By REED NELSON
When the dust settled in Corvallis on Saturday, hope still sprung eternal. If everything lined up perfectly, if Oregon caught a runner, runner on the turn and the river, they’d hit their flush and have a shot at the BCS title again. An outside shot, sure, but a shot nonetheless.
But it didn’t turn out like Rounders. It didn’t even turn out like the poker scene in Big Daddy. The Ducks beat Oregon State like a black-and-orange haired stepchild, trouncing the Beavs at Reser Stadium to the eloquent tune of 48-24. The Ducks’ staunch-outside-of-L.A. defense forced six turnovers. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion threw four interceptions.
Kenjon Barner ran for 198 yards and two touchdowns even after sustaining a first-half rib injury, and then DAT filled in for the injured hoss with 122 yards and three TDs on a career high 17 carries.
Two consecutive special teams turnovers derailed whatever early second-half momentum that Oregon State had, and during the fourth quarter, Mannion apparently decided that all completions counted the same, regardless of uniform color, sideline orientation or logo dissimilarities.
The first half of the Civil War was a battle. The second half was like watching a bug zapper, cheering for the zapper. There was no tension, no elevated blood pressure, no uncertainty. It was just a matter of when.
The mystery remains the Stanford game.
As the prospects of a season without Chip Kelly grow increasingly greater, it seems only natural to wonder what went wrong at Autzen. Or, perhaps more importantly, why has Kelly, who has coached his way to a 45-7 (an .865 winning percentage) record in his four years at Oregon, been so mediocrely mediocre in tight games.
In those same four years, the Barron of Blur is just 4-3 (.571) in games decided by less than a touchdown1. Granted, the sample size of tight games is considerably smaller, but it is worth noting. It’s not like he has a propensity to lose close games (he has four losses in games decided by more than touchdown, compared to just three on the other side), it’s just that he doesn’t exactly have a knack for winning them either.
And three of those four victories in tight games came in 2009, his first year as head coach. It’s almost as if the Ducks blow out the opposition with such consistent ferocity that it leaves them punch-drunk in close games. Since 2010, when the dominance reigned supreme, the only team the Ducks have beat in a game decided by less than a TD was against Cal in 2010 — the now-infamous Flop-apolooza game.
When the walls close in, Oregon hasn’t responded well. And the look on Kelly’s face after the Stanford game said it all.
It looks like he was just abducted by aliens. His eyes scream “stunned,” the cadence of his delivery is one revolution away from a stammer and he’s hunched over the mic stand like a man with a sudden cramp.
But that’s what happens when all this ends. If it doesn’t go exactly as planned, then we begin to question.
David Shaw was the best coach in the Pac-12 this year, plain and simple. He was, in all likelihood, a bad call away from being in the National Championship conversation, and his defensive gameplans against USC, Oregon and UCLA were nothing short of spectacular.
No more Heisman talk for Kenjon and DAT. No more migration to Miami. No more visions of Chip Kelly holding up the crystal football.
Whichever bowl the Ducks end up playing in, it will feel like a consolation prize. It shouldn’t, no way no how, but it will. It’s the nature of things in Eugene these days, and lofted expectations are the price to pay for supremacy.
Once the Oregon defense responded to the injury plague with flying colors against Arizona, things felt different. This team felt like the one that could topple Alabama. And when Johnny Manziel exposed ‘Bama’s few defensive flaws, it looked like Oregon wouldn’t even need to take down Ebenezer Scroo… er… Nick Saban’s bunch for the nation to respect what had been built here.
But now, Oregon has to hang their hat on (remember, Silver Linings are the official sponsor of the 2012 season) this accomplishment: They’ll be just the fourth team in BCS history to play in four consecutive BCS games.
Who cares if it’s the Fiesta Bowl? Everyone. But hopefully Mark Helfrich will help with the recovery process as Kelly takes over the reigns in Dallas next season. Or Kansas City. Or Carolina. Or Philly. Or… Screw it. Stay here, coach. Finish what you started, then move on.
Otherwise, the answer to the original question becomes this: Everything changes. And given the program’s recent success, change isn’t always a good thing.
- If you alter the parameters to include “games decided by a touchdown or less,” Kelly’s record, in his defense, jumps to 6-3. But still…Jump