Oregon Ducks Debut at No. 11 in First Coaches’ Poll

The first USA Today coaches poll of the season was released this morning, and it left the Oregon Ducks out of the top 10.

The fact that the two players vying for the Ducks’ vacancy at quarterback only have one start plus garbage time in total combined experience, makes Oregon at No. 11 less of an outrage.

Or as Rob Moseley so eloquently put it:

Given the departure of potential Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon will turn to either a senior with more career knee injuries in college (two) than starts (one), or a sophomore whose most encouraging performance was in mop-up duty of a loss — two years ago. Pretty bleak, when viewed objectively.

With that said, I won’t argue with No. 11 and I just hope either Costa or Thomas can turn into 2008 Masoli (or better — fingers crossed!).

Some other notes:

  • Only two Pac-10 teams made the list: both Oregon schools, with OSU slotting in at No. 22. Although five other teams were in the “also receiving votes” category.
  • USA Today already has Costa as the guy to step in for Masoli.
  • The only time Oregon has ever been higher to start the season was 2001, when the Ducks were No. 8 in the preseason coaches’ poll.

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Rivalry Renewed: Oregon Ducks Look for Sixth Straight over Huskies

I remember going to my first Oregon Duck football game last fall as a freshman. Because of weird scheduling circumstances, the Washington Huskies came to Autzen in just the second week of the season.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

If Masoli is healthy, the Ducks will roll over the Huskies.

And being a fan of the Ducks for several years before I stepped on campus, I was well aware of the rivalry and was excited to witness it firsthand.

Soon after entering the stadium, I was quickly thrown into the competitive trash-talking that those clever collegians in the student section like so much. Well, this time we weren’t so clever.

From the very second the first purple-clad player appeared in the tunnel, there was a telekinetic-like power that united the entire stadium; students, alumni, and even children to stand up and chant: “Fuck the Huskies!”

Over and over again. I didn’t even know we were allowed to do that. Looking back, we probably weren’t, but it was too much fun it didn’t matter. The loathing between the two teams was palpable.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it, the dislike quickly turned to sympathy, as the Ducks went all Michael Vick on the Huskies, 44-10. To make matters worse, Washington didn’t win a single game the rest of the season, including a heartbreaker to the lowly Washington State Cougars.

For some reason, the rivalry didn’t feel so much like a rivalry to me anymore after that game. It was more of a business as usual, fifth straight win in a row type of thing.
But the Huskies are no longer a joke. No more Tyrone Willingham or Rick Neuheisel and his March Madness office pools.  Washington now has a legitimate head coach: Steve Sarkisian, who learned from the best of the best in Pete Carroll at USC. Coach Sark finally has the Huskies playing up to their full potential.

Despite going winless last season, Washington had plenty of talent, although most of it was inexperienced. Willingham brought in several solid recruiting classes, including QB Jake Locker in 2006 and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Kavario Middleton last season. He just couldn’t get anything out them. I mean, Locker is good enough that he should be able to win a handful of games by himself.

But now Locker has developed into the player many expected him to become, the West Coast’s version of Tim Tebow, Chris Polk emerged as a talented running back and Kearse has excelled in his first season.

However, the one thing that has kept the Huskies from a 2008 Miami Dolphin-like turnaround is their defense. Although better than last season, the Huskies still rank ninth in the Pac-10 in total defense, allowing 424 yards per game.

And that’s why the Huskies are at least a year away from putting a stop to Oregon’s five game winning streak. Jeremiah Masoli (who should play) and LaMichael James, two of the hottest players in the country, should be able to feast on the porous Washington defense.

With two weeks for the Ducks to rest up, and two weeks for offensive mastermind Chip Kelly to game plan, Oregon should be focused and ready to march into Husky Stadium for their sixth straight win.

Kelly has instilled his mantra of “one game at a time” into his players, as offensive tackle Bo Thran can attest: “They’re just the next team on our schedule.”

The only worry for the Ducks, is adjusting to the unfriendly confines of Husky Stadium. Only one game in their current five game winning streak over Washington came in Seattle.

