Oregon Football: The 20 Greatest Plays of the Chip Kelly Era
Whether it be LaMichael James entering a pile and somehow emerging from it 10 yards downfield, Dennis Dixon dicing through defenses, or De'Anthony Thomas nearly breaking the sound barrier with his speed, the Oregon Ducks have found a way to consistently excite us over the past five years. We owe this, in large part, to the ever-exciting and innovative Chip Kelly.
Kelly became Oregon's offensive coordinator in 2007 and wasted no time, crushing Michigan in the Big House 39-7 while racking up 624 yards of total offense.
In 2009, he took over as head coach and quickly became one of the nation's elite. In his three years as head coach, Kelly has led the Ducks to three straight conference championships, three straight BCS bowl appearances, and over 20 sexy uniform combinations.
Aside from his innovation and explosive, fast-paced offense, Duck fans can also thank Kelly for his ability to recruit and produce dynamic playmakers. Jeff Maehl, for example, was recruited as a 3-star cornerback. Under Kelly, he became one of the best Oregon receivers of all time.
And let's not forget about Chip swiping De'Anthony Thomas away from USC right before national signing day. Take that, Kiffin!
This list is for the Duck fans who want a break from the 2012 world filled with NCAA investigations, a quarterback battle and miscellaneous off-the-field issues. It is for the fans who want to relive the glory of Oregon's rise to the top tier over the past five years.
Some of these plays are great because of how they were drawn up. Some are great because they were clutch. Some are great because they were visually spectacular. One way or another, they need to be remembered.
As we gear up for the spring game and hope for another great season in 2012, let's stop and take a look back on the best of the best from Coach Kelly's time here at Oregon.
These are the plays that barely missed the cut. They were, for one reason or another, very, very good plays. Though they couldn't quite crack the top 20 plays of the Chip Kelly era, they do deserve to be appreciated.
The play that I was closest to putting in the top 20 was Legarrette Blount's beautiful 17-yard touchdown run against Boise State in 2008 (video above). In one of my few good memories from Boise State matchups, Blount effortlessly leaped over a defender. He then proceeded to land and cut in one graceful motion, embarrassing a defender and giving the Ducks the lead.
Another great run that barely missed the cut came in the 2009 Civil War game. At the end of the third quarter, Jeremiah Masoli handed LaMichael James the ball on an off tackle run. James busted the play outside and exploded through the hole. His pure speed took him the rest of the way on this 52-yard score that put the Ducks ahead of the Beavers 34-33.
A final play that must be appreciated is De'Anthony Thomas' touchdown catch against Stanford this past season. On a big fourth down, Darron Thomas held the ball for so long that it looked like he would surely be sacked. However, it quickly became clear that he was setting up a beautiful screen pass to the Black Mamba. Thanks to his explosive burst and great blocking downfield from David Pauslon, Thomas took the ball 41 yards for the score, putting the Ducks up 22-7 before halftime.
Now, let's get to the true 20 greatest plays of the Chip Kelly era.
20. Dion Jordan's Destruction
Dion Jordan is a scary player. At 6'7" and 241 pounds, he is an absolute force off the edge. Jordan was a first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end in 2011, leading the Ducks with 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss.
I think most Duck fans will remember this hit from the inaugural Pac-12 championship game this past season. With USC disqualified from postseason play, Oregon faced a weaker UCLA squad who seemed unprepared for the Ducks' speedy pass rush.
The most impressive part of this play is how fast Dion Jordan gets to Kevin Prince. It was pretty clear that he was blitzing well before the snap, yet Jordan still flew in untouched.
When Jordan made contact, Prince turned from vertical to horizontal faster than any human I've ever seen.
This sack was by no means a pivotal play, but it was without a doubt the hit of the year.
19. Huff Comes Through
During the first half of this 2010 showdown, Arizona was causing a lot of trouble for the unbeaten Ducks. Down 19-14 at the beginning of the third quarter, true freshman Josh Huff shifted the momentum of the game with this huge run.
After this 85-yard scamper, the Ducks never trailed again, beating the 21st-ranked Wildcats 48-29. This was huge, as Oregon only had to beat Oregon State the next week to clinch an appearance in the national championship game.
Huff's pure speed was devastating on this play, as he dices through tiny holes and blows by the entire defensive backfield. He also made a great play securing the football, as he initially bobbled Darron Thomas' pitch.
Chip Kelly is famous for making key adjustments at halftime. This huge play and the momentum it gave the Ducks show how dangerous Oregon can be in the second half.
