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Matt Hinton

Did Chip Kelly, head coach, destroy Chip Kelly's offense?

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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Boise State 19, Oregon 8. This sort of thing -- an optimistic, quasi-darkhorse team falling flat on its face in every phase of a big opening game -- happens all the time. In the last six years alone, Auburn (against USC in 2003), Boise State (at Georgia in 2005), Cal (at Tennessee in 2006), Oklahoma State (at Georgia in 2007) and Clemson (against Alabama last year) have all blown huge reserves of preseason goodwill in lopsided week one flops that completely deflated expectations for the rest of the season. It's pretty much an annual thing for somebody.

But as thorough as some of those losses have been, I have never been as stunned by a debut as rotten as the egg Oregon's offense laid in the first half tonight. Just consider how good the same team were once it found its rhythm in Chip Kelly's offense last year: The Ducks won six of their last seven while averaging almost 500 yards and 43 points per game, including three straight 500-plus-yard games against Arizona, Oregon State and Oklahoma State in the last three, roughly corresponding to the scorched-earth attack Kelly orchestrated before Dennis Dixon's season-ending ACL injury in 2007. This offense ended the year averaging in the neighborhood of 10 yards per play; tonight it averaged 3.4. At one point in the third quarter, it was averaging 0.9 and still hadn't gained a first down. There's a long way to go to find that rhythm again.

What was really startling when you look at the final score is that it actually should have been a lot worse: Boise outgained the Ducks by more than 200 total yards, picked up 22 first downs to Oregon's six and missed two field goals. It wasn't tricky and it wasn't a fluke -- the Broncos not only looked like the sharper, better-prepared team, but were clearly the more physical team, which was not something you could have predicted coming in. In that sense, this may have been a more legitimizing win than the feel-good, trick play-laden Fiesta Bowl upset over Oklahoma three years ago. Boise will very likely be ranked in the top 10 next week, and has never looked more like it belonged there than it did in the first two-and-a-half quarters tonight.

But more on Boise in the morning; the story of the night (aside from LeGarrette Blount's postgame outburst) is how an offense that had eight 300-yard rushing games last year and went over 200 on the ground against every single opponent except USC could possibly be held to 31 yards on 1.4 per carry by a WAC defense replacing almost its entire front seven. There are some issues there -- issues in the preparation that led to the catatonic start, issues in the sloppiness that cut short a possible comeback effort when Boise got loose with the ball in the second half and issues with Blount's inexcusable thuggery after the gun. Until we have reason to think differently, all of that adds up to issues with Chip Kelly in his transition from coordinator to boss, which could not have possibly gotten off to a worse start.

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