The GOAT returns.
When Chip Kelly was the man leading Oregon out of the tunnel and into Autzen stadium, the Ducks were a national treasure in the college football world.
Kelly’s high-octane, ground-and-pound offense took college football by storm as Oregon went from being a middling-Pac-12 team to a national championship contender overnight.
Now the greatest coach in Oregon football history returns to the comfortable confines of Autzen, a place he had unprecedented success thanks to the help of the Duck faithful.
“They've got probably the best home-field advantage just because of the crowd and the setting and the stadium and how loud they can make it,” Kelly said. “Awesome people at the university and in the community — I'm excited to go back."
Over Kelly’s four-year span, he led the Ducks to a 46-7 record. Oregon went 2-2 in bowl games with victories in the Rose Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, and a loss to Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game. In the final three years, the Ducks finished 3rd, 4th and 2nd respectively in the final AP Poll.
This visit to the “beautiful country,” as Kelly so eloquently puts it, comes on Saturday, November 3 when the Ducks host UCLA (2-6, 2-3 Pac-12), Kelly’s new home. Kickoff is set for 4:30 p.m. and will air on FOX.
Oregon (5-3, 2-3 Pac-12) returns home after being on the road for the previous two weeks, both losses. As with any young team, they tend to perform much better at home so being in the friendly confines of Autzen couldn’t have come at a better time.
"I never use youth as an excuse for anything, let's make that clear,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said regarding whether youth has played a role in the mid-season collapse. “I've never made an excuse to you or anybody about a loss — a loss is disappointing as it is.”
The Ducks are 4-1 at home this year with a win over then-ranked No. 12 Washington while being 1-2 on the road. Desperate for a win to regain that early-season confidence, Oregon is very much in danger of seeing its season fall apart with another loss.
Over the past two weeks against No. 10 Washington State and Arizona, the Ducks were thoroughly outplayed in all facets of the game, being outscored 78-35 in the process. The offense was anemic and embarrassing, the defense undisciplined and soft, traits never seen under Kelly.
Making matters difficult for the Ducks will be the health of quarterback Justin Herbert and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, Oregon’s two-best offensive players. Both players are in the concussion protocol, so their statuses are unknown heading into Saturday’s showdown.
Mitchell is believed to have been hurt in the third quarter when he was leveled by Arizona safety Tristan Cooper. Mitchell, who stayed on the ground for a few minutes after taking off his helmet, walked off under his own power. Then, while visibly frustrated on the sideline, he trotted to the locker room clutching his ribs and didn’t return.
“Anytime someone seems to have taken on a hit, we're always going to take the highest-level standard in terms of assessing guys to make sure safety is at the forefront, the priority,” Cristobal said.
Meanwhile, Herbert got injured trying to a score rushing touchdown with under 90 seconds left and Oregon trailing 44-15, being hit extremely hard at the two-yard line by a duo of Wildcats playmakers. Why Herbert was in the game at that point made no sense to fans, but according to Cristobal, it was about trying to get the offense in a rhythm.
"We wanted to be able to move the ball and to get out of there having at least some sort of confidence in moving and potentially scoring,” Cristobal added.
With or without their star players, the Ducks will look to end their midseason collapse in the most grandeur of ways — with their former head coach watching and for the first time ever, looking to take them down.
“Looking forward to getting back to work and playing the type of football we played in the first six weeks,” Cristobal said. “It hasn't shown the past couple of weeks and certainly our guys are eager to get back to that — we're committed to working hard and getting there and that's what our focus has been on."