Ducks Pummel Cougars: Force Their Way Back Into BCS Picture

It’s official: Oregon’s offense is back and flying higher than ever. Which means the Ducks are the team to beat in the Pac-10, and even more importantly, they have forced their way firmly back into the BCS picture.

Yeah, it was that kind of night for Washington State.

Yeah, it was that kind of night for Washington State.

Fresh off of a 39-point thrashing over then ranked-No. 6 Cal, Oregon completely obliterated Washington State 52-6 Saturday night, making the Cougars look eerily similar to the team from “The Waterboy” before stutterin’ Bobby Boucher arrived to save the day.

After an initial scare on the opening kickoff (again), the Ducks were all business, completely outclassing a defenseless Cougar sqaud who couldn’t help but watch as the Oregon offense moved the ball at will, compiling 505 yards of total offense.

Jeremiah Masoli kept the Washington State defense guessing as he executed Chip Kelly’s spread-offense to perfection, completing 14 of his 18 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.

He added 56 yards and a score on the ground, before giving way to Nate Costa midway through the second quarter leading 35-0.

With the Ducks’ offensive line constantly creating holes larger than Phil Knight’s safety deposit box, the talented stable of running backs couldn’t help but have a field day. And I mean everybody.

LaMichael James, Remene Alston, Masoli, Andre Crenshaw, Kenjon Barner, Costa, and even Jide Shinaba all were effective carrying the ball.

Five different players found the end zone as Oregon rushed for 316 yards on 60 carries, averaging just under six yards per rush.

As impressive as the Ducks offense was, the defense was even better. The unit allowed only 139 toal yards, with much of that coming in garbage time.

They forced nine punts, recorded four sacks, came up with two interceptions and did their best to keep Washington State off the scoreboard entirely.

So putrid was Washington State’s offense, that they fumbled the ball on their only play that went longer than 12 yards.

The Cougars only touchdown came after Scott Brady called for a fair catch and muffed the punt at his own 2-yard line. And even then, it took Washington State three tries to get in.

“We wanted the shutout real bad,” rover Javes Lewis said. “But in this type of game, it doesn’t really matter.”

After a hectic week dealing with both on and off the field issues, the Ducks had reason to let down.

Two days prior, the possibility of a LeGarrette Blount reinstatement came about. And at the beginning of the week, they learned that cornerback and team captain Walter Thurmond would be lost for the season.

But the Ducks quickly suppressed any chance of a letdown by scoring touchdowns on six of their first seven drives.

“Our letdown was Week One,” Lewis said, referring to the 19-8 loss at Boise State that precipitated Blount’s infamous outburst. “You learn your lessons through pain, and we had a lot of pain that game.”

Despite being written off by the voters following that demoralizing loss on the Smurf Turf, the Ducks have steadily improved each game.

After squeaking past Purdue, the defense shut down a Utah team that carried with them the nation’s longest undefeated streak. And then last week, the offense came alive as well, when the Ducks put together a nearly perfect game against Cal.

Oregon couldn’t have picked a better time to hit full steam, because they are entering the make-or-break portion of their schedule next week. They travel to UCLA to face the Bruins, followed by Washington, USC, and Stanford.

In the past, the Ducks have been known to crumple under the pressure of lofty expectations, but this year is different. Why? They are armed with a weapon they have never had before: a shutdown defense.

So now, sitting undefeated atop the Pac-10, and climbing their way back up in the polls, Oregon has once again returned as a team to watch in the BCS…and this time, not just because of their uniforms.

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Live From The Chip Kelly Press Conference: “This Is Not a Football Decision”

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly made it clear this morning that the decision to possibly reinstate Legarrette Blount has nothing to do what he can do on the football field. Instead, he is wholly concerned in the character of his senior tailback.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Kelly announced that if Blount adheres to strict behavioral and academic “ladders”, there is a possibility he will gain an opportunity return against Stanford on November 7th.

“This is not a football decision, this is a human being decision. It’s about that individual,” Kelly said Friday. “And he’s got a lot of things he’s got to do.”

Under NCAA guidelines, Blount’s punch of Boise State player Byron Hout would have warranted just a one or two game suspension. But it’s what Blount did before and after the punch that proved to Kelly that Blount needed a major character improvement.

It is no secret that Blount has had off the field issues before, as he was previously suspended over the offseason and has had troubles with his academics. Those issues, combined with Blount’s actions leaving the field at Boise State, forced Kelly to make a swift decision to suspend him for the entirety of the season.

