Oregon still hasn't arrived
September, 4, 2011
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezDarron Thomas had 240 yards and a touchdown but was also out of sync with his receivers at times.ARLINGTON, Texas -- Don't like Oregon's ludicrous speed, spread-option attack? How about a methodical, clock-eating drive to complement great defense? That should satisfy the doubters.
The Ducks went 79 yards in 19 plays and burned 7:47 off the clock, taking a 13-9 lead over LSU with just over five minutes left before halftime of the season's most celebrated nonconference game. It was a beautiful assertion of will. It felt like an early glimpse of validation that was to come.
At that point, the Tigers had 25 yards of offense. It seemed as though third-ranked Oregon was on the cusp of making the statement it didn't make against Boise State, or against Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, or against Auburn in the 2011 national championship game: We have arrived. We are elite.
Then LSU took the ball and took back the lead on a 12-play, 75-yard drive. It didn't seem at that point to presage a deluge, but it was the first seven points of an unanswered 24-point run that left the Ducks reeling.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly talked about self-inflicted wounds -- and the Ducks had plenty -- during his postgame news conference after a 40-27 loss to the No. 4 Tigers. But he also admitted that there is still something that is different about LSU and Oregon as programs.
Asked George Schroeder of the Eugene Register-Guard: "Chip, is there a step you guys need to take win games like this against these kinds of teams."
Again, Schroeder: "Do you feel like you guys haven't reached that kind of tier?"
Later, Kelly was more expansive: "They've got a little bit different athlete running around out there right now. Looking at their D-line, standing next to them, walking off the field, they don't look like the kind of guys we see. That's the common trait, the trait you saw in the Auburn game."
Understand that LSU didn't run Oregon off the field, though the game wasn't really in doubt in the fourth quarter. While there is again legitimate reason to question the Ducks after they fell short against another A-list defense with extra time to prepare, they did themselves in with four turnovers (versus one for the Tigers) and 12 penalties for 95 yards (versus five for 47 for the Tigers).
Things went completely haywire in the third quarter, when a pair of fumbles from talented true freshman running back De'Anthony Thomas -- one on a seven-yard run for a first down; the other after an impressive kickoff return -- gave LSU a short field, and it took advantage. A 3-point game became a 17-point game. And poof went the Ducks validation.
"I really think we stopped ourselves," Ducks redshirt freshman center Hroniss Grasu said. "They are a very talented team but I felt like if we didn't shoot ourselves in the foot so many times we could have overcome them and gotten that W."
The Ducks rushed for 95 yards, compared to 175 for the Tigers. LaMichael James rushed for just 54 yards on 18 carries. Backup Kenjon Barner rushed for just seven yards on four carries before getting hurt, and he also was stripped on a punt return, giving LSU its first touchdown.
As for the passing game, it was hot and cold. Darron Thomas completed 31 of 54 throws for 240 yards with an interception and a touchdown. He was off target a number of times. And he was victimized by a number of drops.
"It was their first game and it was a big game for those guys," Thomas said of the Ducks' rebuilding crew of receivers. "I still believe in them."
Self-belief won't be an issue, all the Ducks insisted. The message from Kelly was to turn the page and start thinking about Nevada, and he's confident that message will resonate.
"Why am I confident?" Kelly said. "I know those guys in the locker room."
But that locker room also is aware that a pattern exists that annoying reporters will continue to talk about until Oregon wins a game like this. It's hard to ignore.
Acknowledged tight end David Paulson: "From our history, I guess they would be right."