On this most scorching, chilling of nights, they looked identical.
the Coliseum? By a football team other than USC?
“We knew we had to get a stop, we had the attitude that we would get a stop ” said an exhausted T.J. McDonald.
Nine touchdowns? In front of more than 90,000 screaming fans? By the guys who were being screamed at?
“We just kept feeling, we'd make a stop, we'd make a play ” said a befuddled Lane Kiffin.
They didn't. They couldn't. For nearly four long hours, they wouldn't. With their once-proud defense decimated like Pop Warner kids playing against pros, the Trojans fell 62-51 to second-ranked Oregon in a breakneck game that can best be described in italics.
Huff catch, Barner run, Huff catch, Lyerla catch, Thomas catch, boom! OK, that was their scoring drive on their first possession, took barely a minute.
Barner run, Hawkins catch, Mariota run, Barner run, Barner run, Mariota run, Barner run, Huff catch, wham!
That was their next possession, a scoring drive that took about as long as it took you to read the previous three paragraphs.
The game was both breathtaking and bewitching, and will long be remembered by Trojans fans with a bit of pride and a heap of shame.
There was pride in an offense that attempted to match the Ducks blow for blow, with Matt Barkley jabbing for five touchdown passes and Marqise Lee reaching for a dozen balls and the Trojans slugging for 615 total yards.
But there was shame that the offense was given no choice.
“I felt we had to play perfect on offense and score every drive,” said Barkley, who was exactly right.
As I was walking back up to the press box after postgame interviews, a wide-eyed fan approached me and said, “I don't think anybody here has ever seen this before.”
He's also right. They haven't. The Trojans haven't allowed this many points or this many yards — 730 — in the history of a program that began playing football in 1888.
Of 14 Oregon possessions, only two of them ended because of USC, one punt and one lost fumble. Two more times, the Ducks were halted by the end of the first half and the end of the game. That's right, it was so bad, the clock stopped the Ducks as much as the Trojans.
It was so bad, Ducks running back Kenjon Barner ran right into the thick of the Heisman Trophy race after breaking the Trojans opponent rushing record in the third quarter while finishing with 321 yards and five touchdowns.
“Yeah, I'd have to say that was the best offense I've seen,” said McDonald. “I can't change that.”
Change it? They couldn't even slow it. They allowed the likes of quarterback Marcus Mariota, sprinters Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, and acrobat Josh Huff to spend more time alone than Kiffin when he's on the sideline huddled over his laminated play sheet as if reading a menu.
It isn't that nobody tackled the Ducks. Heck, on many plays, nobody touched them. Although the Ducks lead the nation in scoring offense, they still scored nine points above their average while gaining 190 yards above their yardage average.
“Obviously, we have a lot to work on,” said Kiffin.
Once again, for a second consecutive week, that work must start with the coaches, with the seats growing warm under a defensive staff led by Kiffin's father, Monte. Remember last week's mess in Arizona? When is the last time the Trojans have allowed 1,318 yards in consecutive games? Try, never?
From top-ranked in September to three losses by the first week of November is a far fall indeed, and the defensive staff must bear some of the brunt of this crash. So, too, should Lane Kiffin and his offense and his play-calling, which once again curiously hurt the Trojans on Saturday.
Early in the fourth quarter, down by 10 points with the ball at their 42-yard line, on fourth and six, Kiffin decided to punt for the first time. Yep, he gave the ball back to an unstoppable offense with the game on the line.
A dozen plays later, the Ducks scored on the umpteenth Barner untouchable run to clinch the victory.
Said Kiffin: “There's some things I could have done better as far as calling plays.”
Said Lee: “We're not giving up. It's not the end of the world.”
But on yet another night of disbelief and disillusionment, Trojans fans could see the end of the season, approaching in dozens of hot white flashes, again and again and again.