18. Beard Does It Himself
I had to include one of Chip Kelly's classic gutsy calls. After the Ducks allowed Stanford to score 21 unanswered points in the first half of their 2010 meeting, Darron Thomas hooked up with Jeff Maehl to cut the lead down to 11. With things finally starting to go their way, Kelly made an excellent decision.
After lining up for the kickoff that followed Maehl's touchdown, kicker Rob Beard made a strong run up to the ball, but tapped it very lightly. Because he had sold the deep kick so well, most of the Cardinal's front line had retreated.
Beard ended up pouncing on the ball himself. The Ducks proceeded to have a great drive that was capped off by a LaMichael James touchdown.
What had been a 21-3 Stanford lead only moments before became a 21-17 Stanford lead, thanks to a great call and great execution by Beard.
The Ducks went on to win that game 52-31.
17. LaMichael Slams the Door on Stanford
The second half of the 2010 Stanford game belonged to the Ducks. Two interceptions by Cliff Harris, a big fumble recovery by Eddie Pleasant and a big touchdown catch by D.J. Davis were huge plays to remember. However, none of them were quite as satisfying as this 76-yard touchdown run by LaMichael James.
Stanford was the biggest obstacle between Oregon and the national championship game in 2010. After being down 21-3 early in the game, the Ducks never stopped fighting back. They ended up winning the game 52-31.
This huge run was so satisfying because it really put a stamp on the victory. There was no longer any doubt that Oregon was the best in the Pac-10 and that they were ready for the big stage.
It was the kind of play that made a statement. It said, "national championship, here we come."
16. JJ Runs Wild in Corvallis
It's hard to believe the Ducks had Jeremiah Johnson and LeGarrette Blount on the same team in 2008. What an unstoppable duo out of the backfield.
I put this on the list because it is simply one of the best runs you will ever see. JJ looks like Adrian Peterson against the Browns out there.
The pure speed is impressive enough, but the broken tackles and textbook stiff arm take it from good to great.
This 83-yard run could not have been more satisfying for Oregon fans, considering it gave the Ducks a 20-point lead over the Beavers in Corvallis.
15. Air Maehl
Jeff Maehl is one of those receivers that you can always count on. No matter what, he seemed to always come up with the ball in his hands.
In 2010, Maehl had an outstanding season, totaling 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns. Three of those touchdowns came against USC, and 45 of those yards came on this play, which is my vote for the catch of the year.
Traveling to USC was one of the biggest tests for the undefeated Ducks on their way to a national championship appearance. Nearing halftime, Oregon was down 17-15 and needed a big play. Maehl did not disappoint.
Who cares if he blatantly mistimed his jump? It made the catch that much more amazing. After this touchdown, the Ducks never looked back and won the game 53-32.
14. The Little Cyclone That Could
LaMichael James is just ridiculous. As an Oregon fan, I am unable to count the amount of times that guy brought me to my feet. Some of the plays he has made for the Ducks seem physically impossible.
This run (which starts at 3:23 in the above video) may be the best display of his agility.
After James received the handoff, he was instantly met by a UCLA player about five yards deep in his own end zone. Upon getting the ball, LMJ immediately executed a perfect spin move, avoiding a safety.
As if that wasn't enough, James proceeded to bury himself into a huge cloud of defenders, somehow had room to get off another perfect spin move and emerged on the other side going full speed.
This run would be higher on the list had James waited for D.J. Davis to make a block on UCLA's last defender and scored. But, hey, no complaints here. This was a truly incredible run.
13. Blount Force Trauma
LeGarrette Blount is an amazing specimen. I can't think of another running back that weights 240 pounds who can truck, spin, stiff arm and jump over defenders in the same play.
The Ducks took on 13th-ranked Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl in 2008. This was Mike Bellotti's last game, and the Ducks made sure it counted.
Blount closed the door on the Cowboys with a spectacular 29-yard touchdown run with three minutes left in the game, putting the Ducks ahead 42-31.
During this run, Blount did what he does best: everything. He leaped clean over a defender without breaking stride. Next, he broke free from two tackle attempts from behind. Finally, he drove (though carried might be more accurate) another defender for 10 yards into the end zone.
12. Jeremiah Was a Bulldozer
I know, I know, we all remember Jeremiah Masoli as the quarterback who let us down with his off-the-field troubles. However, for old time's sake, let's give this play some appreciation.
Chip Kelly almost always goes for it on fourth down, we know that. But this was a particularly big one. The stakes were extremely high in the 2009 Civil War, as the winner was to make an appearance in the Rose Bowl.
With 3:25 left in the game, seventh-ranked Oregon was beating the 16th-ranked Beavers 37-33. Picking up these three yards would virtually clinch the victory.
On a somewhat broken play, Masoli scrambled out right, looking to pick up the first down with his legs. He met an Oregon State defender about a yard shy of the marker, but completely trucked him and spun off for the first down.
