LOS ANGELES -- The skinny, shaggy-haired receiver isn't the sort to bluster or pound his chest. He's handled being overlooked before. USC didn't even send Jeff Maehl a recruiting letter when he starred for Paradise (Calif.) High School. Oregon was his only scholarship offer. So, he didn't seem necessarily angry that Trojans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey had told ESPN Los Angeles that the Duck were a two-man team.
But, yes, he was aware of it. Yes, word got around the Ducks locker room that Casey said, “They have a good running back and a good quarterback. Other than that, they’re really not that good."
And, yes, he and other Ducks were motivated by Casey relegating them to roles as faceless extras behind running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas. Said Maehl, "Definitely, any time you've got guys on the other team saying we're a two-man show, it's going to give guys a lot of motivation."
James was his typical fancypants self, rushing for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the No. 2 Ducks' 53-32 win over USC, which entered the game ranked 24th in the AP poll. And Thomas threw for 288 yards and four TDs. But let's just say Maehl and the other guys were supporting actors like, say, Robert Duvall played a supporting role in "The Godfather."
You know: Like the show wouldn't have been half as good without them.
Maehl caught eight passes for 145 yards and three TDs against the Trojans, including a beautiful diving grab on a 45-yard touchdown pass in which he tipped the ball to himself and caught it as he fell into the end zone.
Of course, Maehl's description of the game's most spectacular play was mired in self-deprecation.
"I really shouldn't have even jumped," the 6-foot-1, 184-pound senior said. "Then I mistimed the jump. It hit my hands and then kind of fell into my lap."
Any of you guys see that catch happening like that?
Ducks coach Chip Kelly praised Maehl as an athlete and as a competitor and even celebrated his conduct on the basketball court. He wasn't, however, ready to say this was Maehl's "hello world" game, noting that Maehl made huge plays in the Ducks double-overtime win in 2009 at Arizona.
Said Kelly, "I'm just glad we can start rating them: 'What's the best Jeff Maehl game?' Hopefully, it's next week."
But let's not starting treating it like Oregon is now a three-man team, with Maehl joining the James-Thomas club. Receiver Lavasier Tuinei caught seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Josh Huff had a 57-yard reception and two runs for 28 yards. The Ducks' offensive line surrendered only one sack and pushed the Trojans around for 311 yards rushing. The defense got eight tackles for a loss divided among nine players. Seven different players broke up at least one pass. Two players grabbed interceptions. Another forced a fumble. Two others recorded sacks.
The Ducks scored quick -- three of their four first-half TD "drives" took less than 30 seconds. And they scored slow -- three of four second-half scoring drives took more than four minutes. They threw downfield; they misdirected; and then they pounded. Relentlessly.
You get the point. 52 guys played for Oregon. And there was a lot of contributing going on out there.
But Maehl seems like one of the guys who merits note after you finish writing sonnets about James' Heisman Trophy candidacy and how Thomas might be starting a campaign for All-Pac-10 quarterback. Oregon has plenty of fancy, but it also has some guys who didn't look the part to recruiting powerhouses like USC.
When asked if Maehl might not impress an opposing defensive back when he walks on the field -- it's noted he's a skinny white dude with a let-it-be haircut that belongs with the Kings of Leon, not the Kings of Offense -- linebacker Casey Matthews smiled.
"He's not the prototype," he said.
Thomas, however, isn't buying the idea that anyone underestimates Maehl any longer.
"Maybe at the beginning of the season, but if they watch film on him -- he's a big-time player," he said.
Casey, apparently, didn't get that impression from Maehl or any other Ducks -- other than Thomas and James -- in the week leading up to the game. After Oregon rolled up 599 yards of offense, here's a guess his mind might change when he reviews this latest film.