BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer email@example.com
LOS ANGELES -- It was easily the best memory Ryan Clanton had made in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since he saw Stanford upset USC in 2007 -- only then, he never thought he'd actually be on the field in uniform.
Clanton, a starting guard for Oregon's undefeated Ducks and a Bakersfield Christian graduate, helped plow the way for a record-setting offensive performance in Oregon's 62-51 victory Saturday over USC.
"I used to watch these games," Clanton said. "I came to the game here when Stanford beat USC (as a 41-point underdog), and I was like, 'Man, I'll never play at this kind of level.' Then I walked on the field today while we were getting ready, looked around and said, 'Man I can't believe I actually made it here.'"
Clanton, a senior who played at City College of San Francisco for two years, is a 6-foot-5, 305-pounder starting at right guard for the Ducks.
He didn't play every snap Saturday because of a sore shoulder, but was on the field enough to share plenty of credit the eye-popping performance of senior Kenjon Barner, who set an Oregon record with 321 rushing yards on 34 carries with five touchdowns.
The Ducks (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) took the opening kickoff and went 75 yards for a touchdown in 1:05, with freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota finding De'Anthony Thomas for a 16-yard touchdown on the fifth play of the game. USC (6-3, 4-3) answered with a 39-yard field goal held by Cody Kessler, a redshirt freshman from Centennial High, and kicked by Andre Heidari, a sophomore from Stockdale High, and the shootout was on.
Matt Barkley threw for 484 yards and five touchdowns, setting the Pac-12 record for career completions in the process, and Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor each surpassed 150 receiving yards. Kessler and Heidari combined for six extra points on six Trojans touchdowns, but USC never took the lead because Oregon kept answering with its explosive spread offense.
“Probably about two minutes into that thing, I knew it was going to be one of those games,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “And we talked about it; we said, ‘We’re going to have to answer offensively, because those guys are some of the all-time greats. We know what Matt’s done in his career, and you can’t say enough about Marqise Lee. He’s impressive on film, but he’s even more impressive in person.
“We just felt like we had to hold serve.”
The Ducks gained 730 yards, the most USC has ever surrendered. Notre Dame set the previous record with 623 yards in 1946.
“Obviously they moved the ball,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “They were moving on us. They had really good players who played great today. Their quarterback didn’t make many mistakes, which is unique for a freshman on the road.”
USC had 615 yards itself, but the Trojans also committed three first-half turnovers, including an interception in the end zone and a fumble in the red zone.
“Unfortunately, we shot ourselves in the foot,” Kiffin said. “The game comes down to three offensive
possessions. We kicked a field goal early, no points on the interception and the fumble in the red zone. That makes a big difference.”
Still, USC twice pulled within three points in the third quarter. Both times, Oregon answered. With the Ducks’ lead down to 34-31 midway through the third, they went 75 yards in 14 plays, twice converting fourth downs and using up 4:45 — a downright glacial pace for this offense — and scored on a 9-yard run from Barner, who surpassed LaMichael James’ school record of 288 rushing yards in a single game early in the fourth quarter.
“He's a warrior,” Kelly said. “He’s had an unbelievable impact on this season. We don’t have many seniors out there ... so he’s the leader of that group who has embraced that role. And not only does he talk about it, but he lives it.”
USC answered with Silas Redd’s second touchdown run to make it 41-38, and then the Ducks went quick strike, scoring in four plays and 1:06 when Josh Huff caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota.
“You have to stop them,” Kiffin said. “You can’t play someone expecting to score every time. There’s a couple plays that could have changed the game.”
On the next drive, USC was forced to punt for the first time — but then Oregon didn’t punt until the final minutes.
“I don't think anyone can stop us,” Clanton said. “We take it game by game, but we’re on a roll, and running backs, quarterbacks, offensive line, we’re all playing well and gelling.”
The victory also keeps Oregon in position to challenge for a national championship. The Ducks came in ranked No. 4 in the BCS Standings. The top four teams all won Saturday, but Notre Dame and Alabama struggled and Oregon has just begun to play the tough portion of its schedule, which likely will result in a boost from the BCS computer rankings.
“I don't know the rankings,” Kelly said. “We’ve got another game next week. We’ve got to get ready for that.”
In the middle of it all was Clanton, who didn't even play football until he was a junior at BCHS.
“One of the coaches just saw a big kid in the hall and said, ‘Hey, let’s go, you’re playing,’” Clanton said.
That led to a stint in San Francisco. It was there that he caught the eye of the Ducks, who won the Rose Bowl in Pasadena last year and have now returned to LA for the second straight road victory over USC.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” Clanton said. “I couldn’t feel anything. I was just ready to go. It was surreal, for sure.”