Canzano: Oregon-UCLA shaping up like a Chip Kelly Super Bowl
Undefeated Chip Kelly visits Autzen Stadium on Oct. 22.
Sorry, but I couldn’t help myself. Oregon was only halfway done basting and roasting the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night when I opened my laptop and started thinking a couple of weeks ahead.
Chip Kelly would have hated it. Too bad. Nothing he could do. UCLA’s coach was far away on Saturday night, in Southern California, soaking up the Bruins’ 42-32 win over Utah.
The Bruins are 6-0. Perfect. Undefeated.
It was Kelly who once insisted the biggest game on the planet — the only game that mattered — was the one being played that particular week against a nameless, faceless, opponent.
“It’s the Super Bowl every week for us,” he cried out. “There’s no bigger game than the Super Bowl.”
I’m not sure what to call the Oregon-UCLA matchup on Oct. 22 at Autzen Stadium. Super Bowl VII of the season? The Chip Bowl? Whatever you call it, the Ducks and Bruins are rumbling toward a conference game that looks like a blast.
I can’t wait.
I’ll bet you can’t either. This isn’t the first time Kelly will face Oregon. It’s just the first time UCLA’s coach will do it using his own players. Ones he recruited, coached, and fed organic, grass-fed, filet mignon.
Ex-Washington coach Chris Petersen, now working as a television analyst on FOX, sounded giddy after watching UCLA dispose of Utah.
“This wasn’t a statement game, this was a movement game,” Petersen said. “This is legit now. Chip needed this win to take his program to the next level. They've got a bye, then at Oregon, and it’s going to be ‘on.’”
Kelly is 0-3 against the Ducks all-time. On his first return visit, in 2018, he was greeted with a standing ovation from Oregon fans. Then, the Ducks took the field and flattened the Bruins, 42-21.
UCLA’s coach was in an unusually good mood after tying Utah into a knot on Saturday. He surprised beat reporters in the post-game news conference by sticking around to answer extra questions. His quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, filled their notebooks, too.
The fifth-year starter left the Rose Bowl field shouting, “This is our house!” A while later, Thompson-Robinson was asked by reporters whether he still had a chip on his shoulder. You know, after throwing four touchdown passes against No. 11-ranked Utah. Was the chip still there?
“It’s even bigger,” he said. “It’s going to be even bigger in two weeks when we go to Oregon and it’s going to be bigger after that. I don’t care who we’re playing.”
Play the game tomorrow? That work? I wish they could. Remember when you were a kid and your favorite prime-time television show would hit you with a “To Be Continued…” at the end of an episode?
There was no binge-watching back then. We had to wait a week for the next episode. In this case, we’ll have to wait two Saturdays to see the Ducks play the Bruins. Both teams get a bye week, just like a Super Bowl. Then, they’ll show up in Eugene, extra prepared, and kick off. The delay will give us plenty of time to dust off some fun storylines.
Remember, Kelly went 46-7 and took the Ducks to four BCS games in four seasons as UO’s coach. He turned Eugene into Camelot. In 2010, Kelly was perfect (9-0) in the Pac-12 and finished the regular-season 12-0. Now, he’s trying to do it again, this time in Westwood.
Thompson-Robinson has made huge strides. He carved up Utah on Saturday, executing Kelly’s game plan beautifully. But it’s the Bruins’ defense that looks most improved. UCLA hasn’t ever played better under Kelly.
Dan Lanning has Oregon humming, too. The Ducks ran circles around Arizona on Saturday, beating the Wildcats 49-22. If you’re like me, though, you peeked a little further ahead with every Bo Nix pass completion and every Ducks’ first down.
Nix was terrific in winning his fifth-straight game. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 265 yards. His running backs and receivers accounted for 580 yards of offense.
The UO defense looks fast. The offensive line is dominant. Oregon’s gifted receivers and running backs share the ball like a bunch of kindergartners. The players aren’t as much a “committee” as they are an angry mob, looking for the end zone. In the last five games, Oregon has scored 70, 41, 44, 45 and 49 points.
Those sound like Chip Kelly-era numbers, folks.
Oregon is 5-1. UCLA is undefeated. I don’t care if ESPN’s College Football Gameday shows up, I’ll be there with a bag of popcorn. The Ducks-Bruins game is going to be a wildly, entertaining, high-stakes, Pac-12 football game.
Winner to Las Vegas?
I watched Kelly walk the sidelines at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. On television, he looked relaxed and in control. It reminded me of his time at Oregon.
In early 2011, I’ll never forget Kelly showing up to the news conference in front of the BCS national title game against Auburn. He climbed on the stage in a ballroom at the media hotel, sat in a chair, looked around the room, and shook his head at the absurdity of the scene.
After the news conference, Kelly walked out, and got on a bus. He was headed back to the team hotel. A few minutes later, I got a text from him.
It read: “That was wild, wasn’t it?”
It feels that way again.
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A lot of us Duck fans have been holding onto that Chip Era as the gold standard. Nothing has felt quite as good. Ironically it feels like Lanning slaying a good Chip team could change that narrative.
In the middle of the UCLA/Utah game, I texted a football friend of mine and this is all I said.
"I love Chip Kelly. Always have. Always will."
Of course, I am going to cheer wildly for the Dux to hibernate the Bears. I will ride every swing of the game with glee and anguish. But come the end, I will be content. Disappointed if the Dux lose, but still oddly content.
During the ride that was Chip Kelly in Eugene, I said/wrote more than once that I felt so incredibly blessed to be a Ducks fan during the years he gave us. I have never been more thrilled or fulfilled as a sports fan, particularly a football fan of many decades, as I was during those years that went by in a "blur". I have never laughed out loud with total abandon over a game as I did when I watched opposing defenses suck air and hold their knees and begin to crumble and fake injuries and whine about the "gimmicky" offense. (I'm talkin' to you, Nick Saban, when you sought a rules change because of the threat that the Ducks' style of offense posed.). And its progeny is everywhere today, at all levels of football, tempo as weapon. They don't give him credit, but his fingerprints are all over many changes in the game.
I can't wait for the 22nd. And I am really glad that no matter what, I will be content. Sorta.