So that raises the question, why would Kelly suspend Blount for the remainder of the season if he had plans for a possible reinstatement? Wouldn’t an indefinite suspension be more appropriate for the future credibility of Kelly and the Oregon athletic department?

Not according to Kelly.

“Legarrette needed to understand there was a finality to it. I only used strong language to show LG the importance of the situation.”

Say what you will. Kelly flip-flopped. Kelly wouldn’t be considering a reinstatement if the Ducks were out of the BCS and Pac-10 races. Kelly isn’t experienced enough to make such a difficult decision.

But from sitting in the first row at the press conference this morning, I could see the honesty, integrity, and thoroughness in which Kelly handled the situation.

After the initial suspension, Kelly had no plan to reinstate him. He even expected Blount to pack his bags and take off back home. But Blount stepped up, took responsibility and stuck around. He even reached out to Kelly on September 4th, asking for Broncos head coach Chris Peterson’s phone number so he could call and apologize.

Two weeks ago, Kelly saw a possibility for reinstatement. The fact that Blount continued practicing with the team, while working on his off the field issues proved to Kelly his desire to remain a part of the Oregon football program.

Which is why after speaking with Tony Dungy, John Gruden, Harry Edwards, and several other notable NFL authorities, Kelly decided if Blount can do what he has put in place for him, he deserves a chance to play again.

But Kelly was very sure to emphasize that this is no guarantee.

“There’s a distinct possibility he’ll never play football here again,” Kelly said. “But the ball is in LeGarrette’s court.”

Kelly justified his change of heart on the suspension by saying, “if I only suspended Blount for 4 games, I couldn’t change it to 12. But this way, if he proves he deserves it, he can be reinstated, with the approval of Larry Scott.”

Which is also no guarantee. Kelly has not talked to Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, but feels whatever he rules will be the correct decision.

Personally, I feel Kelly handled this excellently. He sent a message to Blount, and the rest of the team, that this behavior will not be tolerated. He also has given Blount a chance to earn back his reinstatement, something I feel Kelly will judge very carefully.

And now the ball is in Blount’s court to prove that he deserves a chance to come back and represent the University of Oregon as a football player.

According to Kelly, “discipline is about behavioral improvement, not about punishment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Live From The Chip Kelly Press Conference: “This Is Not a Football Decision”

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly made it clear this morning that the decision to possibly reinstate Legarrette Blount has nothing to do what he can do on the football field. Instead, he is wholly concerned in the character of his senior tailback.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Curious timing? Yes. But Kelly made the right move.

Kelly announced that if Blount adheres to strict behavioral and academic “ladders”, there is a possibility he will gain an opportunity return against Stanford on November 7th.

“This is not a football decision, this is a human being decision. It’s about that individual,” Kelly said Friday. “And he’s got a lot of things he’s got to do.”

Under NCAA guidelines, Blount’s punch of Boise State player Byron Hout would have warranted just a one or two game suspension. But it’s what Blount did before and after the punch that proved to Kelly that Blount needed a major character improvement.

It is no secret that Blount has had off the field issues before, as he was previously suspended over the offseason and has had troubles with his academics. Those issues, combined with Blount’s actions leaving the field at Boise State, forced Kelly to make a swift decision to suspend him for the entirety of the season.

So that raises the question, why would Kelly suspend Blount for the remainder of the season if he had plans for a possible reinstatement? Wouldn’t an indefinite suspension be more appropriate for the future credibility of Kelly and the Oregon athletic department?

Not according to Kelly.

“Legarrette needed to understand there was a finality to it. I only used strong language to show LG the importance of the situation.”

Say what you will. Kelly flip-flopped. Kelly wouldn’t be considering a reinstatement if the Ducks were out of the BCS and Pac-10 races. Kelly isn’t experienced enough to make such a difficult decision.

But from sitting in the first row at the press conference this morning, I could see the honesty, integrity, and thoroughness in which Kelly handled the situation.

After the initial suspension, Kelly had no plan to reinstate him. He even expected Blount to pack his bags and take off back home. But Blount stepped up, took responsibility and stuck around. He even reached out to Kelly on September 4th, asking for Broncos head coach Chris Peterson’s phone number so he could call and apologize.

Two weeks ago, Kelly saw a possibility for reinstatement. The fact that Blount continued practicing with the team, while working on his off the field issues proved to Kelly his desire to remain a part of the Oregon football program.

Which is why after speaking with Tony Dungy, John Gruden, Harry Edwards, and several other notable NFL authorities, Kelly decided if Blount can do what he has put in place for him, he deserves a chance to play again.

But Kelly was very sure to emphasize that this is no guarantee.

