Chip Kelly is a man who despises comparisons. In his mind, every season, every team is a separate entity. So don’t bother asking the Oregon coach about how his flash-‘n’-dash team this year stacks up in the annals of college football’s most explosive offenses. He’ll save that question for the historians.
“I can’t remember past last week’s game,” Kelly said this week.
Maybe not, but if Oregon continues at its current whiplash-inducing scoring pace, everybody else will have a hard time forgetting the 2012 Ducks for years to come.
Oregon’s version of fast-break basketball on grass has the Ducks averaging an astounding 54.8 points per game and on the verge of threatening a 68-year-old FBS record. The all-time scoring mark is 56.0 points per game, set by Army in 1944. Oregon also is on pace to score 767 points, which would shatter the previous 14-game record of 716 set by Oklahoma in 2008.
Good luck with all this, Stanford.
BCS No. 2 Oregon (10-0, 7-0 in the Pac-12) plays host to No. 13 Stanford (8-2, 6-1) on Saturday in Autzen Stadium. An Oregon victory would clinch the Pac-12 North Division, ensure the Ducks would host the conference title game and — most important — keep their national championship hopes alive.
In order to achieve its goals, Oregon will have to manage against a team with a strikingly contrasting yet equally successful model. Picture a Lamborghini and a Nissan Maxima. Both get you where you want to go. One simply offers more extravagance during the ride.
While Oregon prefers to skate to the end zone with as many quick-strike plays as possible, Stanford slows the game with its pro-style offense and smash-mouth defense. Oregon ranks fourth in the nation in offensive plays per game at 84.3. Stanford runs 68.7 plays per game to rank No. 95 out of 124 FBS teams.
The contrasts don’t end there. Stanford, for example, leads the nation in rushing defense. Oregon ranks third in rushing offense. Stanford’s defense is ninth in stopping third-down plays. Oregon’s offense is ninth in converting third-down plays.
Yet for all the statistical differences, Stanford’s approach has done little to stall Oregon’s spread offense the past two seasons. The Ducks have outscored the Cardinal 105-61 during that span.
Second-year Stanford coach David Shaw was asked this week whether his team struggled with an Oregon problem.
“I think the entire conference has an Oregon problem,” Shaw said. “You don’t see them stopped for long. If you’re doing something well that can hold them down, they’re going to make a tweak and make you pay for it.
“That’s what all of us in the conference have tried to accomplish is to be versatile enough within your own scheme so that you’re hard to stop. These guys have perfected that.”
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of Oregon’s offensive success this season is that the Ducks are doing it a year after losing the school’s winningest quarterback (Darron Thomas) and one of the most prolific running backs in program history (LaMichael James). The duo helped guide Oregon to a 12-2 season and its first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years.
This season, redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and senior running back Kenjon Barner have helped fill the void seamlessly.
Barner has rushed for 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns. Mariota has completed 71.7 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards with 28 touchdowns and five interceptions. And 12 players have caught a touchdown pass for Oregon — including Mariota.
“I feel like we have a very balanced offense,” Mariota told reporters this week. “If one’s not working, we have the other. Having those extra dimensions and having so many playmakers all over the field makes this offense really good.”
In Kelly’s previous three seasons as Oregon coach, the Ducks have ranked no worse than No. 8 nationally in scoring offense. During that time, they averaged 43.1 points per game. But this year’s team has taken scoring with speed to a whole different level. The Ducks are actually running 10 more plays per game on offense from a year ago, rotating players at warp speed.
Kelly, the mastermind behind the team’s spread offense, began tinkering with the system as an offensive coordinator at New Hampshire in 1999. Every season since, he seems to find more ways to exploit, confuse and deflate tired defenses.
For his part, Kelly brushed off the notion that he is doing anything particularly innovative at Oregon.
“People have been running the spread offense for a long time,” Kelly said. “The Buffalo Bills had a lot of success in it with Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and that group way back when those guys were playing. Football is very cyclical. They were running spread offenses in the 1950s. I don’t think what we’re doing is very new.”
With all due respect to the Bills and the Baby Boomer Generation, there is simply no comparison to Oregon 2012.