Monday, August 29, 2011

COUNTERPOINT: Oregon HAS won big games; ascended to college football elite


In Ken Goe's analysis of the the Oregon Ducks under Chip Kelly, the average reader and casual fan might read along, nod their heads and agree with the assertion that Chip Kelly has never won a “big game.”

Setting aside, for a moment, the platitude of Chip Kelly referring to “every game as a Super Bowl” is this actually true? Have the Ducks been unable to win a big game during Chip Kelly's tenure as head coach of the Oregon Ducks? I will say that the answer is, unequivocally, no, this is NOT true. The Ducks have won a few big games during the Kelly's reign as Head Coach.

I am not going to sit here and attempt to convince ANYONE that every game is the Super Bowl. Every game IS important, but every game is not the Super Bowl, Rose Bowl or even Peach Bowl. In the 2010 season, the Ducks flew all over the field with ease in dismantling New Mexico and Portland State in lopsided home victories. There were no Super Bowl's those days, only very valuable information about key players to a National Championship contender.

Let us look, now, at 3 “big games” the Ducks actually won, contrary to Goe's assertions, these games WERE on a national stage and most certainly mattered.

I. USC @ Oregon, October 31, 2009

Lamichael James-Photo Courtesy Register Guard
Many people forget, due to Oregon's complete dismantling of the Trojan aura, that USC came in to this contest ranked 6 spots higher in the polls than Oregon. At this time, USC had a loss to the unranked, unheralded Washington Huskies, yet still stood there ranked #4 in the nation while Oregon, after losing it's season opener at Boise State had rebounded to move up to #10 in the polls.

At the time, the Trojans had won, or shared, the conference title every year since 2002. ESPN GameDay was in town; the game was to be broadcast at 5PM Pacific time; this was a national broadcast with national appeal. USC had cache, pedigree and history. Oregon had only cache.

Forgotten in the final score is the fact that USC did take an early 3-0 lead. As late as 3:00 left in the first half, this was a tie game. At halftime, the game was still close and seemed competitive. The second half, though, told a different story as the Ducks ran circles around, over and through a USC defense that had never given up the kind of yardage Oregon amassed that evening. The loss was historic on many levels. Not only did Oregon completely dismantle the aura of invincibility surrounding the Trojans, they also handed Pete Carroll the worst loss during his tenure as USC coach as well as the worst defeat USC had suffered since 1997. En route to the convincing victory, 2 different rushers went for over 160 yards (James, 24-183; Masoli 13-164).

This game was big; it had national implications and the Ducks won the game. convincingly.

II. OSU @ Oregon, December 3, 2009

Duck Mascot Celebrates Civil War Victory, 2009
For the first time in the 115 year history of The Civil War, the winner was guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl. It became a de facto Conference Championship game. Though Oregon State had suffered some early season losses, they came in ranked #16 in the nation. This game is a true rivalry game and you can never discount the underdog in rivalries.

The game did not disappoint. Oregon State did their best to contain the Ducks. People may forget that the Beavers had several leads during this game, including leading the Ducks late in the third quarter.

After a breakaway 52 yard TD run by LaMichael James with 1:20 left in the third quarter and a field goal by Morgan Flint gave the Ducks a 4 point lead with 10:00 left, the Beavers were methodically moving the ball down the field getting as far as the Oregon 21. A huge sack by Kenny Rowe and subsequent incompletion by Sean Canfield gave the Ducks the ball back with 6:09 left in the game.

The game still had a long time left. A 30 yard gain by recently reinstated Legarette Blount got the Ducks out of the Oregon State side of the field. However, the game was not fully determined until 2 BIG 4th Down conversions helped the Ducks run out the clock and earn their first Rose Bowl berth since 1995. This was the first time that the Ducks had needed a methodical rundown of the game clock to secure victory.

On a cool December Thursday night, with a national audience looking on, the Ducks had propelled themselves to the Rose Bowl with a tough Civil War victory. They did not back in to the game. Without this win, there is no 2010 Rose Bowl for the Ducks. This was a very large win.

The 2009 season provided two very big, very important wins. Without these wins, the Ducks are not 2 time defending Pac-10 champions. These were both national games with the college football world watching. The Ducks did not disappoint.

III. Stanford @ Oregon, Saturday October 2, 2010

A Flock of Ducks-Photo Courtesy Register Guard
Once again ESPN College GameDay was in Eugene for a battle between two top 10 teams. This time, Oregon's opponent was the high flying Stanford Cardinal. Coming in undefeated and ranked # 9 in the country, many predicted Stanford to end the Ducks winning ways in 2010 much the same way they did in 2009.

Lost in the potential run to a National Title game was how Stanford ran over Oregon in 2009 en route to a win over the eventual Pac-10 Conference Champions. Though Toby Gearhart was gone, the 2010 Stanford team was actually a more complete football team. Andrew Luck, the all everything QB for the Cardinal would finish second to Cam Newton in the Heisman trophy voting. The team was filled with athletes on both sides of the ball.

