Oregon St. got out-athleted and out-coached by USC Saturday night losing going away by a 35-10 score. It was the 23rd consecutive Trojan win over the Beavers in games played in the LA Coliseum, where Oregon St. last won in 1960. It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise; indeed it was remarkably similar in ways to much of the streak, where the average score was 37-12 over the prior 22 games. So while this edition was slightly lower scoring, it was right on track as far as blowout margin of more than 3 touchdowns.
It wasn't apparent that the historically accurate impending outcome was coming early on, even when Oregon St. quarterback Sean Mannion under-estimated USC safety Su'a Cravens' speed on a short pass into the flat that would have been a nice completion in any of the Beavers' prior 3 non-conference contests, as Cravens sprinted out of soft coverage for a 31 yard pick 6 not quite 10 minutes into the game for the first score of the evening.
The reason was one of the best plays of this or any season, by a Beaver or anyone else, when Ryan Murphy took the ensuing kickoff back 97 yards for the equalizing touchdown.
It was a return that was sprung by a great block by Chris Brown, featured good vision and cutting ability by Murphy, and showcases both speed and strength, as Murphy broke a tackle by Gerald Bowman, below, to finish off the best play of the game by the Beavers.
The latest ridiculous post-touchdown penalty that led to USC starting their next drive all the way out at their 41 yard line could have taken the luster off the game tieing runback, but a Dylan Wynn sack from the DT spot, not his normal DE position solved the problem.
After another ineffective Oregon St. drive, which was at once already becoming a common occurrence and an indicator of things to come, Murphy almost went from hero of the game to goat, missing a tackle on USC's Nelson Agholor on a punt return that would have pinned the Trojans deep in their own territory.
But a big hit by Brown, who had a strong game on special teams, and a big pass breakup by Larry Scott cleaned up that problem, and the first quarter ended still a 7-7 game.
Oregon St. only mounted 2 meaningful drives all evening against the USC defense, and both came in the second quarter. Unfortunately for the Beavers, both also ended in frustrating fashion, and produced only 3 points.
The first one quickly put Oregon St. in scoring position, starting with a 30 yard Mannion completion to Richard Mullaney, who shifted to Flanker from Split End in place of Victor Bolden, who missed the game with a dislocated small finger on his right hand suffered in last week's Oregon St. win over San Diego St.
Terron Ward took the ball across midfield, and then another completion to Mullaney and a defensive holding penalty had Beaver Nation believing they might seize control of the game.
But Mannion again missed a read on Cravens, who came on a blitz after lining up on the d-line, and the speedy Trojan recorded a big sack that signaled the start of a series of events that totally turned the game in USC's favor.
A subsequent head-scratcher of a call for a screen pass on 3rd and 21 that had no chance of success resulted in a Trevor Romaine field goal for Oregon St.'s only lead of the game.
A missed tackle by Scott led directly to a 16 yard touchdown reception by Justin Davis, above, that Ty Zimmerman couldn't get to in time, that put USC ahead 14-10, and for good as it would turn out.
The drive also began to exhibit what would become an offensive key for USC, as the Trojans were able to work to good advantage in their left flat, going against the strength of their alignment that put Oregon St. strong side LB Michael Doctor far away from the play, a tactic that continued to work all game long.
The next Oregon St. series was the Beavers' only other one that was at all effective, though it was extended by another sack of Mannion by Cravens, who came un-blocked as a second-wave secondary blitz behind a LB blitz, when Mannion did not check into a quick release play or move the pocket.
It was a creative blitz scheme that USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox came up with, but its also the kind of play Oregon St. counts on Mannion's senior experience to negate.
Mannion and Oregon St. would recover, but the drive came up empty when a deep route into the endzone down the left side went awry, as Jordan Villamin, making his first career start in place of Mullaney in the split end spot, tipped the ball off his hands up and forward, and into the hands of USC safety Leon McQuay for an interception, below.
It was a "must not make" mistake by a talented but inexperienced receiver.
It also set the stage for an unusual scoring drive by USC that essentially broke the Beavers' back.
Most of the rest of the quarter was spent by the Trojans working their way to mid-field, but it appeared Oregon St. had the situation handled, forcing a 4th down with under a minute left before the break.
But instead of using a time out to force USC to punt, the latest episode of inept Oregon St. clock management ended in one of the most spectacular plays in the 100 year history of the series.
USC coach Steve Sarkisian let the clock run down to 1 second before using his final timeout, so as to avoid any risk of Oregon St. making a late play, and then dialed up a hail-Mary pass into the endzone.
Oregon St. was without Murphy on the play, who had suffered a cramp making the tackle in open field that forced 4th down, but Trojan QB Cody Kessler's 48 yard pass to Darreus Rogers in the end zone not only beat the Beavers' best corner, Steven Nelson, is also evaded 6'5" DE Obum Gwacham, who was deployed deep to try to prevent the very thing that happened, the touchdown catch in traffic that made it 21-10 at the break.
The creative play changed everything, as Oregon St., suddenly down 2 scores, abandoned the run in the second half. This after Strom Woods had been the game's leading rusher at halftime.
The absence of Bolden was a major contributing factor, but the fact remained that Oregon St.'s passing game was entirely an outside scheme, as the Beavers never attacked the middle of the field with wide outs. Recognizing that, the USC defense increasingly rotated outward, throttling the outside stuff, primarily to Mullaney, that had had some first half success.
Oregon St.'s offensive woes were compounded by a repeat affect from the San Diego St. game, where the Beavers got very little out of their tight ends, due primarily to keeping them in to pass protect.