Though this play may look like an unspectacular five-yard gain at first glance, Masoli's run was actually one of the biggest plays of the 2009 season. It closed the door on the Beavers and put the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.
11. De'Anthony Turns the Tide
Hoping to regain a foothold in the 2011 national championship race, the Ducks took on USC in what proved to be one of the most exciting games in Oregon history. Down 38-14 nearing the end of the third quarter, it looked like USC would cruise to a victory. That was before they decided to kick to the Black Mamba.
This kick return was the second-worst thing De'Anthony Thomas has ever done to Lane Kiffin and USC. The first, of course, was abandoning his commitment right before national signing day in favor of the Ducks.
I know Oregon lost this game, but I have never seen a momentum swing quite like this.
After faking the reverse, the Black Mamba effortlessly sliced through several arm tackle attempts. However, the most impressive part of this return was his vision. Note the patience Thomas displays while waiting for Brian Jackson to set up his block at midfield. For a true freshman, that is a special skill.
Never in my three years in the student section had I heard Autzen Stadium so loud. When De'Anthony Thomas crossed that goal line, the comeback was on.
Throughout the fourth quarter, the Ducks repeatedly forced turnovers and drove the ball downfield. However, Oregon still lost 38-35 after a missed field goal attempt that would have sent the game to overtime.
10. Kiko and Clay in the Clutch
Alright, I know it's cheating to put two plays on the same slide. However, Kiko Alonso's diving pick and Michael Clay's fumble recovery were two equally clutch plays late in the 2012 Rose Bowl.
Duck fans were biting their nails with their team down 38-35 and Russell Wilson leading Wisconsin down the field. With 48 seconds left in the third quarter, Kiko Alonso shifted the momentum of the game with a gorgeous diving interception.
The Ducks proceeded to take the lead in the fourth quarter. With just over four minutes to play, Oregon was leading Wisconsin 45-38, but the Badgers were driving.
Russell Wilson hit Jared Abbrederis near the sideline deep in Oregon's territory when cornerback Terrance Mitchell stripped the ball and Michael Clay dove on it.
The score stayed at 45-38, and the Ducks walked away happy. This victory was, in large part, due to these clutch defensive plays.
9. Cliff Being Cliff
Ah, Cliff Harris. The one-year wonder. The Ducks could have really used their star cornerback and punt returner against USC and LSU in 2011. Despite his off-the-field woes, Harris was undeniably one of Oregon's best playmakers in 2010.
His most significant return came against Cal in 2010. Nearing halftime, the Ducks had yet to put any points on the board. This matchup was looking to be the Oregon fan's worst nightmare—a trap game. Being an undefeated national championship contender, the Ducks could not afford to lose.
Enter Cliff Harris, one of the best punt returners in the country. Catching a punt at his own 35, Harris scooted down the sideline, making some great cuts. He also got some great blocks, and, upon crossing the goal line, was Oregon's first sign of life in this game.
The Ducks proceeded to sneak out of Berkeley with a 15-13 win.
8. Paulson's One-Handed Catch
Remember that comeback against USC that De'Anthony Thomas started with his kick return last year? Well this catch was a key part of it.
I always knew David Paulson had sticky hands, but this is ridiculous. It's not like this ball was some short-range floater. It was a 20-yard bullet in double coverage with Jawanza Starling five yards away ready to deliver the big hit.
I'm pretty sure Spider-Man is the only other person on the planet who could make this catch. And he's not even real, so that should tell you something.
Equally impressive to the catch is how quickly Paulson secures the ball while simultaneously pulling two defenders towards the end zone. The effort is nothing short of amazing. Let's also not forget what a clutch play this was, with the Ducks down 11 points in the fourth quarter.
I feel like this play is sometimes forgotten, perhaps because it wasn't a touchdown or because the Ducks ended up losing the game. But the catch and focus, combined with the subsequent effort to cross the goal line, make it one of the greatest plays of the last few years.
7. The Longest Run in Rose Bowl History
De'Anthony Thomas is one of the fastest players in college football. In 2012's high-scoring Rose Bowl, the Black Mamba proved to be an invaluable asset.
I was glad the Ducks got the play off before the first quarter expired. With the Ducks down 14-7, Thomas was clearly gone as soon as he hit the hole. There are very few players who would be able to catch this kid from behind.
This 91-yard dash set a Rose Bowl record for the longest run. Not bad for a true freshman.
6. Dickson Keeps Us Alive in Tucson
The 2009 showdown between Oregon and Arizona was one of the most entertaining games I've ever seen. After going up 14-0, the Ducks fell behind 24-14. With just over three minutes to go, Oregon was down 31-24 when Talmadge Jackson III came up with a huge interception.
