Chip Kelly’s NFL debut was a big win for the Oregon brand.
The Eagles traveled to Washington for their opener, a prime time game on Monday Night Football. The Eagles ran 77 plays and had 443 yards of offense in a 33-27 win.
During the game ESPN color analyst Jon Gruden kept talking about Kelly’s 46-7 Oregon record and the pace and productivity of the Ducks attack. 49 points a game! A play every 20.6 seconds! Gruden raved about the innovation and effectiveness, and as he illustrated those points during a second quarter in which the Eagles sped to a 26-7 halftime lead, with Michael Vick tossing a pair of touchdown passes and LeSean McCoy on his way to bulling for 184 yards and a 34-yard touchdown run, an audience of 10 to 15 million people got an up-close look at the Oregon story.
The Eagles are 1-0, and host 0-1 San Diego on Sunday.
Stop the presses: ever since Chip Kelly was hired, the media, in Philadelphia and elsewhere, has played up the Oregon connection. His success at the NFL level is a big recruiting and image win for the Ducks (KVAL.com photo, from video).
At one point in the game, Kelly bunched two tackles out wide like split ends on either side of the formation, creating a three-man line look with the two guards and center. The Washington players were baffled. Run? Pass? Screen? Heads on a swivel, they watched helplessly as Vick took the shotgun snap and handed off to McCoy running off tackle for a big chunk of yards down to the goal line.
The Eagles built a 33-7 lead before a fourth-quarter rally by Robert Griffin III, and had to hang on for the win. But what was impressive was the transformation Kelly’s already made in the Philadelphia roster. They smothered 4 punts inside the 20 and scored a safety when Griffin made an errant pitch in the end zone. They intercepted him twice. What was a lifeless and demoralized team last December had an infusion of energy and hustle.
They played like a college team.
It’s just one game, but it’s evident that Kelly’s not overwhelmed matching his concepts against NFL defensive coordinators. He’s going to have success at the pro level, and that success will be good for Oregon, extend the credibility and reach of the Ducks story and approach to football. Kelly, and by extension the Ducks, are changing the way teams practice, prepare, and attack in an innovative and entertaining way. Already it’s paid dividends in recruiting. During the game a high school recruit tweeted he’d just gotten off the phone with Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood. They’d talked about how great Kelly and the Eagles had done tonight.
Players want to be part of a future and a team that’s claiming it. At Saturday’s game with Washington State, the USC Trojans had a big contigent of top high school prospects they’d invited to the game. The recruits looked on in shock and dismay as SC imploded in their own stadium. losing 10-7 as the passing attack managed just 54 yards. In the fourth quarter the thinned-out crowd was openly booing. A chant started up to “Fire Kiffin!”
It was embarrassing scene, and several top players are rethinking their interest in USC. Contrast that to Kelly’s success, and the way Oregon’s season has begun. It’s powerfully apparent that tradition and history are giving way to creativity and innovation in the PAC-12. Someone will resurrect USC, but right now it’s a crumbling empire.
In the NFL, Chip Kelly is a representative of what the Ducks are doing and how it can work at any level of football. It isn’t merely the plays, it’s the attitude, organization, and attention to detail. On the sidelines Washington coach Mike Shanahan had the dazed look Oregon fans have seen in Rick Neuheisel and the fans from Kansas State.