Many expected Oregon's pace to wear down the Cardinal early. That was difficult to do, though, as Stanford jumped to a very quick, surprising 21-3 lead. There was a collective groan through the Duck Empire when Stanford scored it's third TD of the first quarter.

After Oregon cut the lead to 21-10 on a 29 yard pass from Darron Thomas to Jeff Maehl, Duck fans feared the worst. Stanford was about to get the ball back and the Ducks had not shown much ability to stop Andrew Luck and the Cardinal. And then, Chip Kelly does what he does best, he gambled. Kelly ordered an onside kick and the Ducks recovered! After securing that kick, the Ducks marched 54 yards in 7 plays and just under 2:00 scoring on a 5 yard TD run by LaMichael James to make it a game again.

By the end of the day, after staggering out of the gates to a 21-3 deficit, Oregon turned on the jets outscoring Stanford 49-10 in the final three quarters of the game; including 28-0 in the second half. Along the way, the Ducks cemented their position as the best team in the Pac-10 conference in 2010. This victory would also help propel them to the first ever #1 ranking in school history a few weeks later.

The win was significant on several levels. Stanford was a top 10 team that had beaten them in their previous meeting. They were a “power” team that was supposed to be able to manhandle the Ducks on both sides of the ball. Stanford had the best QB in the conference, a Heisman runner up and sure-fire #1 pick when he declares for the NFL draft leading the way. Andrew Luck had a very good game. During the 2010 season, Luck threw for 32 TD's and 8 interceptions. Two of those interceptions came against a very under rated Duck defense. As LaMichael James sprinted to a clinching 76 yard touchdown run, Jerry Allen uttered the most prophetic words as the Ducks had indeed made a STATEMENT, STATEMENT, STATEMENT.

Without victory in this game, the Ducks do not play Auburn in Phoenix. Without this victory, Oregon likely plays elsewhere while Stanford rolls to a National Championship Game. Stanford went on to finish 12-1 culminating in a 40-12 beat down of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Certainly, on a national stage, against a team headed to an Orange Bowl victory, Chip Kelly and the Ducks had proven that they could win the big game.


To say that Oregon cannot win on a national stage is disingenuous at best. Oregon, over the last 2 seasons, has won plenty of games; some even on this, so-called, national stage. The aforementioned games were all critical national games which share one thing in common; Duck victory. If the Ducks lose either to USC or Oregon State in 2009; if they lose to Stanford in 2010, the Duck BCS bids are non-existent. Those wins propelled them to prominence.

Certainly Duck fans would have preferred to have celebrated a victory over Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl. And, not a fan I ran into in Phoenix is content with suffering a close loss. Duck fans would love nothing more than to win a big time bowl game this season. Duck fans would be ecstatic with a victory over LSU this week. However, to say that Chip Kelly has not won on a national stage is just flat out wrong. Anyone can pick three losses and say “see, cannot win the big game.” Look at the bigger picture, though, and you will see Chip has won just as many “big games” as he has lost. But that doesn't paint the picture some want to sell.

Here at The Other Side of Duck, however, we show you a different perspective. Chip Kelly has won big games on a national stage with huge implications. Sometimes, though, you run into a player that simply takes over a game. Ask Pete Carroll about Vince Young.


  1. Good stuff Scott.

    After reading Goe's piece I had similar thoughts to what you just stated. I didn't totally agree with Ken, but probably somewhere in between.

    Ken says we're not an elite team, but we're as close as one can get IMO. Kind of like the pro golfer who's won lots of tournaments, also been ranked #1 several times, but he's got that label as one of the best players never to have won a major. Until he wins 1 of those 4 majors (Masters, US Open, Open Championship, PGA) his career resume is incomplete.

    Chip certainly has won big games, such as the ones you pointed out. One could make a sound argument that there was more pressure in any of those 3 games to win than either BCS game we appeared in. Getting to the big game is often tougher than playing in it.

    Are we elite? It does depend on what one's definition of "elite" is. I would argue that we're NOT an elite team in terms of tradition if you compare us to say USC, OU, UT, tOSU, Bama, etc. as that takes some time to achieve. In terms of becoming an elite team of say the last decade or so I think we need to keep winning - by that I don't mean we have to win the Pac-12 every year, but not have some of the down years sandwiched in between that we experienced under MB. Can't go 11-1 or 10-2 and then stumble to 7-5 or 6-6. Elite teams don't win their conferences every year, but down yrs for them are say 3 losses max. We need to retain that level of excellence. But the kicker right now is winning a BCS game. We could even lose a hard fought game this Saturday, but if we come back and win the Pac-12 and finally get that big bowl win under CK, then very few will point at the failure to beat LSU.


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