, it's fourth and 16. And no credit to Oregon. That was all on USC.
"That's unacceptable," USC O-line coach Bob Connelly said. "You've got to be more selfless." It's about your teammates.
And on another day, it might have been about Adoree' getting his first punt return TD of the season, the one he's been thinking about. Just an afterthought, as it turned out. That made it 38-28 at the time but it won't be much remembered. Even if it impressed Helfrich.
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