Facing the Huskies this week, the Ducks, ranked 11th in the BCS standings, have righted the ship after their punchy beginning in Boise.
Just one night into the college football schedule, and the Oregon Ducks were already the, uh, punch line to the season.
A disastrous game in Boise capped by an even-more disastrous postgame — when running back LeGarrette Blount threw a roundhouse at a BSU player — had the Ducks seemingly headed for status as the most overrated team in the country, and Chip Kelly the most in-over-his-head rookie coach.
But then a funny thing happened to Team Chaos. Out of the ashes of disaster rose the Oregon squad everyone expected all along.
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Since then, Oregon has won five in a row, stands at No. 11 in the BCS rankings, and is the only Pac-10 team without a conference loss as it prepares to play Washington at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Husky Stadium.
“It’s a real tribute to Chip and what he was able to do to keep that team focused,” said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. “There was so much disarray going on at the end of that Boise game with the incident on the field, and for him to be able to handle the thing the way he did is very impressive.”
The night in Boise, however, is a topic the Ducks try to avoid talking about.
“I actually have nothing to say on that,” said running back LaMichael James, who took over for Blount and is fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing with 581 yards. “It’s like it’s been so long ago, it’s a completely different team than we were five, six weeks ago. I can’t really say anything of it.”
Kelly isn’t a whole lot more verbose, saying only, “We went back to work the next day, and we’ve been working hard ever since.”
James allows that there was much discussion on the plane flight back about redemption and setting things right. The Ducks were held to just 152 yards, losing 19-8 to Boise State.
“That whole night was long, the next day was long,” James said. “We didn’t really play the way we wanted — we played slow and timid. We don’t play like that.”
Home wins over Purdue and Utah — greatly aided by an underrated defense that ranks third in the Pac-10 in points allowed (16) and yards allowed (280.8) — followed, and then the offense kicked it in as the Ducks blasted California 42-3 and Washington State 52-6. Oregon, which has also beaten UCLA, has won its three Pac-10 games by a combined score of 118-19, making the ineptness in Boise even more perplexing.
One of the keys, though, has been James, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder who has proved a perfect fit for Oregon’s spread option offense. James, a redshirt freshman, is averaging 6.3 yards per carry, third-best in the conference.
James is from Texarkana, Texas, and had a recruiting visit to Nebraska, among other places. But he took one look at Oregon’s offense and was sold.
“A guy my size, I can’t line up in the ‘I’ and take a pounding every day,” he said. “I’m not big enough for that. In this offense, I can be an everydown back, and that’s what I wanted to be.”
James also said he liked the offense because “you are always matched up to beat the safety. If I can’t beat the safety, then I shouldn’t be here.”
Kelly ascended to the job last spring after Mike Bellotti retired after 15 seasons to become athletic director. It was a meteoric rise for Kelly, who had come to Oregon just two years before as offensive coordinator. Bellotti had already begun implementing the spread-option offense and sought out Kelly, who had run it with success at New Hampshire, where he was offensive coordinator.
Kelly said the offense — in which quarterbacks take the ball out of shotgun snaps and typically have the option to keep it, hand it off, or throw and are essentially extra runners — was from when New Hampshire went to the offense one year when it didn’t have any fullbacks.
“How do you run the ball without a fullback?” Kelly asked. “We had more talent at receiver than running back so it was kind of, ‘How do we get three, four receivers on the field yet still effectively run the football?’ “
And after appearing that night in Boise to have so much to run from, the Ducks are again simply running.
• Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt spoke for the first time since Saturday’s 24-17 loss at Arizona State and said the final play came against “a little prevent defense, three-man rush, drop eight. A call that our guys have executed really well all season. And we just had some assignment errors, and unfortunately at the wrong time we didn’t play it as well as we have. … Obviously hindsight is 20-20 and I wish we had that play over again and maybe do something different, whether it’s a different call or reminding our guys of what we could do here.”
• Safety Nate Williams has been singled out for deciding to cover a crossing route and leave the middle open. Williams said “just too many guys were trying to do a little too much and we just got caught out of position. … I had a talk with coach Sark on Monday and he told me that kind of stuff happens to even the greatest of the great players and he told me to put it in the back of my mind and just move on.”
• DT Cameron Elisara missed practice for the third straight day with a stinger suffered against Arizona State and is likely out this week. Everrette Thompson would get the start in his place.
• Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli practiced again on Wednesday, indicating he will play Saturday. He missed Oregon’s win over UCLA on Oct. 10 with a knee injury suffered against WSU. He practiced with a brace he would need to wear to play.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org