LOS ANGELES — It did not take long for Oregon coach Chip Kelly — nor anybody watching his team play USC — to realize a good old fashioned shootout had broken out at the Coliseum in one of the biggest Pac-12 games of the year.
“Probably two minutes into it,” Kelly said of the Ducks’ 62-51 win to remain unbeaten. “We felt that if we could hold serve — that was a big if — and to answer if they answered (we would win). Then they answered and we answered.”
[Related: Chip Kelly postgame press conference]
Oregon’s offense set the tone from its opening drive, marching 75 yards in just 65 seconds when quarterback Marcus Mariota found De’Anthony Thomas over the middle for a touchdown. The Ducks racked up 14 points and 156 yards before even facing a 3rd down against USC’s defense. The Trojans, behind big plays from running back Silas Redd and wide receiver Marqise Lee, responded drive after drive and eventually cut the lead to three on their first possession of the second half.
“Oregon’s been doing this all year so we knew it was going to be a shootout like this,” said quarterback Matt Barkley, who finished with 484 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss. “We did leave points on the board, which is what I’m thinking about.”
The 51 points were the most in school history in a losing effort, one of several offensive records that fell Saturday night. Oregon set a school record with 720 yards of total offense and scored more points against USC than anyone in the program’s illustrious history. Lee’s 251 kick return yards were a new Pac-12 record, the second straight week in which he broke a conference mark — both losses.
Ducks running back Kenjon Barner was the key figure though, running over, around and through defenders for a school record 321 yards and five touchdowns.
“When we communicate and execute properly, it’s hard to stop us,” Barner said, deflecting much of the attention away to his teammates. “Tonight was just one of the nights where we were hitting on all cylinders and got the job done.”
[Related: Kenjon Barner postgame interview]
“He’s had an unbelievable impact on this team,” Kelly said of his star tailback. “He’s the one leader of that group that has embraced the role and our guys follow him. Not only does he talk about it, he lives it. He’s the same way every day in practice.”
Prior to the season, many outside of the program wondered if the Southern California native was ready to shoulder the load left by his predecessor LaMichael James. Sitting out most of the second half in nearly every game this season, there was still a lingering question as to whether he was ready to elevate his game to the level James did when it mattered most.
Consider that asked and emphatically answered by the senior with his performance on national television against a team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason.
“I told him before the game to take what they give you and (USC) gave him a lot,” said James after the game. “I’m happy that he broke that record. Any time your best friend can break your record, it means more.
“I think he’s the best player, singular, and deserves the Heisman.”
Barner certainly left an impression and has the numbers to make it to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Yet there are more pieces to Kelly’s offense than just the leading rusher. Thomas had a quiet night with just eight touches but is one of the most electric players in the country. Just a redshirt freshman, triggerman Marcus Mariota was close to perfect passing the ball (20-of-23, 304 yards, four touchdowns) as one could come and has already drawn rave reviews for how he operates as a pass-first quarterback with the running ability to keep defenses honest.
After all, he had 119 yards rushing.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself and these guys around me,” Mariota said. “It’s not easy at all. That was probably the best defensive team we’ve played all year. They’ve got guys that can come out on the line of scrimmage and make some plays.”
On a night when all three undefeated teams ahead of Oregon in the BCS standings (Alabama, Kansas State, Notre Dame) were in danger of losing, slashing a USC’s defense that came into the game in the top 25 in scoring against was perhaps the greatest statement the Ducks made on a crisp fall night to win their second straight at the Coliseum for the first time in school history. It was the program’s 12th straight time to score over 40 points in a game, tying a BCS-era record.
“Best team I’ve had? I don’t know,” said Kelly. “It doesn’t really matter, does it?”
When pressed by a reporter who opined that it was, in fact, Kelly’s best squad, the quick-witted coach responded, “We’ll agree to agree.”
Add James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, to that group: “Oregon can play with anybody out there.”
Perhaps, even, an NFL team?
“Oh yeah, definitely they could score.
It’s clear they do plenty on the college level.
[Related: Oregon vs. USC Highlights]