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October 5, 2008There was a here-we-go-again feeling to the opening moments of the Trojans' game Saturday with Oregon at the Coliseum.
Just like they had in a devastatingly disappointing loss to Oregon State, the Trojans allowed an early score thanks to some big runs up the middle. Silly penalties extended drives, and for good measure, the Trojans put the ball on the turf.
Those mistakes, just like they had at Oregon State, had USC facing an early 10-3 deficit.
"We couldn't get hit in the mouth again," Stafon Johnson said.
Then, came some here-we-go-again moments of a different nature.
Just like they had against Virginia and Ohio State, the Trojans dominated on both sides of the ball. They attacked Oregon through the air with a flurry of big plays. They ran the ball effectively, and the defense didn't budge.
Channeling mostly good from the past, USC got back to winning, defeating No. 23 Oregon 44-10.
But in one other moment of d? vu, USC players and coaches looked at a familiar sight - Mark Sanchez lying on his back on the turf while trainers attend to his left knee.
Leading 34-10, Sanchez dropped back on third down. Oregon defensive end Nick Reed shook off the USC blocker and spun free to Sanchez's back. With a hand on the collar of Sanchez's jersey, Reed brought him to the ground, forcing Sanchez's knee to contort more than one way.
"It just kind of bent a little funny," Sanchez said. It was nothing too serious; I didn't hear a pop. It looks like another best-case scenario.
"It was more scary than anything."
Sanchez met with members of the USC medical staff after the game, and the injury is being called a knee sprain.
Prior to the injury, Sanchez was absolutely electric, completing 19-of-27 passes for 332 yards and touchdowns to Damian Williams, Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson.
But before things got back to typical, dominant Trojan football, it was time for a typical Trojan start.
Oregon (4-2, 2-1 Pac-10) attacked the interior of the USC defense with a mix of quarterback and halfback runs on its first posession.
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back Jeremiah Johnson combined to rush for 50 yards, with Jeremiah Johnson scoring on a one-yard run to give Oregon a quick 7-0 lead.
Just like it had occurred in Corvallis, Ore., the Duck scoring drive got new life on a personal foul - with Clay Matthews clobbering Oregon holder Tim Taylor on a field goal try.
"Those penalties here and there, we've got to fix that," safety Kevin Ellison said. "There's always stuff we have to clean up."
Oregon's first drive had Masoli convinced the wrong team left the field with the win.
"We feel like we have the better team, but tonight they scored more points," Masoli said. "We just gave that one away. We just weren't executing tonight.
"The game was in our hands the whole time."
But inside the Trojan locker room, there was a feeling that it was just a matter of time until the Trojan defense decoded the Ducks' plan.
"You guys have all watched us," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "It takes us a little time. Once we get it going and figure out what's going we start adjusting."
As the defense settled down, USC's offense exploded.
Sanchez found Williams on fourth-and-two for a 34-yard touchdown down the sideline, a perfectly called strike at the perfect moment, Sanchez said.
"(Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian) nailed them," he said. "We watched them on film a million times, and they gave us the right look.
"It was good execution."
Then on the next USC possession, Sanchez and Ronald Johnson hooked up in a flash, with Johnson streaking for a 63-yard score.
Stafon Johnson added a highlight-reel 22-yard run to start the second half, David Buehler knocked home his third field goal of the game and Mitch Mustain and David Ausberry connected for a 59-yard score late.
C.J. Gable led USC with 49 yards rushing on 10 carries while Stafon Johnson added 43 yards on seven rushes.
In between all of the scoring, the USC defense held Oregon, previously the nation's fourth-best rushing team, to just 60 yards on 39 attempts.
Fifty-four of those yards came in the first quarter, before the defense locked in.
"We had to play a lot better, and the d-line played great tonight," Defensive end Kyle Moore said. "We executed our plays and were in the right places."
After allowing the Ducks to travel 70 yards on their first drive, USC didn't allow a drive longer than 39 yards until Oregon's final possession against the Trojan backups.
Ellison led the Trojans with 12 tackles, a career high, with all coming in the first half. Linebacker Michael Morgan, making the first start of his career, added eight stops before leaving the game with a concussion early in the second half.
Things really turned for the No. 9 Trojans (3-1, 1-1) on the biggest defensive play of the game, which came late in the first half with USC leading 20-10.
With less than a minute on the clock, the Ducks tried to throw the ball from their own 20 instead of running out the clock.
On the drive's second play, Masoli found receiver Jaison Williams in the flat. USC cornerback Josh Pinkard wrapped Williams up and popped the ball loose. Pinkard recovered the fumble, drew a personal foul penalty and set up a touchdown pass to Turner on the next play to put things out of reach.
"Josh's play was really the play. It was huge," Carroll said. "They had the ball, and Josh takes it away from them. One play later, we score a touchdown.
"That's an extraordinary shift."
Saturday was full of shifts for the Trojans, from erasing memories of their ineptitude at Oregon State to recalling their excellence from their two prior wins.
"This was exactly what we needed to do," Carroll said. "This was the game we were looking for."