PULLMAN – University of Oregon football coach Chip Kelly and his star running back LaMichael James have one thing in common.
They are both tough to pin down.
After running then-ninth-ranked Stanford out of Autzen Stadium, 52-31, in the second-half last Saturday, the undefeated Ducks jumped to third in the national polls, vaulting over the Cinderella story, Boise State, and squarely in the national championship conversation.
And back into the national limelight.
“The Ducks beat Stanford on Saturday – mugged is more like it – and got behind the velvet rope,” wrote CBSSports.com college football writer Dennis Dodd. “Their name is suddenly on the A-list. Not so subtly, Oregon just established itself as a national power. You don’t get a certificate or a notice in the mail for such a thing. One day it just happens. Saturday was that day.”
But Kelly, in his second year running the Oregon football machine, is having none of it.
“We don’t deal with outside expectations,” he said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “I’ve had people tell me last Saturday was a statement win. It wasn’t a statement win for anybody on this football team, I can tell you that.
“We expected to win that football game. We don’t let people govern us from the outside, whether we’re losing and people say we’re not supposed to win games, or we’re winning, and people say we’re supposed to be winning by that much.”
Though it might come as a surprise to folks east of the Rockies, the Ducks have been winning with increasing regularity lately.
They are 51-18 in the past five-plus years.
They are 15-3 under Kelly, the former FCS offensive coordinator, and a relative neophyte on a Duck staff that includes five guys who have been in Eugene since the early days of former coach Mike Bellotti’s tenure, who was 116-55 in his 14 seasons.
And this year they are dominating.
In five games they’ve scored 275 points, an NCAA-leading 56.6 per game. They also are atop the national statistics in total offense, turnover margin and fewest sacks allowed. They are second in rushing offense and 15th in scoring defense.
James is second in the nation in rushing (178 yards per game), cornerback Cliff Harris’ four interceptions have him tied for third in the country and his 28.14 yards per punt return leads the nation. Each were named Pac-10 players of the week after the Stanford win.
In other words, the Ducks have done it all.
Everything but please their coach.
“We can improve in every facet of the game,” Kelly said. “We can improve in blocking, we can improve in the fundamentals of the game – we missed some tackles again on Saturday on a couple of the long runs they got – we need to improve our tackling.
“I’ve said this for a while and I’ll say it again. You never arrive in this game. You can constantly improve. Everybody can get better.”
Maybe it’s Kelly’s way to keep the Ducks grounded. After all, they head into Saturday’s game at Washington State a 37-point favorite and the darlings of everyone who loves seven shades of green.
But, Kelly isn’t letting anyone pin him, or his team, down.
“People go yo-yo up, yo-yo down,” he said. “If you control yourself by outside influences, your head is going to be spinning.”