Pressure is on for Kelly, Ducks in 2012

BY foxsports • July 24, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Should the Oregon Ducks football team need motivation at any point this upcoming season, all they have to do is look at their head coach. Not for his 34-6 record iwith just two conference defeats in three years, but for his sheer bravery and desire to accomplish his goals.

On July 16, Kelly and Oregon receivers coach Scott Frost flew into Spain, headed to Pamplona “for about a day and a half” Kelly said, and participated in the famous Running of the Bulls.

It may take some guts to coach in the shark tank of collegiate football, but it’s another matter altogether to run in step with an animal that could kill you at any moment.

“It was a great experience,” Kelly reported while at the Pac-12 Media Day in the Gibson Amphitheatre on Tuesday. “A lot of fun. It was something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time and it just happened to fit into my schedule. “

So, coach Kelly, which is tougher — coaching in the pressure cooker that is Ducks’ football or taking a run down the cobbled streets half a world away?

“Running with the bulls, because you can DIE running with the bulls,” Kelly said with a big smile on his face. “I don’t think anybody’s died coaching in the Pac-12. You can lose your job, but not your life.”

Not even when the pressure to win — and win big — hangs over your head like Damocles’ sword.

Most experts are picking the Ducks and the USC Trojans to meet in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and both of the teams should be contenders for the national championship. While USC is battling through Reggie Bush-induced probation, Oregon is under constant scrutiny by the NCAA about possible recruiting violations, and by benefactor Nike, which donates millions of dollars to Oregon’s athletic programs, including a new $68 million football operations center.

Oregon football must continue to win impressively, or alum Phil Knight’s money could go elsewhere.

Kelley isn’t worried, though, feeling that his team is in great shape as training camp begins.

“We’re really lucky, because we don’t have too many players to replace from last year’s team,” said Kelly, whose Ducks finished 12-2 including a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. “Guys like (running back) LaMichael James we have to replace, and David Paulson our tight end.  (Quarterback) Darron Thomas and (Rover) Eddie Pleasant are a couple of other guys who’ve moved on.

“We feel like we play so many guys and created depth in our program, that there are not a lot of holes right now. The real question for us is who is going to (backup the new starters.)” 

With Thomas gone, the Ducks need a new starting quarterback, and Kelly is so sure of his talent base that he’s willing to let Bryan Bennett and Mario Mariota battle it out until the week before the Sept. 1 opener against Arkansas State.

“Why not?” Kelly asked. “I’m confident in the talent these guys have and somebody will step up and do a great job for us.”

Offensively, senior Kenjon Barner and sophomore De’Anthony Thomas will replace James in the backfield. Barner is a dual threat who is equally adept at running the ball or catching it. His career has progressed steadily each year and the Riverside, Calif. native says he ready for the big breakthrough season.

“My expectations for myself are probably higher than anyone else has for me,” said Barner, who gained 939 yards rushing and scored eleven touchdowns last season. “I’m my harshest critic, and I expect nothing but great things from myself. I hope that doesn’t sound cocky or arrogant or anything like that; it’s just that I expect great things.

“And expectations are high for our team — nationally and in the Pac-12 — and we expect to be there in that prime position. Some (teams) might not like that, but we love it. We’d love to take that on and we usually do pretty well with it.”

Barner also likes the fact that even though he left Southern California to pursue his college football dreams in Eugene, Oregon, he can come back home and tell everyone what a great decision he made.

“Absolutely,” he said with a laugh. “(I) can come home now and have bragging rights because we’re such and elite program. I see a lot of guys from SC and UCLA, and I can say ‘Hey, we did this and we did that.’ I love having bragging rights when I come back home.”

Defensively, expect to see Oregon put one of the nation’s best defenses on the field, with six starters returning. Led by talented linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, defensive coordinator Nick Alioti has put together another championship-caliber unit.

“Coach being here for a while and giving us continuity is a big thing for us,” said Clay. “It’s important for guys to be in the same system and growing in that system to be a championship team.

“We have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and I expect us to go out and have a great season.”

To meet those expectations, the road the Ducks must travel goes right through the heart of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Last year the Trojans — ineligible to win the conference championship — went up to Eugene and handed Oregon its final loss of the season, 38-35. The Ducks is looking for payback on Nov. 3.

“No doubt,” Barner said emphatically. “They came and got one on our field, so we have to come back (down) here and (do) the same. They did what they had to do.

“We have a lot of leftover feelings about that football game, and we’re excited to come here and face SC and take one back from them.”

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