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Oregon routs USC, 48-28, but all is not lost

Oregon cornerback Ugo Amadi (14) breaks up a pass intended for USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) in the first half.

Oregon cornerback Ugo Amadi (14) breaks up a pass intended for USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (9) in the first half.

(Ryan Kang / Associated Press)

It was not exactly a momentum-building performance, or the kind of effort that will stop administrators from searching for a permanent head coach.

But in a USC season of chaos and crazy twists, the Trojans and interim Coach Clay Helton emerged from Saturday’s 48-28 loss to Oregon at Autzen Stadium still in position to win the Pac-12 South and possibly play for a conference title.

UCLA’s victory over Utah sets up a rivalry game against the Bruins next week at the Coliseum that will determine the division champion.

That might seem impossible to comprehend after Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. torched the Trojans for six touchdown passes — the most ever against USC.

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The Trojans’ record dropped to 7-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play.

And yet, they still have a shot at possibly winning the conference and playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in seven seasons.

“Well that’s the Pac-12 for you,” USC running back Justin Davis said. “We know we’ve still got our goal in front of us.

“We really wanted this win, but next week means the most.”

USC entered the game in control of its destiny if it defeated Oregon and UCLA. But the Trojans were also aware of the scenario if they lost and UCLA won a game that was being played at the same time in Salt Lake City.

“I hate to say it but we were kind of rooting on the team across town to win and do what they had to do,” safety Chris Hawkins said. “They did it. It should be a great game on Saturday. The Coliseum should be rocking.”

Linebacker Su’a Cravens was still trying to come terms with the situation after the Trojans gave up 578 yards and allowed Adams to connect with six different receivers for touchdowns.

“I didn’t want to do it this way,” he said. “I wanted to win out, so I’m not happy.

“I’ll take my frustration out on them next week. I don’t like to have stuff given to us.”

Adams gave USC fits from the start.

The Pasadena native and former Mission Hills Alemany High standout kept plays alive with his decision-making and footwork in and out of the pocket, and picked apart a Trojans defense playing without several experienced linebackers.

With 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota watching from the sideline, Adams completed 14 of 17 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns in the first half as the Ducks took a 31-14 lead.

“You got a guy back there that’s running around like his head’s on fire,” Hawkins said, adding, “He makes things happen with his feet just like the dude that was here last year did.”

After the game, Helton sought out Adams on the field.

“Great job,” Helton said as they shook hands. “You’re a hell of a player.”

Adams, who transferred to Oregon after three stellar seasons at Eastern Washington, has led the Ducks to five consecutive victories after recovering from a broken finger.

A player who has an interlocking “SC” logo tattooed on his arm etched his name into USC’s record book.

“I always wanted to play SC my whole life,” he said.

Play for or play against?

“Both,” he said.

USC players and coaches said crowd noise led to communication breakdowns in the secondary and costly penalties. On several plays, Oregon receivers caught passes without a defender within 10 yards.

“There were some critical, critical downs,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said.

Said Hawkins: “This is our worst outing as a secondary unit.”

USC pulled to 38-28 at the end of the third quarter when Adoree’ Jackson returned a punt 41 yards for a touchdown.

But early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Cody Kessler fielded a low snap and then was stripped of the ball from behind as he rolled to his right.

DeForest Bucker recovered for Oregon, and on the next play, Adams coolly looked off two receivers and connected with Charles Nelson for a touchdown that put the Ducks back in control.

Now USC must regroup and prepare for UCLA. The Trojans have not defeated the Bruins since 2011.

“We have an opportunity to go against a great rivalry opponent next week with a lot on the line,” Helton said. “We’ve got to get a lot corrected in a short amount of time.”

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein


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