Greg Hansen: Oregon's offense is not that new, crazy

2011-09-23T00:01:00Z 2012-11-30T13:47:26Z Greg Hansen: Oregon's offense is not that new, crazyGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 23, 2011 12:01 am  • 

Arizona couldn't sell 8,000 seats last week to watch the nation's most acclaimed college quarterback and a top-10 team on a 15-1 streak. That's because Stanford is smart, not sexy.

But when UA director of athletics Greg Byrne left work Thursday, the Wildcats were 300 tickets shy of a sellout for Saturday's Oregon game.

That's because the Ducks aren't just sexy, they're sizzling. They're a Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz, driving-a-motorcycle-off-a-cliff movie.

When you buy a ticket to watch Oregon play football, you think you'll see (a) triple-reverses with a fullback throwing a 73-yard pass to a tight end; (b) fake punts, onside kicks and other football chicanery; and (c) an NCAA record for most passing yards, total yards and yards after the catch.

But do you know what Oregon does more (and better) than anyone in the Pac-12? This will come as a shock: It runs the football.

The Ducks run more than USC used to run when the Trojans had all of those Heisman winners and operated the student-body-right, student-body-left offense. The Ducks are leading the conference in rushing for the fifth straight year, No. 6 in the nation, and who besides UA defensive coordinator Tim Kish knew?

In the public mind, Ducks coach Chip Kelly created this fast and furious offense somewhere in the woods of New Hampshire, or Transylvania, and no one outside the SEC has been smart enough (or good enough) to slow it down or figure it out.

"Last year against us, Oregon snapped every play with no less than 22 seconds on the play clock," says UA quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo. "I'm telling you, not a single time."

There continues to be, however, a great amount of romanticism, and misinformation, about Kelly and the Oregon offense.

It's not new. It's not bombs-away. It's not put-the-guy-in-the-Hall-of-Fame worthy.

"Nobody invented nothing," says Scelfo. "We ran the same thing when I coached at Tulane in 1997-98, and our offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez, ran the same thing when he coached at Glenville State years before that."

Glenville State? That's in West Virginia.

The Ducks are good because, except for Auburn, LSU and occasionally Stanford and USC, they've got better (and faster) players than the other guy.

Kelly, then at New Hampshire, used to retreat to New Orleans with Scelfo, Rodriguez and offensive coaches from all over the country - "I think we did it four years in a row down there," Scelfo remembers - and pick one another's third-and-long brains.

Tulane was sort of the think-tank of the spread/speed offense before Mike Leach launched his everybody-go-out-for a-pass system at Texas Tech.

"I'm telling you, our '98 Tulane team ran the same offense Oregon runs and we got our plays off as fast, or faster, than the Ducks do," says Scelfo. "We were going fast, scoring in bunches. I'm not bragging, but doggone, we went 12-0. Look it up."

In 1998, Tulane did indeed finish 12-0. The Green Wave averaged a school-record 45.4 points per game and shattered school records by averaging 507 yards a game. They won games 72-20, 63-30 and 52-24.

Before trouncing BYU in the '98 Liberty Bowl, Tulane head coach Tommy Bowden accepted a similar position at Clemson. Suddenly, defensive coaches in the ACC were aghast; how would they deal with Bowden's spread-option offense?

"My phone kept ringing," Scelfo remembers. "All of those ACC teams were calling, asking me to come up and show them how the offense worked. But I couldn't do it, of course. It started a chain reaction. You can find that offense, or variations of it, everywhere these days, in high school and college."

Not that the Ducks aren't clever and beguiling. They are. Although Oregon has outscored Arizona 48-29, 44-41 and 55-45 the last three seasons, UA defensive coaches have encountered more structural problems against Stanford.

"We got displaced at Oregon last year," UA coach Mike Stoops says. "This is a team that sees where we're weak. It's basically a cat-and-mouse game."

Stanford was more confusing because its personnel and formations were often impossible to accurately predict.

In the 2010 game at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh would sometimes send out four or six players, faux substitutes, who would reach the hash marks, and then turn around and return to the bench.

Sometimes that group, in varying numbers, would then sprint into position, put their hand on the turf, and the play would be snapped before UA defensive coaches could properly adjust.

"I saw how it affected our (defensive) coaches in the booth," Scelfo says. "I hated that it happened to us, but I admired it. Sometimes we couldn't catch up to it."

This year, at home, Stoops adjusted. He implored the officials not to allow Stanford to substitute illegally. The fake-in, fake-out pattern ceased, but Stanford was superior in almost every phase of the game and belted Arizona 37-10.

Now come the Ducks, a running team, a scoring team, with a defense that is better than you think. But that's not the best way to describe the Ducks this week.

They are a team responsible for selling all of those $75-a-seat tickets in the upper deck.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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