But Chip Kelly has done a tremendous job preparing this team week in and week out. Going into the Rose Bowl before the bye, many fans were frightened because it was the first road game since the Boise State debacle, but Oregon overcame a lackadaisical first half to win handily.

“We don’t put any more stock in this game than another,” Kelly said. “By that, I don’t mean to diminish it, but we put everything we have into every game. We haven’t done anything different in terms of our approach. It’s a league game. It’s on the road. And that’s enough to get our players up and excited for practice.”

In Big Balls Chip I trust.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Washington 24

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Third Quarter Hat-Trick Propels Oregon Ducks Past UCLA Bruins

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.”

Literally.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

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.

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Third Quarter Hat-Trick Propels Oregon Ducks Past UCLA Bruins

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.”

Literally.

This about sums it up.

This about sums it up.

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.

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Oregon Must Overcome Several Challenges at UCLA to Stay in The BCS Hunt

I’m worried. For the first time all season. Seriously.

I bought into the hype before Boise State. I was certain Oregon would get their revenge against Purdue. I knew Utah was overrated. I had a feeling the Ducks would step up against Cal. And Washington State is, well, Washington State.

But UCLA? What’s so special about the Bruins?

Costa will need to step up in a big way for the Ducks to win in the Rose Bowl on Saturday

Costa will need to step up in a big way for the Ducks to win in the Rose Bowl on Saturday

It’s really not that I’m worried about UCLA at all. I mean, yeah, they’re a decent team. Actually, they’re a little better than that. They went into Knoxville and knocked off the Volunteers. And they gave Pac-10-leading Stanford a late scare in Palo Alto. Both pretty impressive.

But in a vacuum, there is nothing about the Bruins themselves that scares me. Kevin Prince? Johnathan Franklin? Terrence Austin? I’m sure they’re nice guys, but man, that’s a whole lot of mediocrity.

So you ask, what could I possibly be worried about? What is it that caused me to stay up late last night, tossing and turning while I pictured what will happen when the Ducks travel to Westwood on Saturday?

There are four things. And any single one of them could be enough to derail Oregon’s Rose Bowl aspirations with a devastating loss at, coincidentally, the Rose Bowl.

Jeremiah Masoli’s Injury

Just as Masoli finally started playing up to his Heisman-like potential the past two weeks, the curse of the Oregon quarterback struck: a knee injury. Seriously, another one?

Masoli came out in the second quarter against Washington State with the Ducks already leading 35-0. So when he came out, the initial thought was they were just resting him and putting in the second stringers in early.

Turns out Masoli has a sprained MCL, an injury that usually takes at least a couple weeks to heal completely. So the Ducks will turn to junior backup Nate Costa as the starter on Saturday. And if things go according to plan, Costa will lead Oregon to victory, allowing Masoli to rest this week and during the open date next week, before suiting up at full strength in Husky Stadium on Oct. 24.

Costa, who was supposed to be the starter last season before re-tearing his ACL in fall camp, has never started before. And the only in-game experience he has, is against the second team during blow outs over Cal and Washington State this season, Portland State in 2006, and during a big loss at USC that same season.

Sure, he has an inspiring story, as he has come back from multiple devastating knee injuries. Sure, he was a top recruit coming out of high school. And sure, he has a career 84.4 completion percentage. But he only has 21 career passes has never started a game before.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that Chip Kelly has enough confidence in Costa to let Masoli rest up and avoid any resemblance to what happened with Dennis Dixon in 2007. It’s just that getting handed the ball in the Rose Bowl with the season on the line is a lot of pressure to deal with.

Playing on the Road

Oregon has had it easy the last month with four straight home games. And for the Ducks, playing in Autzen stadium is an advantage that very few other teams are privileged with.

Before Cal came to Eugene two weeks ago, Jahvid Best told reporters that the crowd at Autzen is the only one that stands out in his mind as having gotten to him.

Former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr once said, “Autzen Stadium is where great teams go to die.” And trust him, he knows from experience.

So when Oregon travels south to UCLA, it will be their first road game since the debacle in Boise.

The Ducks have had some trouble playing away from Autzen in the recent past, with a 9-9 road record since 2006.