Often in 2 TE sets, as Oregon St. struggled to block 4 with 6 and even 7. The Beavers did do an effective job of containing Trojan DE Leonard Williams, but often by double and even triple teaming him.
In the first half, Wilcox sent a variety of blitzes at Oregon St., but gradually wratched back to sending the 3 man front plus only 1 of 2 edge rushers, though which side it would come from was often hard to predict. This is a strength of the 3-4 base Wilcox has shifted USC to, but in the second half, it was often a 4 man down front that was providing all the pass rush, and Oregon St. never adapted, not releasing a tight end or leaking a back out of the backfield.
The result was at one point 3 consecutive 3 and outs by the Beavers, a trend that eventually became 4 such possessions late in the game when for whatever reason, Oregon St. sent Luke Del Rio in to throw 3 wildly off target throw it up after a mis read incompletions, which seemed to serve no purpose other than to put the unprepared transfer on the field on the night that his father Jack Del Rio was inducted into the USC Hall of Fame.
A consequence of the double TE heavy scheme was that Hunter Jarmon, who had a break-out game against San Diego St., was almost a non-factor, with only 1 catch for 6 yards, as his slot receiver position is the one that typically is dropped when Oregon St. goes to 2 tight ends.
The Beaver defense played solid for at least 2/3 of the game, and despite being on the field for over 2/3 of both the 3rd and 4th quarters, held the Trojans at bay in the 3rd quarter, and got the game into the 4th quarter with still at least a chance for an Oregon St. comeback had either a turnover or any offense occurred.
Jabral Johnson in particular played a good and valiant game. And the Beavers held All-American candidate Agholor to just 3 catches. Also, despite the second half dominance by USC, the Oregon St. defense only allowed 200 net yards rushing.
But the physical beating began to pile up the injuries, most notable the loss of 3 different DTs. Jalen Grimble left with an injured left knee, Siale Hautau was knocked out of the game twice, and Noke Tago also went down.
Coupled with a first half hamstring injury to rotation DB and special teams ace Zach Robinson, and a late game shoulder or arm injury to DJ Alexander, the concern will be Oregon St.'s health as they head to Boulder for next week's game at Colorado.
USC made a statement, 87 yard 12 play drive that crossed over from the 3rd quarter into the 4th, capped by Javorius Allen, one of the stars of last year's USC win in Corvallis, who made a 17 yard touchdown run through a tiring Oregon St. defense, above, to open a 28-10 lead.
Oregon St. didn't answer, with the 3rd consecutive of those 3 and punts, capped by a screen pass call on 3rd & 17 that fell incomplete.
A successful challenge of an incorrect double fumble call that stalled a USC drive was the Oregon St. coaching highlight of the night, but another episode of bad clock management, resulting in a delay of game on a 4th down, negated a drive that actually netted a couple of first downs, both on penalties on the Trojans.
But USC then made another statement, 87 yard drive against the tiring Oregon St. defense midway through the 4th quarter, capped by a 21 yard Justin Davis touchdown run, below. It wouldn't have netted anything notable during the first 50+ minutes of the game, but the gassed Beavers just couldn't close as they had all night.
It sent many of the fans at watch party at Reser Stadium, which had initially drawn a crowd of several thousand, to the exits, in pursuit of the band, which had called it a night (too) much earlier. All they missed was the Del Rio debacle, and hearing Oregon St. radio announcer Mike Parker having to shout his post-game summary to try to be heard over the all too familiar sound of the USC band playing "Conquest".
It was disappointing to see the early exit, especially by the band, but maybe understandable since they stuck out the last Riley-Sarkisian/Wilcox matchup, which ended even more disastrously last year.
Sarkisian and Wilcox have now taken 3 in a row against Riley, including the last 2 years, when they were at Washington. The good news for Riley is it will be 3 years before the Beavers run into this duo again, as Oregon St. will miss USC the next 2 years.
Mannion has his worst night as a Beaver, completing just 15 of 32 passes, for a career low 132 yards, and with the 2 interceptions, though the 2nd was not his fault. It was also the second consecutive game in which Mannion has not thrown a touchdown pass.
Mullaney was the only effective Oregon St. weapon, but with only 5 catches for 78 yards.
Woods had 3 catches, for just 17 yards, to go with 61 yards rushing, on 9 carries, mostly in the first half.
Oregon St. only ran for 82 yards before subtracting sacks of Mannion, as both attempts at fly sweeps with freshman Xavier Hawkins in place of Bolden failed, after being telegraphed terribly to the Trojan defense.
Allen finished with a game high 115 yards on a game high 20 carries, and Davis added 82 more, on 15 carries.
Kessler completed 24 of 32 passes, for 261 yards and 2 touchdowns, distributed to 9 Trojan targets, with Allen's 5 catches the only target with more than 3 receptions.
Oregon St. also experienced 13 penalties for the 3rd time this season, though that was eclipsed by 14 flags on USC, in another episode of Pac-12 zebras run wild.
Oregon St. dropped to 3-1 for the season, though that's right about where they were projected to be at the end of September, while USC improved to 3-1, and more importantly, 2-0 in the Pac-12 south.
The Beavers, now 0-1 in conference, will take on a Colorado team that dropped to 2-3, and 0-2 in the Pac-12, after dropping a 59-56 double overtime shootout to California in Berkeley, after coach Mike MacIntyre inexplicably didn't take a field goal in the second OT, and after quarterback Sefo Liufau had thrown for 449 yards and a Colorado record 7 touchdowns, including 19 completions to Nelson Spruce, also a Buffs record, for 176 yards, and 3 of the touchdowns.