With NFL teams burning up Chip Kelly’s phone lines of late, Thursday’s Fiesta Bowl very well could have been the Oregon head coach’s final game at the school. And if it was, Kelly certainly went out in style. His Ducks cruised to a 35-17 victory over Kansas State that was rarely in doubt from the opening kick-off.
For Oregon, Thursday night proved to be business as usual, as they used their standard brand of speed and efficiency on both sides of the ball to wear down the 11-2 Big XII champs.
That speed was on display from the very first play of the game, when Ducks’ return man extraordinaire De’Anthony Thomas took the opening 94-yards for a touchdown, and their efficiency showed for the next 59 minutes onward. On offense, the Ducks finished with 386 total yards, including 143 yards from All-Pac 12 running back Kenjon Barner, while freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota was named the game’s Offensive MVP with 166 yards passing and two touchdown throws.
Of course while Oregon’s “O” gets all the headlines, it was the defense which truly was the difference on Thursday night. An underrated unit all season long, the Ducks proved to the naysayers that this program isn’t strictly about putting up points, about stopping the other team from getting them too. Oregon held Kansas State to just 17 points on Thursday night, the lowest output of the season for a Wildcats’ club which was averaging 40 coming into the contest. Had it not been for an ultimately meaningless fourth quarter touchdown, the Wildcats would’ve barely broken double digits.
Now Oregon fans and the rest of the college football world will sit back, hold their breath and wait for the (multi) million dollar question surrounding Chip Kelly to be answered: Will he stay at Oregon or head off into the sunset and become a professional head coach.
To his credit, Kelly has made no secret about his interest in the professional ranks, and with reports surfacing Wednesday that he already has interviews set up with the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills, it seems likely that he may never coach another game in Eugene again. It was also reported Thursday that if Kelly does go to the NFL, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will take over as head coach of the program going forward.
And assuming Kelly does leave, it would put an end on one of the most truly remarkable runs of any head coach in recent college football history.
Kelly arrived at Oregon a mere six seasons ago as a hot shot, but unknown offensive coordinator from New Hampshire, and after two years holding the same title at Oregon was named head coach prior to the 2009 season. Kelly lost his first game as head coach to Boise State in the infamous “LaGarrette Blount punch” game, but rarely lost from there. With Thursday night’s win, Kelly’s record improved to 46-7 as head coach at Oregon, a staggering 11.5 wins per season in his time at the school.
Of course numbers can be deceiving, and if anything, those 46 wins hardly tell the whole story of Kelly’s dominance while in Eugene. Assuming that Thursday night was Kelly’s final game at Oregon, he’ll finish his Ducks’ career with three Pac-12 titles in four years and no more than one conference loss in any season at the school. He also led Oregon to four straight BCS bowl games and 2012 will mark his third straight 12 win season. No college football program in America can stake claim to either of those marks.
Thursday night was another banner win for a program that has grown accustomed to them in recent years.
Now, college football fans will be curious to know if it was the end of an era as well.
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