Chip Kelly must be one hell of a motivational speaker.
After being held scoreless in the first half—for just the second time since 2007—the Oregon Ducks overcame their three-point deficit faster than you could say “LaMichael James for Heisman in 2010.”
Kenjon Barner took the third quarter kickoff back 100 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. And then just 13 seconds later, on the Bruins’ first play of the half, Talmadge Jackson stepped in front of Terrence Austin, picked off Kevin Prince’s pass, and ran it back for 32 yards.
Those two plays epitomized the Ducks’ season so far—winning with defense and special teams.
But they weren’t done yet.
Just two plays after Jackson’s interception, Kenny Rowe knocked the ball out of Prince’s hands on a scramble, and Oregon recovered.
Now that the offense finally had the ball, they were ready to join the party. On third down, Nate Costa found Jeff Maehl on a quick slant pass in heavy traffic, but broke through to race 20 yards into the end zone.
Hat trick: complete.
That touchdown throw, the first of Costa’s career, was the first touchdown pass caught by an Oregon wide receiver this season.
Special teams. Defense. Offense. Three touchdowns in under four minutes. In the end that’s all the Ducks would need, as they went on to win 24-10.
“The fire that everyone had in them just ignited,” Costa said. “We got on a roll and started saying, ‘We’re going to put these guys to sleep.”’
Costa, who was making the first start of his career, replaced Jeremiah Masoli, who sat out with an MCL sprain.
Costa wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t need to be. The Ducks ran the ball at will against the Bruins. Led by speedy freshman LaMichael James, the Ducks totalled 222 rushing yards. James had 151 of those. Barner added 50.
James, who is establishing himself as one of the premier running backs in the conference, was absolutely electric. The Texas native put on a juking spectacular for UCLA, spinning his way out of trouble and into daylight several times.
His best run came after UCLA pinned Oregon at their own one-yard line in the first quarter. With the Bruins stacking eight in the box, Costa handed off to James, meeting several defenders at the goalline. Averting disaster, James first spun out of the grasp of a lunging tackler, and then spun back around three Bruins into the open field.
The only thing that stopped James from a 99-yard touchdown run was himself, as he outran his blocker and collided with a UCLA defensive back at midfield.
“That’s what our team does,” coach Chip Kelly said. “They feed off each other. When somebody makes a big play, the other guys feed off that. These guys have a great attitude, a great chemistry right now. It’s fun to be around them.”
When I was looking ahead to the matchup against UCLA, I saw the serious possibilty of a trap game.
Playing on the road in a stadium where they typically don’t fare well, playing without three of their four best defensive backs—Walter Thurmond, Willie Glasper, and T.J. Ward—and letting Costa make his first collegiate start made me weary of a potential upset.
But the Ducks quickly dispelled any notion of suffering their first Pac-10 loss. This team is 100-percent focused right now, living up to Kelly’s mantra of “one game at a time.”
With next week’s open date, Oregon will have time to rest up and get healthy before traveling to another difficult environment in two weeks—Husky Stadium.
Kelly brought along four quarterbacks to Saturday’s game, including Masoli and true freshman Daryle Hawkins.
“I thought it would be nice if Daryle could see Los Angeles,” Kelly said in some postgame levity. “Maybe Disney World on the way back.”
Let’s hope Hawkins doesn’t need to go anywhere near the Space Needle on Oct. 24th.