The Trojans fall to the Ducks, 36-27 in their last road game of the season

USC coach Lincoln Riley suffered his fourth regular-season loss this season. Prior to 2023, he had never lost more than two games in a season.

EUGENE, Ore. — Entering the game, the Trojans had high hopes of staying alive in the race for the Pac-12 Conference title. Additionally, we were given the opportunity to witness the team’s new defensive strategy without Alex Grinch, who is no longer on the sidelines. Caleb Williams is a true magician on the field, and if it weren’t for Grinch’s defensive prowess, Williams would be a strong contender for the Heisman trophy.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

The Trojans have a new defense and it looks familiar

During the game, the new defensive coordinator Shaun Nua was calling plays from the field, while Brian Odom was calling plays from the sky. The Oregon quarterback Bo Nix completed his first two passes, both resulting in touchdowns, and he made it look easy. Nix continued to deliver impressive plays, while the Trojans failed to prevent explosive plays by the Ducks.

The USC football team was shorthanded for their recent game, missing several of their players. However, the absence of Eric Gentry was particularly notable. Gentry, Jaylin Smith, Ceyair Wright and Jacobe Covington were all out for the game. Despite this, the Trojans were determined to improve their defensive play, as coach Nua had emphasized in practice leading up to the game. Unfortunately, they were unable to find the spark they needed during the game and continued to struggle defensively.

In the first quarter, USC’s defense had Oregon in a critical 3rd and 13 situation, but unfortunately, they allowed a wide-open catch in the middle of the field to Troy Franklin, who then ran for 84 yards. Throughout the night, USC’s defense couldn’t consistently stop Oregon’s offense. Before starting the current season with six straight wins, USC has now lost four of their last five games.

Bo Nix had an impressive game, throwing for 412 yards and four touchdowns. Tez Johnson also played a great game, catching seven passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns. The Oregon team as a whole had a total of 552 yards in offense. On the defensive side, the Trojans only allowed 140 rushing yards in the game, which is a significant improvement from last week’s performance when Dillon Johnson alone rushed for over 250 yards.

During the game, Oregon’s running back Bucky Irving ran for 118 yards and scored a touchdown. He had an easier time compared to Washington’s Johnson who delivered an impressive performance last week. On Saturday night, Oregon’s wide receiver Troy Franklin added his name to the record books. He became the 12th wide receiver in the program’s history to accumulate over 1,000 receiving yards in a single season, and the first player to achieve this feat since Dillon Mitchell in 2018.

Caleb Williams’ leadership is not enough on the field

In the first half, both teams managed to get 13 first downs each, but the game was decided by the explosive plays. Williams played a crucial role in keeping his team in the game and gave them a competitive edge. Despite being only 21 years old, Williams showcased his ability to move around the pocket and create opportunities for his team, even when it seemed impossible.

As the second quarter was ending, Williams threw a pass to Washington for a 59-yard reception, which set up a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Williams. This brought the score to 22-14 just before halftime.

Williams completed 11 of 18 passes for 158 yards and one rushing touchdown in the first half. He also caught a 15-yard pass from Mario Williams.

In the third quarter, there was a crucial moment when the Trojans had a 4th&1 play, but they were called for a delay of game. As a result, USC ended up punting the ball away while trailing 29-14. However, the defense quickly managed to get a stop when it was needed later in the quarter. Zachariah Branch also gave the offense a spark with a reverse play. Unfortunately, Caleb fumbled the ball again, giving it right back to Oregon.

With 2:26 remaining in the third quarter and a 29-14 lead, Williams and Austin Jones of USC had a miscommunication, resulting in a fumbled exchange. Oregon took advantage of the turnover, recovering the ball at the Trojan 48-yard line and effectively ending any chance of a USC comeback. The Ducks capitalized on their field position, scoring their fifth touchdown of the night just five plays later.

During the third quarter, USC’s Trojans failed to score any points. This was a significant achievement for the Oregon Ducks’ defense, as they held on to win this game. Another questionable decision was made by Riley when he chose to go for two points instead of a field goal, making it a one-possession game.

USC had a disappointing season, with many moments of underperformance on both offense and defense. Although coach Lincoln Riley was actively utilizing his playbook, not utilizing Lloyd more frequently was detrimental to the team. During the game, Riley called a timeout with 13:29 remaining when they were on a 4th&4 and Oregon received a pass interference penalty. This allowed USC to keep the ball and continue pushing down the field. Williams threw a 9-yard pass to Brenden Rice for his first passing touchdown, bringing the score to 36-21.

Williams finished 19/34 for 291 yards, one passing and one rushing touchdown. MarShawn Lloyd had nine carries and 37 rushing yards. Williams has thrown only eight touchdown passes during his last six starts.

State of mind of the Trojans

The USC Trojans are gearing up to play their last regular season game against the UCLA Bruins. This game could potentially be Caleb Williams’ final game as a Trojan. While Williams has not confirmed his departure, it remains a possibility. He is currently completing his junior year and is considering either joining the 2024 NFL Draft or returning to USC for his senior year.

Coach Riley spoke to the media about what went wrong in the game against Oregon.

“I thought tonight they played better on the lines of scrimmage than we did. We got some good shots in there, but some depth issues showed up.” Riley said.

It’s fortunate that this happened towards the end of the season, as the Trojans have more time to improve and prepare for the next one. After the game, there was a lot of disappointment in the USC locker room, as Riley reported. Tahj Washington talked about the team’s needs to win more games, similar to last season.

“Just eliminating the big plays. There are too many big plays that happen that change the game tremendously.”

Some players have expressed their reluctance to watch game film due to their disappointment with the outcome. However, I firmly believe that this is counterproductive and will not help them improve. In order to identify areas for improvement, it is essential to understand the mistakes made during the game. Therefore, watching game film after the game or during the week is crucial for players’ progress.

Riley has won 7 of his last 13 games with USC and they must defeat the Bruins in next Saturday’s crucial Los Angeles rivalry game.