Matt Barkley realized Southern California's margin for error would be awfully slim if the Trojans hoped to chase down Oregon for the second straight year.
After a few mistakes and a whole lot of Kenjon Barner, the No. 18 Trojans were left wondering how anybody can keep up with the dynamic Ducks.
Barner ran for a school-record 321 yards and five touchdowns, Marcus Mariota threw four TD passes, and No. 2 Oregon produced another landmark offensive performance in a 62-51 victory over USC on Saturday night.
Barkley had another huge game in his senior season, passing for 484 yards and four touchdowns while hitting Marqise Lee with 12 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns. They couldn't stop the Trojans (6-3, 4-3) from losing their second straight after a strong start — not when Oregon (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12) racked up 730 yards and 62 points, the most ever allowed by a school that began playing football in 1888.
"We've done a great job moving the ball since the beginning of the season, and we've just got to do a better job putting the ball in the end zone," said Barkley, whose two first-half interceptions put the Trojans in a hole.
"We knew it would be a shootout. I felt like we had to play perfect on offense and score every drive. And those three drives that weren't productive, it came back to hurt us."
The game was a sweet homecoming for Barner, the Riverside, Calif., native who celebrated every touchdown with vigor. He playfully refused to talk about what he might have shouted to the Trojans' dismayed fans.
"Well, I'm from L.A., so it means a lot," Barner said with a shrug. "We know we have an exceptional offense, but this was a great test for us to have to play four quarters and fight to the end. We're going to benefit from this in the long run. As a competitor, you want to be in a great game if you can."
The teams combined for the third-highest scoring game involving ranked teams in the 76-year history of the AP poll. The ones ahead of it also came this year, with West Virginia beating Baylor 70-63 and Texas A&M topping Louisiana Tech 59-57.
Barner set a rushing record for a USC opponent by the third quarter, topping Curtis Enis' 241 yards for Penn State in 1996, and smashed LaMichael James' Oregon record shortly afterward.
He didn't get his usual late-game break, either: With Barkley and his receivers shredding Oregon's defense, the Ducks' offense stood up to its first late-game pressure of the season.
"We're built for that, though," said Mariota, who went 20 of 23 for 304 yards without an interception. "We go through a lot of conditioning, and we're always ready to play four quarters. This was a good test for us."
The Trojans twice pulled within three points in the second half, but Barner was viciously effective on almost every drive, and USC's defense had no answer. Josh Huff caught two touchdown passes, and De'Anthony Thomas and Daryl Hawkins also scored as the Ducks outlasted USC in a back-and-forth second half to extend their winning streak to 12 games since the Trojans won in Eugene last season.
"We were in the showers just now, thinking about it," USC linebacker Hayes Pullard said. "We told ourselves it can't ever happen again. We knew they were extremely fast. A lot of them are from here, so we know them. We just couldn't get stops."
Oregon, which is likely to move up in the BCS standings after this win and Notre Dame's narrow victory, had won every game this season by at least 17 points.
Another laugher appeared to be upcoming when Oregon took a 21-3 lead 12 seconds into the second quarter, but Barkley threw TD passes of 75 yards to Lee and 76 yards to Nelson Agholor in the second quarter. USC's offense did its part, scoring more points and gaining more yards (615) than Oregon had allowed all year.
The Trojans' defense simply couldn't keep up with Oregon's relentless pace and precision.
"We haven't lost a road game since Nov. 7, 2009, and I think that's because we don't make a big deal of it," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "We knew those guys were good, so we had to do whatever it takes. When two great teams go against each other, things are going to happen."
Mariota also rushed for another 96 yards.
USC's defense harassed Darron Thomas into a sub-par performance in this matchup last season, but the freshman who has replaced him showed absolutely no nerves in the historic stadium while playing against the team expected to be Oregon's biggest obstacle in Pac-12 play.
Robert Woods also caught a scoring pass for USC.
The Trojans' 38-35 win in Eugene last November was possibly the highlight of Barkley's four-year career, snapping the Ducks' 21-game home winning streak and 19-game conference streak while knocking Oregon out of the national championship race.
But USC got off to a fast start at Autzen Stadium in that shocker, and the Ducks were much quicker in the rematch at the Coliseum.
In fact, the Ducks needed just 65 seconds to take the lead, with Thomas' 16-yard TD reception capping a five-play drive while the late-arriving part of the sellout crowd filed into the Coliseum.
Barkley hit Woods and Agholor for scores in the final minutes before halftime to keep the lead down to 34-24.
The Ducks gained 460 yards in the first half, yet weren't in control.
Randall Telfer caught a short TD pass with 5:27 to play, and USC narrowly missed recovering an onside kick.
Barkley had one more chance to drive, but turned it over on downs with 3 minutes left. Agholor had six catches for 162 yards, and Silas Redd rushed for 92 yards and two TDs.