It will interesting to see how focused Kelly has team this time, because Oregon looked lost and overmatched in the season opener against the Broncos.

Injuries in the Secondary

Apparently knee injuries don’t only happen to quarterbacks at Oregon.

Just weeks after team captain Walter Thurmond suffered an ACL ending his season, fellow senior cornerback Willie Glasper succumbed to the same fate. That leaves Talmadge Jackson as the only remaining cornerback with starting experience.

“We just got to plug the next guy in,” Kelly said. “You deal with injuries every day. It’s college football. UCLA’s quarterbacks are banged up. Tim Tebow’s hurt. Sam Bradford’s hurt. It doesn’t just happen at Oregon. It happens everywhere in the country.…We’ve got a lot of guys out so it’ll be interesting to see how this thing finishes up.”

After the defense stepped up following the loss of Thurmond, despite already being without T.J. Ward, they held Cal and WSU to just nine total points, it will interesting to see how the Ducks respond to yet another hit to their secondary. Inexperienced reserves, Anthony Gildon and Chad Peppars will compete for the starting spot.

Playing With Expectations

Oregon has gotten off to many fast starts throughout the decade. But just when they appear to be a serious contender, the Ducks have wilted under the pressure.

For example: 2003, 2006, 2007, and this season, in the opener against Boise State.

Playing with the hype of being a contender for the BCS is a completely different animal than fighting for the Emerald Bowl. The entire country is watching. Every play matters. Just one mistake marks the difference between playing in San Diego in December instead of the Rose Bowl in January.

And now, as Oregon has climbed back to No. 13 in the rankings, they have once again emerged as the sexy, dark horse pick for the national championship.

By all means, I think the Ducks have a great chance to run the table and end up in Pasadena on New Years Day, or possibly better. But it’s up to Chip Kelly to have his team focused for every single game, whether it’s UCLA or USC.

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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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Oregon-Washington State: After Cal Win, Nothing Less Than a Blowout Will Do

Is Washington State still a Division-1 team? Sometimes I forget.

When you’ve only won one road game since 2007, needed late-game heroics to squeak past a winless Washington squad for their only Pac-10 win in 2008, and a 30-27 home win against Southern Methodist a few weeks ago qualifies as a major upset, sometimes you’re left out of the spotlight.

Oregon outscored the Cougars 126-21 in their last two meetings, expect more of the same.

Oregon outscored the Cougars 126-21 in their last two meetings, expect more of the same.

Which is why, when Oregon, fresh off a 42-3 shellacking of then No. 6 Cal, hosts the Cougars this Saturday, they might as well be playing against South Eugene High. Hey, at least the Axemen are undefeated.

So what do I expect to happen this Saturday in Autzen Stadium? A complete, total, no mercy, shove-it-down-your-throat beat down.

Washington State has proved to be a doormat against Pac-10 teams the past few seasons, averaging an impressive 51-8 loss last season in conference play. And the Ducks have certainly been a part of that, winning four of their last five contests against the Cougars, including a 63-14 win last season in Pullman and 53-7 defeat at Autzen in 2007.

After the Oregon offense sleepwalked through the preseason, the Ducks found their form against Cal, playing an absolutely perfect game on both sides of the ball. And even more importantly, gaining the confidence they will need to challenge for the conference title.

“On offense, the sky’s the limit for us,” QB Jeremiah Masoli said after the game. “We’re the only ones who can hurt us. These last couple of weeks we’ve been in a funk, but today we moved past that.”

With Masoli finally remembering that Ed Dickson is on the field, LaMichael James emerging as a weapon out of the backfield, and Chip Kelly feeling more comfortable with calling plays as a head coach, there is little chance that the nation’s last ranked defense will be able to slow down the high-flying Ducks’ offense.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, their offense isn’t much better than their defense.  They average 314.3 yards per game and have committed 13 turnovers, leading to a paltry 17 points per game, good for 109th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The biggest reason for their offensive woes has been bad quarterback play. Last year, the position played so poorly they were forced to resort to their intramural teams for depth. And this year hasn’t been much better, receiving below average performances from senior Kevin Lopina and sophomore Marshall Lobbestael.

