Oregon Makes Its Playoff Case With Crushing, 56-24, Win Over USC

Chris Dufresne


It was scary how much went right for the Pac 12 on Saturday—not that it’s going to end right.

But, hey.

Oregon and Utah, ranked No. 7 and No. 9 in this week’s AP, pounded out huge road victories at Washington and USC.

Oregon Coach Mario Cristobal, after his team's 56-24 drubbing of the Trojans, walked into the L.A. Coliseum press tent while still talking on his cell phone.

"Always call my mom after the game," he said. "She's really fired up."

That was another weird thing: mothers of Pac 12 coaches are rarely this excited in November.

Perfect Pac timing, when have you heard that before?

Next Tuesday, when the first College Football Playoff rankings are revealed, the Pac 12 can expect to have more teams ranked in the top Ten than the ACC, Big 12 and yeah, even the Mountain West.

With a Utah win already in his hip pocket, and Oregon leading USC by double digits at the half, Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott was in such a jovial mood in the press box he even let us in on a little secret about his conference’s officiating.

“I sit through a review every single week,” Scott said to a group of reporters, “…I can tell you there’s a significant number of mistakes each week.”

Nothing was going to bring Larry down.

Except for a few scary moments, Scott and the league got everything it needed.

The first scary moment was Oregon falling behind 0-10 to a USC team Scott really needed to lose, notwithstanding one of his children being a Trojan student.

The second scary moment was Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert crumbling to the Coliseum turf, in the second half, after he was upper knee-capped on a roughing-the-passer call.

It looked season-ending from where I sat, way up in the bird’s nest, but Herbert rose to limp off the field and bolt straight into the medical tent.

He was back on the field two plays later and soon-after threw an 11-yard scoring strike, to Juwan Johnson, that NFL scouts must have enjoyed very much.

Herbert took a shot to his lower thigh, it turned out, with Cristobal blaming the skinny knee pads kids wear these days.

"He took a direct hit on it," Cristobal said.

Herbert's welcome-back throw made it 42-17 with 6:14 left in the third, which started an immediate rush for the exits. The only color left at the Coliseum in the fourth quarter was green.

The Pac 12 finished the day with all its Utes and Ducks in a row.

Utah and Oregon are now on a collision course to the Pac 12 title game. Both schools should be favored in their remaining games.

USC, which defeated Utah, can no longer block the Utes’ path to the Pac 12 South title.

What the Pac 12 really needs most is for Oregon and Utah to play each other with 11-1 records.

Meanwhile, in the other locker room: getting smashed, at home, with visiting recruits calling Uber, might seem like a really bad outing.

"Not our night," as Coach Clay Helton confessed.

The lopsided defeat, though, simplified USC's big picture and may help the Pac 12 in the long game.

A USC win, let's face it, would have only prolonged the agony for Helton’s coaching death watch. Very few Trojans fans, if you gave them truth serum, want these Trojans to remain in the thick of the Pac 12 race.

Not if losing could sooner usher in a new era.

The timing of USC’s 32-point defeat coincides perfectly with the imminent hiring of Mike Bohn as athletic director.

Bohn, who formerly called shots at Colorado but more recently at Cincinnati, will be the man USC fans expect to hire Urban Meyer.

Meyer is not only a graduate of UC, his son plays baseball there.

USC has not made an official announcement regarding Bohn but, when it does, the new AD might not have a hard-call moving forward on Helton.

The USC we all saw Saturday evening was a beaten, broken program, ravaged by injuries but also beset with the usual command-and-control issues.

Four turnovers and eight penalties, for 92 yards, put to rest ideas of winning a game to save the coach's job.

Helton, simply put, couldn't talk his way out of this one. His team is 5-4 and the big Coliseum clock is running out.

"We made enough mistakes tonight to let in snowball," Helton said.

Seemed more like an avalanche.

Helton traded his "we control our Pac 12 fate" card for "we're in a hole right now" and have to "hope for a little luck."

USC fans sensed that Saturday's loss was the first, necessary step toward Urban Meyer.

Wait, could an award-winning local newspaper columnist stop this?

Bill Plaschke argued in Saturday's L.A. Times that USC should not pursue Meyer as the next coach.

He reasonably asked how USC, sinking in its own scandal tar pit, could hire a man who might need five bellboys to carry his baggage from previous stops at Florida and Ohio State.

The answer might be easy: USC football really, really needs him. And what's "bad behavior" in a society so willing now to tolerate it?

Can't we talk this or rationalize this out? How is what Meyer did worse than the homeless issue in L.A., or talk of quid-pro-quo?

What if Urban delivers a "perfect" phone interview?

Meyer has deftly maneuvered his whole career. He made coaching a future murderer at Florida sound like mentoring and got half of us to believe the Ohio State assistant coach fiasco was our fault.

Legally, nothing has really stuck to Teflon Urban, a tremendous coach, beautiful talker and excellent television analyst.

The only black mark in Urban’s file was the three-game suspension at Ohio State he fought like Clarence Darrow.

The AD at Ohio State wasn't really too keen on seeing his coach suffer, either, and all was definitely forgiven by the time Meyer led the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl victory over Washington.

Things are definitely moving in a "change" direction, no matter how much Helton battles. You can survive a lot of things as USC Coach but 24-56 (at home) is rarely one of them.

USC's coach might have to be dragged off the job. "I'll fight like hell" he said at the end of a long, long day.

The fight, though, feels like it's over.


Chris Dufresne