Ducks make their point on scoreboard
EUGENE, Ore. -- Somewhere out in the big, wide world, they know that No. 4 Oregon established itself as a national championship contender Saturday night. They know that only one of the best teams in the country could spot No. 9 Stanford a 21-3 lead, then outscore the Cardinal 49-10 over the last three quarters.
Thanks to what happened at Autzen Stadium, the hometown fans partied far into the night. But deep inside the Ducks bunker where news doesn't travel fast, the Ducks don't know the effect they are having on college football. They don't know that on the night when Florida showed itself to be inexperienced and USC showed itself out the door of the Associated Press poll, Oregon's 52-31 victory made what the cliché-ridden among us refer to as a statement.
"It ain't a statement win," Oregon coach Chip Kelly thundered after the game. "It's 5-0 against Stanford. If we talk about statement wins and stuff like that, then we're buying into all the stuff, too."
Pardon the excitability among the civilians, Coach. When they see sophomore tailback LaMichael James rush for 257 yards and three touchdowns, they think Heisman.
When they see sophomore quarterback Darron Thomas throw for 238 yards and three touchdowns and rush for 117 yards and a fourth touchdown, they think January.
When they see Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck getting helped up by Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews time after time in the second half and see the Cardinal, 28-for-28 in the red zone, go 0-for-2 after halftime, well, you fill in the blanks.
"It's a long, long season," Kelly said. "We're in the first week of October. A lot of things can happen. I don't think this team will get sidetracked. I really hope we don't throw our arms out of socket patting ourselves on the back. All we are is 5-0 right now. We finish football games. We've got to finish this season."
It's easy for a grown man like Kelly to see the forest. Most college players want to celebrate felling a Tree.
"That's the -- what's the name of it? -- the $64,000 question," Kelly said. "We'll see. We addressed it already. That's the first thing I talked about. We won a big game last year. Then we went out and played Stanford and lost."
A year ago, "College GameDay" came to Autzen Stadium. Oregon embarrassed USC 47-20. The next week, the Ducks went to Stanford and lost 51-42.
"We're going to learn from that," senior wide receiver D.J. Davis said. "We've learned not to believe the hype, not to buy into it too much. Coach Kelly has been preaching that ever since he became the head guy. We just know everything can change. Rankings don't win games."
No, rankings just win you a spot in the BCS Championship Game. The Ducks have the disadvantage of not winning games the old-fashioned way. They don't suffocate opposing offenses the way that Alabama does. They don't grind out victories the way that Ohio State does.
The Ducks just score a lot of points week after week. They average nearly 57 points per game. That's eight touchdowns every Saturday. When you do that, your defense doesn't have to be great. It just has to be good. Oregon played well enough Saturday to keep Stanford off the scoreboard in the second half.
Sorry, that sounded very much like a compliment.
"That's really the next test for us," Kelly said. "What happens when everybody is patting you on the back? I know how this team responds when everybody says you can't play. That's what happened last year after Boise."
In Kelly's debut as a head coach, Oregon lost at Boise State 19-8. After a horrid performance, which included LeGarrette Blount's postgame punch, Kelly has gone 15-2 as a head coach. A few days ago, the university announced that it had signed him to a six-year, $20.5 million contract extension.
Kelly wants his team to handle the fuss about winning in the same way that it handled the fuss last year about losing. He wants his players to handle the compliments the same way they handled being behind 21-3. That onside kick that Kelly called after the Ducks closed to 21-10? Kelly said the coaches decided last Sunday to call an onside kick on their second kickoff.
Never mind that Rob Beard executed the kick perfectly, recovered the kick himself, and the Ducks drove downfield and scored another touchdown.
"We don't pay attention to the score," Kelly said. "We really don't. We just play. I talk to our guys about that all the time. Pick your head up at the end of the game and see if we won. We're going to pick our head up at the end of Dec. 4 and see where we are as a team. So it's the same exact thing. We really don't talk about that stuff.
"Do we get caught up? So far, we haven't let outside influences affect us. We need to continue to do that. When things are going bad, it's easy to get a bunker mentality. It's us against the world. Now when things are going good, you still have to have the same mentality."
The Ducks grabbed control of the Pac-10 race. They gained revenge for their only conference loss from a year ago. They proved themselves to be one of the best teams in the nation. And if Chip Kelly has his way, his team will never hear a word about it.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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