Oregon has the coaching, talent to win Rose Bowl

CFN’s Instant Analysis of Oregon’s 37-33 victory over Oregon State in the Civil War to secure a Rose Bowl berth.

Ducks show poise under pressure

First of all, let’s save everyone the time, effort, and energy that could be better spent elsewhere and not have a debate about the fourth-down call. For those of you on the East Coast getting some Zs, down 37-33 with just over six minutes to play, and with a terrific field goal kicker, Oregon State head coach Mike Riley chose to go for it on 4th-and-15 on the Oregon 27.

Predictably, the Sean Canfield pass to James Rodgers was incomplete, and thus became the signature play of the game for the Beavers that led to the signature play of the game for the Ducks.

In hindsight it was a brilliant strategic move by a man who knows his team. And why? 12 plays, 49-yards, victory formation, Rose Bowl. Riley knew his defense and he knew it was going to probably get flattened. As it turned out, he was right. Jeremiah Masoli emphatically showed that on a bruising key run to keep the final drive alive. (Two words, James Simpson: wrap … up.)

Oregon State came into the game with the Pac-10’s No. 1 run defense, and Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli, LaMichael James and LeGarrette Blount ended that fun — leading the way to 288 rushing yards and four scores. Good luck, Ohio State.

Spread, schmead; Oregon runs the option but without the old fashioned wishbone formation. Masoli threw 21 times and he connected with Jeff Maehl for a 73-yard touchdown, but the passing game isn’t going to work against the Buckeye secondary.

The offense was unbelievable last year in the Holiday Bowl with 307 yards on the ground and 258 in the air against Oklahoma State, but that Cowboy defense isn’t this Ohio State defense, and now it’s time to see just how good the Pac-10 can be.

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USC ripping apart the Big Ten year after year doesn’t count. Those USC teams would’ve beaten around 117 other teams like a drum in the Rose Bowls the Big Ten lost over the last few seasons. Ohio State, for all its flaws, is used to the really, really big bowl game, while Oregon will have to carry over the momentum from its Civil War win to show that the league isn’t just about USC when it comes to Pasadena. And to win, it’s going to have to be more gamblin’ man time for Chip Kelly.

Kelly went for it on three fourth downs against Oregon State, and converted them all. Compare that to ol’ sweater vest in Columbus, whose idea of taking chances is to wear a red tie with stripes as opposed to a dotted pattern. Oregon will take shots down the field; Ohio State will take shots down the field, and miss. The pressure will be on the Ducks in what might be a favorable matchup.

Oregon State doesn’t necessarily stack up with Ohio State, but Oregon has the personnel with a great run defense that’s strong at getting into the backfield, a fast running game, and just enough pop to the passing game to keep the Buckeye safeties off the line. Matchup-wise, Oregon shouldn’t be happier.

Congratulations, Chip Kelly. You just overcame a big punch, four wins by a touchdown or less that could’ve easily gone the other way, a big loss to Stanford, and a dangerous game against an archrival. Now go show you can win a Rose Bowl and carry the Pac-10 torch. No pressure, but as the win over the Beavers showed, Kelly is fine under fire. And so is Riley.

— Pete Fiutak

Masoli, the game changer

One play. Sometimes that’s all it takes to define the importance of an individual to his team.

For Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli, that play occurred with three minutes left and the Civil War reaching a fork in the road. It was fourth and short, with the Ducks up by four. As Masoli broke from the pocket and headed toward a back-breaking first down, Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell stepped into the running lane, planted his feet, and braced for contact.

If Masoli makes it, Oregon takes a huge step toward sealing the Pac-10 championship. If he comes up short, the ball goes back to Sean Canfield, who proved more than capable all night of moving downfield in a hurry and quieting the crowd. Masoli, which has become his trademark since arriving in Eugene in 2008, lowered his shoulder, channeled his inner-fullback, and buried the 6-2, 205-pound Mitchell to extend the drive.

That, in a single instant, was the essence of what makes the junior such an integral part of the program’s success. The Beavers didn’t touch the ball again and the Ducks locked up their first Rose Bowl berth since 1994.

On a night when freshman sensation LaMichael James was the Civil War star, Masoli proved once again to be the MVP of Oregon’s rather improbable turnaround in 2009. How fitting, by the way, was it that Duck RB LeGarrette Blount made his return to action and even scored once? On the first Thursday of the regular season, he was the poster child for what would surely be a disappointing year in Eugene.

On the last Thursday of the regular season, however, he was back on the field and trying to make the most of a second chance. Unlike most of the country this fall, it’s been an odd and unpredictable year in Oregon. And one the locals won’t forget anytime soon.

— Richard Cirminiello

Riley made a mistake, Kelly made gutsy moves

1. Yes, 4th and 15 was too long a down-and-distance situation for Oregon State coach Mike Riley as he went for the first down instead of kicking a field goal midway through the fourth quarter. If Riley had kicked the field goal, Oregon would have led, 37-36 (assuming that the field goal was good; Justin Kahut had a great night for the Beavers).

Therefore, when the Ducks moved the ball downfield on their subsequent drive, Riley could have allowed Oregon to score, accepted a 44-36 deficit, and regained possession with a chance to tie. If Oregon had led by five points and not four, OSU’s 4th and 15 gamble would have made a lot more sense.

2. While Mike Riley messed up, an even bigger story in this game of fourth-quarter chess moves was the ballsy brilliance of Oregon coach Chip Kelly. After New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick caught holy hell for his much-discussed move against the Indianapolis Colts a few weeks ago, this past week has shown us why fourth-down aggressiveness is generally warranted (unless it’s 4th-and-15, of course).

First of all, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh went for the first down on 4th-and-5 near midfield with 3:31 left, and his team trailing the Pittsburgh Steelers by a field goal on Nov. 29. The move produced a big gain, a turning point, and a tying field goal that made Baltimore’s 20-17 overtime win possible.

In the most meaningful Civil War ever, we saw a similar theme at work: Coaching courage is rewarded more often than not. In this epic encounter at Autzen Stadium, Oregon converted a first-half 4th-and-6 from the Oregon State 35, but that single success paled in comparison to the double-dose of death-defying confidence shown by Kelly on the Ducks’ final drive.

On 4th-and-3 from the OSU 33, Kelly eschewed a long field goal and trusted his horse, Jeremiah Masoli, to make a play. One thunderous left shoulder later, a Beaver defensive back lay on the ground and the sticks had been moved. A few minutes afterward, Oregon (thanks to a clutch run by LaMichael James, an underrated key play in this contest) was close enough to the marker to think about going for it on fourth down and a short two yards.

Kelly had a comfortable field goal attempt — and a 40-33 lead — in his pocket, but the decision-making Duck instead opted to seal the game with a first down, and after a well-designed delayed option allowed Kenjon Barner to easily outrace a Beaver linebacker to the boundary, Oregon had sewn up its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1994 season.

Fourth-down boldness generally wins games if teams have supreme studs in their stables. Chip Kelly’s gut plus Jeremiah Masoli’s body plus LaMichael James’s determination equals fourth-down success … and a trip to Pasadena for the 2009 Pac-10 champions.

— Matt Zemek