Oregon Football: What We Learned from Ducks' Fiesta Bowl Win
Fast. Hard. Finish.
Yep, that's the Oregon Ducks team. Never more true than in their throttling of No. 5 Kansas State in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.
The Ducks win it 35-17, a result that was never in doubt after the first 12 seconds of the game. The fastest man in college football, De'Anthony Thomas, set the sprinter's pace for this one, and the Ducks never looked back to see who might be trailing them.
Amidst all the joy and "I-told-you-so" moments of this matchup, these amazing Ducks taught us yet a few more things about this very special team.
Here are my takeaways from a very fun night.
Oregon's Defense Rocks
Anyone who says Oregon doesn't play defense is a fool.
Kansas State came into this game ranked No. 12 in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 38.8 points per game. (Oregon was No. 2 with 49.6 points per game on average.)
The Wildcats' quarterback, Collin Klein, has been touted all year as one of the best QBs in the country. Please humor me with a little aside here: why was Klein invited to the Heisman Trophy presentation and not Oregon running back Kenjon Barner or QB Marcus Mariota, for that matter?
But I digress. The point is that the Ducks' defense was nasty and very aggressive towards Klein all night. The Wildcats' QB had only 30 rushing yards on 13 carries. And when Klein was forced to pass the ball early and often, that didn't go so well either.
Klein was only 17 of 32 when passing. Even more embarrassing, Klein's leading receiver, Chris Harper (eight catches for 71 yards) is a former Duck, for cryin' out loud.
While linebacker Michael Clay, playing in his last game as a Duck, was named the Defensive Player of the Game, the truth is that that award could have been bestowed on several defensive Ducks. Kiko Alonso was a manimal all night, and, yes, probably deserved at least one penalty for his hits on Klein.
If it wasn't Clay and Alonso tackling Klein for a loss time and time again, it was Boseko Lokombo and Taylor Hart both turning in monster games.
Erick Dargan, filling in for Avery Patterson, who filled in for John Boyett—yes, that would make Dargan the third-string safety at the start of the season—is an interception machine. Dargan grabbed two from Klein, giving the Ducks the No. 1 spot in the nation for interceptions this season (25).
All offense and no defense Ducks? Hogwash.
Once A Track Guy...
Before the Fiesta Bowl, my favorite Oregon play of the year was Marcus Mariota taking a pass from Bryan Bennett and bulldozing his way into the end zone. It was also great fun to watch tight end Colt Lyerla carry big strong defenders with him every time he touched the ball.
However, this Fiesta Bowl produced a moment that Duck fans will never forget. It wasn't enough that Mr. Do Everything, De'Anthony Thomas, took the opening kickoff back to the house. We've seen him do that before. (Note to future Oregon opponents: don't kick in Thomas' direction and dare him to run it back—what the hell were you thinking, K-State?)
What was special was Thomas' sprinter stretch at the goal line to bust the tape. I laughed, I cried, I loved it.
Guess you can't ever take the sprinter mentality out of the football player.
There were two great college football coaches in this Fiesta Bowl. Neither K-State's Bill Snyder (who looks a little like my grandfather) or Oregon's Chip Kelly needed to prove anything to anyone.
Chip Kelly has taken his Ducks to four straight BCS bowls, a feat accomplished by only three other teams in BCS history. Kelly has now won the last two.
Snyder has been incredibly successful over the years, pulling K-State out of the toilet bowl and into a BCS bowl.
But in this game, Snyder was woefully outcoached by the upstart Kelly. Snyder was too conservative, for starters. Maybe that approach has worked in the Big 12, but it never works against the Ducks.
Kelly made the best halftime adjustments, admitting after the game that the Ducks weren't playing at their pace in the first half. That changed dramatically in the second half.
Two great coaches, but in this game, Chip Kelly won the day.
A Case For the Best?
This huge win by the Ducks was somewhat bittersweet. Why?
Because in their hearts, Duck fans know their team is the best in the nation. Undefeated in regulation. Except for one lousy field goal off the left upright, Oregon fans would all be in Miami right now.
I'm gonna ask this question just one more time before I start looking ahead to next season: Can someone please explain why a one-loss Alabama team is better than a team who didn't lose in regulation?
And don't give me that "superior competition in the SEC" crap, because here's your reality: Florida—loser; LSU—loser; Mississippi State—loser; South Carolina—should have lost; Georgia—struggling for three quarters before pulling away from a dreadful Nebraska team.
Texas A&M will probably lose to Oklahoma. And Mississippi—give me a break.
It's time for football fans across the country to rise up and call bull manure on the fraud that is the SEC.
It's only natural after the last game of the season to begin looking ahead to next fall.
While so much could change for Oregon in the next few days, Duck fans have to feel optimistic about the core of this team.
Do not count me among those pundits who say that if Chip Kelly leaves for the NFL, all will continue uninterrupted for the Ducks. Kelly's departure will hurt, and probably badly.
Aside from his prickly nature, a coach like Kelly only comes along every few decades. Oregon will feel it, if and when he leaves. But as much as Kelly's departure would burst Oregon's bubble, there are also some departing seniors that will be very difficult to replace in 2013.
How much will the Ducks miss Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay on defense? A whole lot, that's how much. You can say "Next guy up" as much as you want, but know that Clay and Alonso are special players.
And, while it's in vogue to say that the Ducks won't miss a step at running back with Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner (maybe) and Dontre Wilson next up, Kenjon Barner is a remarkable running back. What you've seen at Oregon with LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner the past few years is not only a "system"; it's very talented, special guys who don't come along every year.
Will Oregon compete for the national championship again next season?
But even with all the returning young talent, it's not a given that guys will fill Barner, Clay and Alonso's big shoes.
So, Where Should the Ducks Be Ranked?
At the end of this bowl season, the Ducks will be ranked no lower than No. 2 nationally.
And, if the Alabama vs. Notre Dame game is a boring stinker, it wouldn't surprise me to see Oregon on top at No. 1 in the final AP poll. I'm sure you don't agree with me on this possibility, and to that I say "tough."
But the ranking that all thinking college football fans should care about is the 2013 preseason poll this summer.
If Chip Kelly leaves, that will no doubt be reflected in the preseason poll. It also remains to be seen what Kelly's imminent departure will have on recruiting—it could be bad.
Even with bad offseason developments, Oregon will still be ranked in the top five next September. That's a very good place from which to build a foundation for another exciting year of Oregon football.
Kay Jennings is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.