Chip Kelly returns to Eugene with UCLA to face Oregon
“No, we’ve gotta focus on the team across the other sideline or we’ll go get beat,” Kelly said. “It’ll be an unbelievable experience. It’s a special stadium, a special fan base, but we better have our focus and concentration on the 2018 Ducks, not worried about what went on from 2009 to 2012.”
Boy, have things changed since he left Eugene.
The Ducks were riding high when Kelly bolted for the NFL. Oregon had just wrapped up the 2012 season in the Fiesta Bowl for its fourth straight BCS Bowl appearance, a string that also included a national championship game.
During his time at Oregon, first as the offensive coordinator and then as head coach, Kelly was lauded as the architect of the Ducks’ up-tempo “blur offense.”
Now in Kelly’s first season in Westwood, the Bruins (2-6, 2-3 Pac-12) sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 South standings but are still in the mix because no division team has separated itself by much.
Oregon is on its third coach since Kelly’s departure. The Ducks let go of Mark Helfrich following the 2016 season, then Willie Taggart stopped by for less than a year en route to Florida State, and now Mario Cristobal leads the Ducks.
Oregon (5-3, 2-3) has struggled with two straight losses after a 5-1 start pushed the Ducks as high as No. 12 in the AP rankings. The latest was a 44-15 drubbing on the road in Arizona.
“Certain things have to improve and those things have been assessed, they have been addressed and practice is structured to be able to improve at those particular areas. That’s the only way we know,” Cristobal said. “I think our guys understand also is we’ve got eight seniors on this team, we’ve got a young football team and when you hit adversity like this, especially when a good brunt of it is self-induced, you’ve got to buckle down and you’ve got to really set your focus on the things that we must get better at. There’s no magic solution or potion or whatnot. It requires really, really getting ingrained into what you have to do to get better.”
UCLA is coming off a 41-10 loss at the Rose Bowl to Utah.
For the record, Kelly went 46-7 as head coach of the Ducks, including a 26-2 mark at Autzen Stadium.
Other things to know:
HERBERT’S STATUS: Oregon’s Justin Herbert returned to practice Wednesday after he cleared concussion protocol. The junior quarterback was under observation after a hard hit in the second half of the Arizona loss. He was not yet formally named starter for Saturday’s game.
He has thrown for 2,069 yards and 20 touchdowns with six interceptions on the season.
Receiver Dillon Mitchell, who also was being monitored for a concussion, had not returned to practice by Wednesday. He’s got 48 catches for 677 yards and four touchdowns for the Ducks this season.
UCLA’S QUARTERBACK? Last weekend against Utah, Wilton Speight made his first start since the season opener, pressed into duty by Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s injured shoulder. Speight passed for 164 yards and ran for another 30.
Kelly wasn’t revealing his starter for Oregon, and wouldn’t even go so far as to say Thompson-Robinson would start if he was healthy.
“I’m not a hypothetical guy, so there’s no reason to make any predictions on this or that. He could be 100 percent and the rest of the team could have bubonic plague and we wouldn’t be able to play at all, so we’ll see what happens,” Kelly said.
WHAT’S AT STAKE: Oregon needs a win to become bowl eligible. UCLA needs a win to avoid a losing season.
SAMUEL OUT: Kelly said junior defensive back Colin Samuel will be out for the season after he tore his ACL on UCLA’s opening kickoff against Utah last weekend. Samuel played in five games this year.
HISTORY: The Ducks have won five straight against the Bruins in Eugene, but UCLA hasn’t played at Autzen since 2013, when Marcus Mariota was Oregon’s quarterback. The last two meetings have been at the Rose Bowl, including last season’s 31-14 UCLA victory.
UNIFORMS: Oregon seemed to take a break for a while from the special-edition uniforms, but this week returned with an all-black uniform in collaboration with Nike’s Jordan brand. The brand’s Jumpman logo is side-by-side with the Oregon “O” on the jerseys, pants and special cleats.