Oregon’s spread-option offense lived up to its billing in Saturday’s 47-20 win over No. 4 USC, the 10th-ranked Ducks spreading the field with screens in the passing game and gashing the Trojans on the ground with the option.
Jeremiah Masoli completed 19 passes, none longer than 23 yards, and also ran for 164 yards. He complemented the efforts of redshirt freshman tailback LaMichael James, who had a career-best rushing total for the third straight game, with 183 yards.
“You have to defend the entire field because of how good our running backs are, how well our offensive line is playing right now, and the quarterback,” UO coach Chip Kelly said. “It really stresses a defense when you’ve got all that clicking.”
A week after running for 154 yards against Washington, and two games after reaching 152 at UCLA, James put on his best show yet for the home crowd. He ran for 91 yards in the third quarter, when USC’s defense wilted under Oregon’s pressure.
“I was telling them to speed up,” James said. “I was like, ‘Go faster, go faster, they’re getting tired, they’re getting tired.’ And that’s what they did.”
With his patience and elusiveness Saturday, James resembled the other Willamette Valley wonder, Oregon State tailback Quizz Rodgers, who also has run the Trojans ragged the past two years. James’ yardage came on 18 carries, for an average of 9.4 yards per rush.
“They’re different in style, but very, very effective, and (James is) very fast,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “On this turf, he was flying out there tonight. We just lost track of him back in the backfield about four or five times when he got 10 or 15 yards on us. They were making seven, eight yards a carry on bad plays for them. It was a terrible night for us, and he enjoyed the fun of that one. I don’t know who’s better and that kind of stuff. They’re both really good, and they’re too good for us.”
Masoli, meanwhile, av-eraged 11.8 yards on his 13 carries. It was possible to forget that, barely more than a week ago, there were fears that the knee injury that sidelined him against UCLA might do so for much longer.
With his three-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, Masoli went over 1,000 rushing yards in his career.
“We had a tough time tackling Masoli tonight, and we didn’t feel that was going to be the big issue,” said Carroll, who said earlier in the week that Masoli’s running ability was the key to Oregon’s offense. “We thought we’d be able to get to him and get him down when we had our chances.
“They did everything that they wanted to do. It was really pretty easy for them tonight.”
Each of Oregon’s final four touchdown drives featured big runs by James and Masoli. James slipped a tackle for a 33-yard gain to set up the Ducks’ first score of the second quarter, and Masoli tucked the ball on a pass play later in the period for a 48-yard gain.
Similarly, Oregon’s first touchdown drive of the third quarter featured a 26-yard gain by Masoli, and the second included a 23-yard gain by James. The latter drive also included a 17-yard run by Masoli that was similar to his big 48-yard rush, when he took advantage of USC’s man coverage in the passing game to find room to run.
“We didn’t expect to do that, necessarily,” UO offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said of the Ducks’ season-best production. “But at the same time, our guys are capable of doing that when you get kind of close to the total package working.”
Which was the case Saturday.