“There’s a distinct possibility he’ll never play football here again,” Kelly said. “But the ball is in LeGarrette’s court.”

Kelly justified his change of heart on the suspension by saying, “if I only suspended Blount for 4 games, I couldn’t change it to 12. But this way, if he proves he deserves it, he can be reinstated, with the approval of Larry Scott.”

Which is also no guarantee. Kelly has not talked to Scott, the Pac-10 commissioner, but feels whatever he rules will be the correct decision.

Personally, I feel Kelly handled this excellently. He sent a message to Blount, and the rest of the team, that this behavior will not be tolerated. He also has given Blount a chance to earn back his reinstatement, something I feel Kelly will judge very carefully.

And now the ball is in Blount’s court to prove that he deserves a chance to come back and represent the University of Oregon as a football player.

According to Kelly, “discipline is about behavioral improvement, not about punishment.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Exploiting the BCS

The Pac-10 deserves credit for playing a legitimate non-conference schedule. In an era where the easiest way to make it to a BCS bowl game is to load up on patsies easier than high school girls with insecurity issues, the Pac-10 year after year schedules tough games that teams from other conferences wouldn’t even blink twice at.

Yes, these guys were on the same field as Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes. It wasn't pretty.

Yes, these guys were on the same field as Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes. It wasn't pretty.

Can you imagine if Florida started their season on the road against Boise State, a team that was playing for its season in week one? That would never happen in a million years. Instead, they schedule tune-up games against Charleston Southern and Troy – one FCS team, and one team that should be an FCS team – and in what shouldn’t be a shock to any of us, they combined to beat the living hell out them 118-9. To give you a better idea of how bad these teams are, the best athlete to come out of either one of these schools is Bobby Parnell, a pitcher for the Mets, who in his short and uninteresting career carries an ERA of 5.49. Impressive.

But maybe that’s the smart play. Ever since 2004 when the BCS took strength of schedule out of the equation, there has been no reason to play a team within sniffing distance of the top 25. At the end of the season, the only thing that matters to the voters is who has the smallest number in the loss column, given you play in one of the 6 BCS conferences, that is.

Since the Year of the Monkey (AKA 2004), the Big 10 has 9 BCS appearances, followed by the Big 12 and SEC with 8 apiece, and the Pac-10, Big East and ACC follow behind with 5 each.  Of those last three conferences, not one has earned more than a one bid in a single year.  The ACC and Big East aren’t deserving of more than one, but to think, the Pac-10 has not had an at-large BCS big since the 2002 season, when Washington State won the Pac-10, forcing USC into the Orange Bowl.

So why does the Pac-10 keep scheduling these difficult non-conference games? It’s like shooting yourself in the foot right before you run a marathon: you might be able to recover by the end of the race, but chances are the damage is too great and you’ll just lag into mediocrity (I don’t know why, but I’ve been making a myriad of marathon analogies lately).

There are a few arguments as to why scheduling more challenging opponents is beneficial. If you win, the voters might take it into consideration. It prepares you for rugged conference play. National TV exposure.  But I don’t think any of these arguments are worthwhile, and the stats back it up.

The Pac-10 has players just as talented as the SEC, Big 10 or Big 12, but they put themselves in a situation where they are destined to fail. They are the only conference with a complete round-robin schedule, thus, there is no chance that more than one team escaping conference play unscathed.   And they play difficult non-division games that are basically a lose-lose situation (if they win, they get barely any extra credit for it, and if they lose, they’re out of the BCS race).

The Pac-10 deserves, and for the most part, gets respect for these two things, but last time I checked, respect doesn’t equal BCS trophies. The SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 have found ways to exploit the system, putting the odds in their favor to get multiple teams into the BCS. Why hasn’t the Pac-10 figured it out?

How Will Oregon Respond to Adversity?

Please Masoli, don't just be a flash in the pan!

Please Masoli, don't just be a flash in the pan!

College football is the only sport where you can have a must-win game in just the second week of the season.  Well, that’s if you want any chance for a BCS bowl game, but that’s how it goes when there are 120 teams competing for eight spots. And unfortunately, the Ducks are stuck in that situation this weekend.

Oregon came into the season with substantial expectations, carrying the momentum from brilliant wins over Oregon State and Oklahoma State to finish the season. So dominant, were these wins, that national pundits were touting Jeremiah Masoli as a sleeper candidate for the Heisman, despite only throwing for 135 yards per game last season.