After Jackson's pick, Jeremiah Masoli drove the Ducks 80 yards to even the score at 31 with six seconds left.
This drive culminated in one of the most clutch plays of the season. Masoli fit a beautiful throw in between two Arizona defenders to sure-handed tight end Ed Dickson.
I'd also like to give some appreciation to Nate Costa, whose great hold off of a bad snap on the extra point saved the Ducks from a heartbreaking one-point loss.
Oregon proceeded to win the game 44-41 in double overtime.
5. Casey vs. Cam
Great players make great plays on the big stage. Casey Matthews did just that in the 2011 national championship against Auburn.
Down by eight points with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Oregon defense needed to make a play. As Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton took off to run on a second down, Matthews noticed his loose grip of the ball. He dove at Newton from behind and deliberately knocked the ball clean out of his hands.
Cliff Harris recovered the fumble, and the Ducks proceeded to tie up the game at 19.
Though Auburn ultimately won on a last-second field goal, Matthews' clutch forced fumble kept his Ducks in the game until the very end.
4. LeGarrette Returns
I'll just say it. LeGarrette Blount is my favorite Duck of all time.
After he was suspended at the beginning of the season, Blount did everything Chip Kelly asked of him. Though he was originally suspended for the whole season, Blount's hard work and improved discipline impressed Kelly so much that he was allowed to play in the last few games.
This play was significant because it cut Oregon State's lead down to two points in the third quarter of the 2009 Civil War. Blount had a beautiful stiff arm to break free from a would-be tackler near the line of scrimmage and then cleanly dove over a defensive back for the touchdown.
However, the run was truly great because it marked Blount's return. A fan favorite coming into the 2009 season, many Duck fans were heartbroken when he was suspended. Seeing the big man back in uniform was a thrill, especially as he made such a huge play in this huge game.
The Ducks proceeded to win the game and play in the Rose Bowl, thanks in large part to this clutch run.
3. Maehl Does It Again
After Casey Matthews forced that fumble in the fourth quarter of the national championship, the Ducks proceeded to score a touchdown. That made the score 19-17, so Chip Kelly was forced to go for the two-point conversion.
Jeff Maehl's sure hands had come through in the clutch for years. However, this catch gave the Ducks two of the most important points they've ever had.
As Darron Thomas rolled to the right, Maehl crossed to the left side. Thomas threw up a great jump ball where only Maehl could catch it. The reliable senior went up and grabbed the ball at the highest point, despite having a defender right in his face.
Though Oregon lost the game on a last-second field goal, Maehl's catch is one of my favorite plays in Duck history. It was great to see the senior, who had done so much for the Oregon program, make such a big play on the national stage.
2. The Fake Statue of Liberty
This was one of the most well-designed plays I've ever seen, and I think Duck fans will agree with me.
In only his second game as Oregon's offensive coordinator, Chip Kelly handed Michigan their biggest loss in 39 years. This play was the real back-breaker in the late first half, giving the Ducks a 25-7 lead.
Kelly had set this up by running a normal Statue of Liberty play to Jonathan Stewart earlier in the game, forcing Michigan to respect that option.
When Dennis Dixon faked the handoff this time, everyone bit (including the commentators) and followed Stewart, while Dixon practically walked into the end zone untouched.
Well played, Chip.
1. LMJ Volunteers to Take the Lead
This is one of my favorite plays of all time and maybe the most impressive run I've ever seen.
On a stormy night in Knoxville, the Ducks had a sluggish start. Early in the second half, the game was still tied 13-13. LaMichael James came through, as always, when the Ducks needed him most.
Several things amaze me about this play. First of all, James looked like he would be brought down in the backfield. Tennessee seemed to contain him pretty well, and he almost slipped five yards behind the line of scrimmage. He had to reverse fields entirely before making any progress.
Second, the balance displayed by LMJ down the sideline is simply incredible. At one point, there was literally a foot of space between Darron Thomas, who is engaged in a block, and the sideline. Somehow James tiptoed through this tiny window without stepping out of bounds.
Third, James somehow sheds a Tennessee defender's tackle at the 25-yard line despite being almost completely wrapped up and exhausted.
Lastly, I love the team effort. Jeff Maehl, D.J. Davis, Lavasier Tuinei, David Paulson and even quarterback Darron Thomas all made clutch blocks downfield to clear the way down the sideline.
LaMichael James is Oregon's all-time leading rusher with 5,082 career yards on the ground. As one of the most talented and valuable players in the program's history, it seems only fair that his best run be the best play of the Chip Kelly era.