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Oregon Football

30 for 30: #11 – Take Me Down to Pasadena City

July 21, 2021
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When Oregon heads to Pasadena on Oct. 23 to take on the UCLA Bruins, it will mark a shift in tone for the Ducks' 2021 season.

As I’ve noted before, Oregon’s schedule to open the year – outside of the Week 2 trip to Ohio State – sets up seamlessly for success. The journey to Stanford could be tricky, and playing Cal on a Friday night might be awkward, but the Ducks should be 5-1 when they head to UCLA for the first time as a championship contender since 2014.

That year, the UCLA game was a turning point. The Ducks were coming off a shocking home loss to Arizona, and their out-sized aspirations were on life-support.

The key to that season -- Marcus Mariota's Heisman campaign and the curtain call for a slew of talented veterans – was what Oregon had learned from its late-season stumble in 2013. Now, they could find themselves in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

In the end, the loss to Arizona did not spoil the dream, but it certainly removed all wiggle room. Oregon was also dealing with the loss of left tackle Jake Fisher, which played a critical part in the loss to the Wildcats.

So, when Oregon packed up its white uniforms and headed to the sleepy Rose Bowl for an
early kickoff that Saturday, fans could be forgiven for feeling trepidation. One more loss and their ultimate goal would disappear.

Instead, the Ducks found redemption.

Fisher returned to anchor the line. Mariota was at his best. And the overall talent gap between
the teams was evident as Oregon flew home victorious, 42-30.

The win ignited a late-season run that took Oregon back to the Rose Bowl two months later. On Jan. 1, the Ducks placed their name in the history books by winning the first college football playoff game in FBS history.

And while it's possible for Oregon to walk into the Rose Bowl undefeated, the likelihood is that 2021 will look very familiar to 2014.

Once again, there will a pivotal road game against the Bruins, with potentially no room for
error. And a daunting November stretch will lie ahead.

This time, though, an old friend will be awaiting the Ducks in Pasadena.

***

Kelly's tenure has been just short of disastrous. Through three seasons, the man who once turned the football world on its ear has found himself on the losing side far more than he
ever did while at Oregon.

From 2009-12, Chip Kelly was a cult hero in Eugene. He went 46-7 overall, won Rose and Fiesta bowls, and came within a running back's downed ankle of winning the school’s first national championship.

Kelly's exit from Eugene was abrupt. But to this day, he is revered for his work with the Ducks.

After an unsuccessful NFL sojourn, Kelly arrived at UCLA in 2018 to find the college game had caught up with him. His old tricks were no longer game-changers.

Kelly was special at Oregon due to him teams' speed, philosophy, relentlessness and
fearlessness. Suddenly, most college teams were copying his offense. In his absence, the game itself has been tailored to wipe away the advantages Kelly's teams once had.

Kelly is 10-21 overall at UCLA, but the Bruins showed first signs of life in 2020. And no game showed that competitiveness more than their closer-than-expected loss at Oregon – led by a backup quarterback.

It was a game the Bruins probably should have won.

This fall, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the highly touted three-year starter, will be back for UCLA. At times, he has been the perfect engine for Kelly’s offense, which finally seems to have caught up with today’s game.

Although the Bruins don’t match up with Oregon from a talent perspective, that seldom bothered Kelly while he was in Eugene. His ability to put his personnel in the best position is otherworldly, and the Bruins are finally starting to realize that.

This year’s version of the wizard's team from Westwood figures to be Kelly’s best yet. The program is wholly his, despite the rocky start to his tenure. And when Oregon comes for this late-October battle, the past and future of the Oregon program will be on full display.

The man who made the Ducks the most electric team in the country will face off against Mario Cristobal, the man determined to return them the playoffs by maximizing recruiting, physicality and work ethic.

Oregon will likely enter the game a top-10 team, its sights once more set on the playoffs.
For those dreams to continue rise, the Ducks must first overcome a legend from their storied past.

Tags: Football, Oregon
 
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