Oregon to use lifeline against USC for Pac-12 title
When the pandemic-delayed Pac-12 Conference football season started, Oregon and Southern California were the favorites to reach the title game.
The Ducks and No. 15 Trojans will indeed play for the Pac-12 championship on Friday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but not without some twists and one final unexpected turn.
The Ducks (3-2) finished second in the Pac-12’s North Division behind Washington, but a COVID-19 spike in the Huskies’ program knocked them out of the title game Monday morning. Oregon’s game with Washington last weekend was canceled.
That left South Division champion USC (5-0) to start tweaking its game plan Monday afternoon.
“We control what we control, and that’s us,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “We’re just happy to be in this opportunity, and we’re going to make the most of it. We’re going to have a great plan, and we’re going to execute that plan because we’re going to do the things that we do well.”
The Trojans, who rallied from an 18-point deficit to defeat rival UCLA 43-38 on Saturday, knew there was a possibility Washington might not be able to play. So Helton had his coaching staff prepare for the Huskies during the day and the Ducks at night.
USC’s first three opponents of the season — Arizona State, Arizona and Utah – were playing their 2020 openers when the Trojans lined up against them, so the team is used to having limited game film to study.
“Not knowing who we’re going to play, I think our coaches make it easy on us,” said USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, who has a conference-leading 36 receptions. “I think it’s harder on them than it is on us. They’re making the game plan, doing all the hard work. If we listen to our coaches and go out there and do what they say, I think we’ll be fine.”
St. Brown’s 8-yard touchdown reception with 16 seconds remaining capped the comeback against UCLA, the third time this season the Trojans have rallied to win in the final seconds.
The Ducks were on pace to win the division title until dropping their past two games on the road:41-38 to Oregon State and 21-17 to previously winless California. Oregon was No. 21 in the College Football Playoff rankings before its latest loss.
“I see a team that’s really trying. I see a coaching staff that’s working their tails off,” Ducks coach Mario Cristobal said. “We haven’t done good enough the last two weeks.”
Oregon’s Tyler Shough is the conference’s top-rated passer, having completed 91 of 143 passes for 1,389 yards and 11 touchdowns against four interceptions. USC’s Kedon Slovis has thrown for a league-best 1,601 yards and 15 TDs, including five Saturday. He is 149-of-212 passing on the season.
The Trojans might be without their leading rusher, Vavae Malepeai, who sprained his knee late against UCLA. Malepeai rushed for 110 yards and a touchdown in the rivalry game.
Just having a chance to play is good enough for the Trojans.
“Having come from not having a season at all to being in the Pac-12 championship is awesome,” St. Brown said.
–Field Level Media