What I’m getting at, is that Oregon was banking on a player who basically only had two good games to be their leader this year. To be honest, I was not impressed with Masoli at all in 2008 until he blew up against the two OSU’s. I thought he tried to run the ball too much (east and west), made poor decisions (i.e. the Cal interception) and wasn’t the most accurate passer. There were definite flashes of excellence that foreshadowed his potential, like the touchdown pass to Chris Harper against Washington, and any one of the several times to bludgeoned a would-be tackler, but he lacked consistency.

Oregon fans were so eager and excited to buy into the Masoli kool-aid, that they subconsciously bit off more than they could chew for this season’s expectations.

So now where does that leave us for this season?

As horribly as the Ducks played against Boise State last Thursday, voters will look back at that game in November and see it as an 11 point loss to the #14 ranked team on the road. That really doesn’t sound so bad.

But before Oregon can think about having BCS aspirations again, Oregon has to take care of business at home against Purdue, and in a big way. Purdue is an ok team, nothing more, nothing less, but they carry the Big-10 brand with them to Autzen, and anytime you can beat a team from a BCS conference in non-conference play, it’s huge. So what the Ducks need to do is come out ready to play, and blast Purdue like this is biggest game of the season – because, well, it is.

After being so unprepared for Boise State, I think Chip Kelly can rally the troupes and move past the debacle that was last Thursday night.

Prediction: Oregon 38, Purdue 17

LaMichael James will go off in his first start at TB, rushing for over 100 yards and a pair of scores.

Masoli will improve, throwing for two scores and running in another, though I do expect him to give the ball away once or twice. He needs to be less careless with the ball.

Broncos Repeatedly Try to Give Away Game, Ducks Want None of It; Inevitably Ends In Loss.

That was an absolutely pathetically awful, terrible, horrible, no good very bad game. There I said it. Wait, there’s more: ghastly, atrocious, hideous. Sorry I had to get it out of my system. Basically, there are not enough anti-superlatives in the dictionary to describe how poorly the Ducks played last night.

To sum up, it basically felt as if Legarrette Blount personally punched me in gut, continually, from about 7:15 to 10:30. I would have rather have been after game-punch recipient Byron Hout than a Duck fan at about 11:45 PM Mountain Daylight Time. Blount’s sucker punch made Carmello Anthony look like Muhammad Ali.

1_21_h450_20090904071622_320_240This game ranks on Bill Simmons’s “Levels of Losing” as a combination of Dead Man Walking and the Full-Fledged Butt Kicking, with a twist of ruined season tossed in. In a vacuum, this game is already extremely painful, but to figure in our high expectations, along with the necessity to stay undefeated in the BCS hunt, this game clocks in right behind a cracked femur or childbirth on the pain scale.

The Bronco’s kept trying to give the Ducks a chance to get back in the game, but Oregon never capitalized. And that’s not an exaggeration. They didn’t even have a single first down until the 7:07 mark third quarter!

Simmons says it perfectly, “Especially disheartening because you wave the white flag mentally, but there’s a tiny part of you still holding out hope for a miraculous momentum change. … So you’ve given up, but you’re still getting hurt, if that makes sense.”Boise State kept rolling out long drives, completely wearing out the Ducks already shaky D, but not getting anything to show for it, keeping the faintest glimmer of hope alive in the back of my mind.

Similarly to the Purdue game last year, the Broncos sucked the life out of the Ducks but kept the door open by keeping it a 3- score game. And for the Ducks, when they’re offense is clicking, that margin can be made up in a matter of minutes. Difference was,  in the second half last year, Oregon capitalized on turnovers and kept inching their way closer, until finally tying the game and taking over momentum in the final minutes. The Ducks gained no such momentum this year.

Once Oregon got the ball after forcing a turnover, you could just tell that they were thinking, “I wonder how long before we screw up and give it back.” Or maybe that’s just what I was thinking. Whatever the case, it sure didn’t take very long.

Before I cry myself to sleep, again, I’ll you find the parallels between the Full-Fledged Butt Kicking and the pathetic attempt the Ducks made to play football last night. Go for it Simmons: “Sometimes you can tell right away when it isn’t your team’s day. … And that’s the worst part, not just the epiphany but everything that follows — every botched play; every turnover; every instance where someone on your team quits; every “deer in the headlights” look; every time an announcer says, “They can’t get anything going”; every shot of the opponents celebrating; every time you look at the score and think to yourself, “Well, if we score here and force a turnover, maybe we’ll get some momentum,” but you know it’s not going to happen, because you’re already 30 points down. … You just want it to end, and it won’t end. … But you can’t look away. … It’s the sports fan’s equivalent to a three-hour torture session.”

And there goes the season.