EUGENE - It was punch for counter-punch, and too many times Oregon was the team staggering backward.
With the fourth-ranked Ducks in position to make a statement about their national title hopes as the regular season is winding down, it was No. 18 USC reminding everyone Saturday night that the Trojans are still a Pac-12 power.
USC jumped on Oregon early and the Ducks' late push wasn't enough in the Trojans' 38-35 win at Autzen Stadium.
A potential game-tying 37-yard field goal by Oregon's Alejandro Maldonado was wide left as time expired.
The defeat ended the Ducks' 19-game conference winning streak and 21-game home winning streak. Oregon (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) can still win the conference's north division and host the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2 with a win against Oregon State in next Saturday's Civil War at Autzen.
Time and again the Ducks have been the team that's come out of the halftime locker room and put their stamp on the game.
Saturday that was the Trojans, who aren't eligible for postseason play - including the Dec. 2 conference championship game - due to NCAA sanctions.
Oregon's chances of reaching the BCS national championship game got a huge boost with second-ranked Oklahoma State's loss at Iowa State on Friday night. But the Ducks couldn't take advantage.
Oregon receiver Josh Huff said some teammates celebrated Iowa
State’s win and might have lost some focus on their own game ahead.
“I thought we prepared well this week and maybe (Friday) night’s game might have got in some guys’ heads,” added tight end David Paulson. “We didn’t come out well in the beginning and it took us a while to get going. Too little, too late.”
Oregon finally got the offense rolling in the second half, but the defense couldn’t get USC (9-2, 6-2) and quarterback Matt Barkley off the field in quick time.
Oregon trailed 21-7 following a lackluster first half before USC added three more points after blocking a punt by Oregon’s Jackson Rice.
The Ducks zipped down the field in four plays with a Kenjon Barner 9-yard touchdown run to answer. But the Trojans quickly took the momentum back, scoring touchdowns on their next two possessions to go up 38-14 late in the third quarter.
The Ducks weren’t quite dead, as De’Anthony Thomas returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown on a fake reverse to LaMichael James. The two-point conversion failed, but there was still life for the home team.
Barner added an 8-yard touchdown run with 12:44 left as the Ducks closed within 38-27.
Oregon continued to put the pressure on, as John Boyett intercepted Barkley and the Ducks scored seven plays later on a James’ 1-yard touchdown run. Lavasier Tuinei’s 2-point conversion catch made it 38-35.
Two plays into the Trojans’ next drive, Oregon’s Brandon Hanna recovered a fumble on a botched USC handoff and the Ducks were in business at their own 14.
Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas was 5 of 8 passing for 38 yards in the final drive, helping the Ducks set up a field goal to send the game to overtime.
The Trojans called a timeout as Oregon lined up for Maldonado’s kick with five seconds left. The snap and set appeared to be solid, but the kick was offline.
Huff consoled Maldonado after the miss.
“I told him to keep his head up. Things happen like that,” Huff said, noting Maldonado’s accuracy in practice. “Today he didn’t do quite so good, but we’re behind him”.
Darron Thomas was 23 of 35 passing for 265 yards and a touchdown. Kenjon Barner was the Ducks’ leading rusher was 123 yards and two touchdowns. James, who wasn’t in on the last drive after getting dinged up earlier, had 78 rushing yards and a score.
USC coach Lane Kiffin said he was happy to find a way to beat Oregon.
“People have come really close, like we did last year,” Kiffin said. “You’ve just got to find a way to do it the whole game and tackle really well. For the most part we did that.”
The first half was controlled by the Trojans, who moved the ball at will while the Ducks struggled to gain momentum for more than a few plays at a time.
The two teams traded lost fumbles early before USC got on the scoreboard first with a 59-yard touchdown pass from Barkley to Marqise Lee. Lee got behind Oregon defensive back Troy Hill, who wasn’t able to bring down Lee on the play.
The Ducks turned the ball over on downs at the USC 33 on their next drive after a dropped pass by Rahsaan Vaughn on fourth down.
The Trojans then marched down the field, going 66 yards in nine plays, with Barkley hitting Robert Woods for a 12-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second quarter.
Oregon finally got its offense going midway through the quarter.
A 35-yard pass from Darron Thomas to Colt Lyerla was followed by a 29-yarder to De’Anthony Thomas for a touchdown.
But USC continued its first-half dominance with another score right away.
Barkley hit Woods with a 40-yard touchdown pass with 2:27 left in the half to go ahead 21-7.
Oregon put together its second straight solid drive, but LaMichael James fumbled on a running play from the Trojans 9 and USC took a knee to end the half.
Barkley was 15 of 18 passing for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the first half.