All Or Nothing: Early Gambles Determine Fates of Florida Gators and Oregon Ducks

Jack WinterCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2010

Oregon QB Darron Thomas led his team to a victory over No. 9 Stanford on Saturday.
Oregon QB Darron Thomas led his team to a victory over No. 9 Stanford on Saturday.Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Their teams in the early stages of heated battles with in-conference, top-10 opponents, Florida coach Urban Meyer and Oregon coach Chip Kelly each had a choice to make.

Either play it safe, or roll the dice.

Both gambled.  Only Kelly won.

Trailing 3-0 on the road against No. 1 Alabama, the Gators drove the ball down the field with relative ease on their first offensive possession against the Crimson Tide.  

Mixing a heavy dose of read-option runs with opportunistic play-action passes, UF QB John Brantley looked poised in leading his offense to the Alabama six yard-line.  Despite his solid start, Brantley was replaced at QB by freshman Trey Burton, the Gators' short-yardage option behind Center.  

After three short runs to the Alabama two yard-line, Meyer had two options.  Fold with a field-goal or push all-in with a try on fourth down.  He decided to play aggressively.

Burton received the snap, took two steps and floated an ill-advised throw to a blanketed receiver.  The jump-pass failed, and the ball was intercepted by UA LB Nico Johnson.

With that, Meyer bet the farm, lost, and sealed his team's fate.  Florida never had another chance as Alabama took a 24-0 lead into halftime and cruised to a 25-point victory.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly opted for a more calculated risk.

Playing at home against No. 9 Stanford, the Ducks were shocked as the Cardinal took a 21-3 lead into the second quarter.

After a calming nine play, 85 yard touchdown drive by his offense, Kelly could have played conservatively.  A winning gamble, though, would give his team and Autzen Stadium's crowd a shot of Green and Gold adrenaline.  Knowing the positives outweighed the negatives, Kelly took a chance.

Oregon's kick off team lined up in their usual formation, but didn't boot the ball deep.  Instead, they perfectly executed an onside-kick, and recovered possession near mid-field.

Just like that, Kelly ignited a quiet Oregon crowd, and ensured the Ducks a chance at victory.  The play proved vital in UO's 52-31 win over the Cardinal.

Two men.  Two gambles.  One loss.  One win.  Two vastly different final outcomes.

High-stakes risks are part of what makes college football America's most exciting game.  Knowing when and where to take these chances, though, is ultimately as important as them being successful.

Against a heavily favored Alabama squad at raucous Bryant-Denney stadium, Meyer should have played it safe.  He should have kicked the field goal and tied the game at three.  After the unsuccessful fourth down attempt, the Crimson Tide promptly marched down the field and scored, and the Gators suddenly faced a double-digit road deficit against the country's top ranked defense.

Meyer's gamble wasn't going to win the game for Florida.  At best, it would have given them an early lead.  At worst (and in reality), it ensured them a loss.  

Kelly, on the other hand, was well-aware of the ramifications of his risk.  If the on-side kick failed, his team wasn't dead in the water.  Oregon is, after all, the nation's most explosive offensive squad, capable of erasing any deficit in a matter of minutes.

If Oregon recovered the kick, they would regain all of the game's momentum and have a chance to pull within a single score after being down 18 points just seconds prior.  Clearly, Kelly's was a gamble worth taking.

In one 30-minute span Saturday night, Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly each bet with their respective teams on a single play.  The former lost it all.  The latter won the pot.  But, both these gamblers drastically altered the landscape of the 2010 college football season.