If only LaMichael had gotten a few more touches

Tue, 01/11/2011 - 4:41pm
Cliff Pfenning
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If the final stats had shown LaMichael James with 20 carries, Monday's loss in the national championship game would be a lot easier to handle. But they don't.

Instead, the final stats show James with 13 carries for 49 yards, while Auburn freshman Michael Dyer ran 22 times for 143 yards. As a fan, that's the toughest thing to take away from Oregon's last-second loss Monday night in Glendale, Ariz., Oregon's running game just never got going. Even tougher, it never seemed to get going from the coaching box. Auburn's defense beat Oregon mentally as well as physically, and that was enough to turn an Oregon blowout into an Auburn win.

When you look back at a game, regardless of the result, it's comforting to see the best players on the team you pull for had the most chances to affect the outcome, but James didn't. Orgon's offensive line might have had a lot of trouble with the Auburn D line, but James still managed almost 4 yards per carry - more than he did when the Ducks played at Cal. In that game, he got the ball 29 times and ran for just 91 yards - 3.1 per carry. Oregon dredged out a 15-13 win.

James carried the ball 25 times or more in seven of Oregon's final eight games leading into Glendale.

There's a key discussion point for the offseason - how do you keep everyone happy in a backfield with a lot of great players, especially while featuring a potential Heisman Trophy winner?

And, it's the offseason. With the Oregon basketball team in rebuilding mode and baseball still with the feel of a sport the Ducks have borrowed from Oregon State, it's time to settle back into the memories of the past season and look ahead to the divisional alignment and the specifics of the Pac-12 Title Game, which will be televised by FOX on Dec. 3 at the home stadium of the school with the best conference record.

The Pac-12 Title Game is five weeks ahead of the 2012 BCS Title Game, Jan. 9, in New Orleans.

Hey Beavs, thanks for helping the Ducks make ABC happy

Sat, 12/04/2010 - 5:47pm
Cliff Pfenning
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Last seen: 2 weeks 21 hours ago
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They sure did their part to make the Civil War interesting - those Oregon Ducks.

Yes, Oregon State put up a fight, especially in their "Giant Killer" unis, and on their home turf. But, the Ducks made ABC happy with turnovers, a missed field goal, even praying as the fourth quarter began - when the game was at its most dramatic.

Heck, if OSU coach Mike Riley was a gambler of any kind and had gone for a touchdown on fourth down to try to pull within 23-17, what a game that would have been. But, Riley went for the sure field goal, and a brutal pass interference penalty gave the Ducks the little relief they needed to move to a 37-20 win and a sure spot in the BCS National Championship Game, Jan. 10, in Glendale, Ariz.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly called for a fake punt at his own 25, and it worked.

OSU coach Mike Riley called for a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the Oregon 5. The field goal worked, but three points didn't put the kind of pressure on the Ducks that a touchdown would have.

So, onto The Natty for the Ducks, who used up that fake punt for that game. Auburn won't fall for that.

Darron Thomas's leadership vs. Cam Newton's leadership.

LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner vs. whoever Auburn has in its backfield besides Newton.

Jeff Maehl vs. whoever catches the passes for Auburn when Newton doesn't run.

Oregon's defense vs. Newton.

Oregon State played its role of showing off the holes in Oregon's juggernaut offense, and helped showcase Oregon's defense.

There's five weeks to prep for Oregon (representing the Beavers state - bring the OSU fans along) vs. Auburn (it's actually a city, located about an hour from Birmingham). Auburn has Alabama as its big rival, so the game is between the two states - Oregon vs. Alabama.

Congrats Oregon: Chip Kelly, Nick Aliotti, all the Autzen Stadium faithful, Uncle Phil Knight, it goes on. Wow, what a season.

Now, it's time to learn a lot more about Cam Newton.


Chip Kelly finally crosses midfield on the likability meter

Mon, 09/13/2010 - 7:21am
Cliff Pfenning
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I haven’t been much of a Chip Kelly fan since he arrived from Div. I-AA four years ago, but that changed Saturday night.

It happened late in the first half at Tennessee, just as tailback LaMichael James hit the grass after a one-yard gain to set up fourth-and-1 at the Oregon 48. Oregon trailed 13-3 at the time and was struggling to get anything going against the the mostly inexperienced Volunteers and, beer in hand, I yelled at my television “we gotta get something going here - go for it.” And, Kelly did, without hesitation. Quarterback Darron Thomas handed the ball to back-up tailback Kenjon Barner and he followed his experienced offensive line forward for 3 yards and a first down. The Ducks got only a field goal out of the drive, but quickly got the ball back and drove 62 yards in four plays for the tying touchdown with 1:04 left in the half.

It’s that last 64 seconds that really sold me on Kelly.