But head coach Paul Wulff thinks he has found a solution in freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel.

Tuel will become the first freshman quarterback to start at Washington State since Drew Bledsoe in 1990. He earned the start with a strong performance after replacing Lobbestael against USC, going 14-for-22 for 130 yards and one interception. He ran nine times for 34 yards and was sacked four times.

So now that Oregon has climbed back to No. 16 in the AP poll after a two-week absence, expectations are once again riding high. Which is why anything less than an absolute blow out against the Cougars would be a massive disappointment.

Of course, after a huge win, there is always the possibility of a let-down game. But Kelly has his troops focused, with players buying into his mantra of “one game at a time.”

“Last week was a great memory that we created,” Kelly said, “but that’s all it is.”

Here’s to another great memory on Saturday evening in Autzen Stadium.

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Boise State Shows Oregon The Importance of Scheduling

It’s easy to look back after the fact and play armchair GM. You hear it all the time from fans: “coach X needs to grow a pair, he should have went for it on 4th down!” or “he shouldn’t have tried to steal second base in that situation, what an idiot.” But those are the types of plays where if you make it, you’re a genius, and if you don’t, well, you get the picture. After all, hindsight is called 20/20 for a reason.

That blue on blue combination is completly unfair. Yea, I'm bitter. You wanna fight about it?

That blue on blue combination is completely unfair. Yea, I'm bitter. You wanna fight about it?

But there are some instances so apparent, so obvious, that even before something goes wrong, you just know it’s going to happen. And when it does, all you can do is just cover your face with your hands and painfully watch through the cracks in-between your fingers, like watching a replay of car accident in slow motion, over and over again.

What am I referring to? No, it wasn’t the Legarrette Blount punch, or Jeremiah Masoli’s mountain of sucktidude on Saturday against Utah. It was scheduling the first game of the season on the road against Boise State.

Let me break it down. Coming into the season, Oregon wasn’t really a model for stability and constancy. Unlike Florida, who returned all 11 starters on defense, their Heisman-winning quarterback, and a head coach who has a vice grip on the title of “best football coach east of USC”, Oregon faced a lot of questions marks.

How fluidly will Chip Kelly take over the reins from the Mike Bellotti era? Will Masoli play like the superstar he was against Oregon State and Oklahoma State or will he produce stinkers like the Cal game? How will the Ducks handle the losses of Patrick Chung, Jairus Byrd, Nick Reed and Ra’shon Harris on defense and the departures of Max Unger, Fenuki Tupou and Jeremiah Johnson on the offense? That’s a whole lot of turnover to deal with over one offseason. And despite all that, Oregon was hyping themselves up as a Pac 10 contender and BCS title sleeper. That’s a lot of pressure.

So in a season with so many unknowns, they scheduled Boise State, a team desperate for a major non-conference win, in their first game on the road, in a stadium that can unflap even the most unflappable. Doesn’t sound good.

Yes, when they scheduled this game several years ago, they might not have known how much turnover they would be dealing with this season. But last year, when the Broncos traveled to Eugene to face the Ducks – in a very similar situation (new quarterback, a raucous stadium notorious for its effect on the opponents), Boise State didn’t have to play Oregon until their third game of the season, conveniently scheduling tune-up games against Idaho State and Bowling Green to work out all the kinks before playing a powerhouse like the Ducks. And what do you know, it worked out.

So the unproven Ducks go into Boise that Thursday night, in front of a nationally televised audience no less, to play a team who has a home record of 64-2 since 1999 and playing for their BCS life. That’s a dangerous combination.

Playing in a non-BCS conference, where even if they go undefeated, they still aren’t guaranteed a BCS bowl berth, a win against a team like Oregon was absolutely necessary, as a loss would make pundits say, “if they can’t beat Oregon, they have no chance against Texas or Florida.” And Boise State played like it.

But luckily for Chip Kelly and the Ducks, and the fate of their 2009 campaign, even with a loss in the opener, a Rose Bowl appearance still hangs in the balance. So in order for Oregon to have a chance in the Pac 10, they must put the loss to Boise State completely behind them and focus solely on the task at hand, the #6 California Golden Bears. Oh my.