Tennessee got the ball on its 23 with plenty of time to drive for more points, but seemingly elected to run out the clock and head to the lockers with a 13-all tie – a huge victory of sorts for an unranked team with a first-year coach against the seventh-ranked Ducks.

Oregon used a timeout, which had me wondering what Kelly was doing. Why make the half longer so that the Vols have more of a chance to score? The ESPN commentators talked about the Ducks maybe getting the ball back, but Oregon only had one timeout left and wasn’t going to get the ball back without a turnover, so what was the point with that?

Then it hit me, that’s brilliant … and just plain mean. Psychological warfare.

What Kelly did was effectively tell Tennessee the game could be as long as possible, they weren’t going to win.

And that’s what happened. In the third quarter, Oregon moved at will on offense with three touchdowns, pummeled the Vols on defense – scoring on an interception return, and even scored on special teams – a punt return by Barner.

New Mexico? Tennessee? At least the Vols didn’t get shut out in front of their fans, who mostly left by the start of the fourth quarter.

As a fan who wants to see a little of himself within the coach of any of his favorite teams, those last minutes of the first half sold me on Kelly and his sweatsuits. Maybe Mike Bellotti really did know what he was doing in handing the program off to Kelly.

So, how or when can Oregon schedule Texas or Alabama? Maybe even Boise State again. Bring ‘em on.

There's no time like the present to promote the future

Sat, 08/21/2010 - 6:22am
Carlos Molina
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This week has brought more news about icons from the Oregon Ducks' recent past as opposed to concrete answers about the future. LeGarrette Blount made headlines with another notorious punch after a scuffle during his preseason practice with the Tennessee Titans. Despite no official word from Houston Nutt, Ole Miss seems to have found its starting quarterback: Jeremiah Masoli. As for the Ducks, there is still no word on who will start the season under center. Between Nate Costa and Darron Thomas, it's still a toss-up, and the Ducks supporters are split into essentially two camps: those that want the older, more "experienced" Costa since he has more of a familiarity with the system, or the younger, more dynamic Thomas whom they believe should start getting playing time since he is the present and future of the program.

Chip Kelly announced Wednesday that a decision won't be reached until the week of the season opener against New Mexico, saying, "We're not going to do anything until the week of the game. We've got more scrimmage time, more situations. Those guys know. We're not going to turn around tomorrow and say 'Hey, this guy is starting or this guy is No. 2.' There is no reason for us to rush to judgment and put anybody in there."

He went on to explain his apprehension towards naming a starting quarterback this "early" might stem from the decision made on Costa in 2008: "We were just about to name him and he got hurt. Then, all of a sudden, you have to go to the other guys. There is no reason to name a starting quarterback, Our first game is 16 days away."

While there are plenty of reasons why having already named a starter would be beneficial to the program, in this case Kelly is quite frankly right. Neither player has separated himself from his competitor enough to warrant being named the clear-cut starter. They seem to be splitting time with the first team, but neither is making the most of his time, and both Costa and Thomas have given inconsistent performances. Consistency at quarterback remains one of the most important aspects for any team at any level, and Kelly has openly said, "We need more consistency out of both of them. There are times when, wow, that’s a real good play. Then there are other times where, 'Hey, we’ve got to get ourselves out of that play. There is a check system in and you didn’t get to it.' They’re doing good things and they’re doing bad things." Until one or the other does more good things than bad things, Kelly has no reason to hand over the reins to either.

Friday's practice had Thomas slide into the lead, but barely. According to John Hunt of the Oregonian, Costa threw a few bad picks, while Thomas ended up having to throw many balls away. Either way, the air game was struggling. How many of Costa's struggles might be the player feeling the pressure of competition, trying to make throws he wouldn't normally make with more on the line simply in order to separate himself from Thomas? How much might Thomas be throwing balls away due to the fact that he's seen coaches reactions to the picks, so he is now making conservative decisions he might not normally make? Either way, consistency is still an issue.

The Ducks gain a certain tactical advantage from not having announced a starter yet. On top of the fact that not much game tape exists for these two (71 career passes between them), without announcing a starter teams won't know who to prepare for. Or at least New Mexico won't. Hopefully, after that, the situation will have figured itself out. Although the real answer might lie in something Kelly said about his incoming freshman and apparent third-stringer, Bryan Bennet: "Our future is now. We’re not saving anybody for anything. If a person, I don’t care what class he is, gives us the opportunity to win a football game – I don’t look at and say let’s redshirt this kid for five years from now. You do that, you might not be here five years from now. If Bryan Bennett is the third quarterback by the time we get out of camp, he’ll be the third quarterback. We’ll figure it out … We’ve played young kids before." Sounds like Kelly won't have any qualms going with the sophomore Thomas.


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