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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

At Oregon, it's all about moving quickly and saving time

No. 1 Ducks never stop moving, especially during practice, under Coach Chip Kelly.

October 20, 2010|Chris Dufresne

From Eugene, Ore. — Chip Kelly likes to shave time. He's the kind of guy who seeks the quickest route to work and probably could have already edited four words out of this story.

"Gone With the Wind," under Kelly's direction, might have won the Academy Award for best film short.

"It would have been really fast," Kelly joked Monday in his office. "Get right to Atlanta, burn the buildings and yell 'time!'"

The objective is getting Oregon to play football as fast as its second-year coach talks, and he's already machine-gum Kelly.

Oregon played up-tempo last year when it ended USC's seven-year reign as Pacific 10 Conference champions, but that was a waltz compared to now.

Monday morning's practice, in advance of Thursday's game against UCLA at Autzen Stadium, started at 8:50 and was over at 10:30.

It wasn't a walk-through as much as a sprint-through, in full pads, a cacophony of boombox sounds and Ziegfeld Follies choreography.

Nick Aliotti, Oregon's longtime defensive coordinator, walked off the field in desperate search of a nap, his voice raspy from trying to scream over music from "The Lion King" (seriously).

"I don't mind saying this, it's almost ridiculous," Aliotti said of the pace.

There are few lulls in the action and no coaches droning on about gap responsibilities — that's all done in film study.

"I think we're the new age of college football," senior quarterback Nate Costa said. "I think you're going to see more teams do what we do."

Opponents have had a hard time keeping up. Oregon is No.1 in the polls for the first time in the school's 115-year history, and maybe on a fast track toward the national title game.

The Ducks average nearly 80 plays a game and lead the nation in scoring at 54.33 points a game, but they also rank No. 108 nationally in average time of possession (27 minutes 32 seconds).

Army, by comparison, leads the nation in time of possession at 34:31 a game, but averages only 69.9 plays.

Oregon's theory is teams will ultimately get tired of giving chase, and so far it's working. The Ducks have outscored opponents in the second half, 128-13.

"If you watch other teams, their posture in the second half, they'll be bending over," Ducks linebacker Casey Matthews said.

The Sept. 11 game at Tennessee was 13-13 at intermission and ended 48-13.

"That tempo they were going at kind of got to us and wore us down," Tennessee defensive end Chris Walker said.

Volunteers Coach Derek Dooley remarked, "It's the fastest offense you'll see."

Stanford was leading Oregon, 31-24, at the half, before getting outscored 28-0.

Stanford players appeared to be feigning injuries to slow down Oregon's pace — or so thought Ducks fans who booed the reentry of every Cardinal player who had limped off the field.

"Going right off and coming on the field the next play. I don't know if those are injuries or not," Matthews said.

Kelly is careful not to question the tactics or ethics of others, especially when it deals with injuries.

"I understand why the officials can't say anything," Kelly said. "What if the guy is legitimately injured? … To me, if someone's coaching that, then you're basically throwing up a red flag and saying we can't play at your pace."

Kelly, 46, is constantly cutting corners — in a constructive way. He was running high-powered offenses at I-AA New Hampshire when he was hired by Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti in 2007 to retool the Ducks' spread offense.

Kelly quickly — as he does everything — turned quarterback Dennis Dixon, who had lost his starting job the year before, into a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Fearing it might lose Kelly, the school made him the successor-in-waiting to Bellotti, who retired in 2009. Kelly had spent years picking brains and keeping notes in preparation for becoming a head coach.

When he took over at Oregon, an already successful program, Kelly's motivation was to streamline operations. He went to every department head and asked how things could be more efficient. The only answer he would not accept was "That's how we did things before."

Practices this year are faster than they were last year, when they seemed fast enough. Organization is key. The entire 2010 practice schedule was blocked out last summer — down to the minute.

"I can tell you what we're doing the Wednesday of the [Nov. 26] Arizona game," Kelly said.

The music literally never stops at an Oregon practice — although at times it seems like musical chairs. Kelly started blasting mix tapes over the loudspeakers because he couldn't stand the "white noise" most teams used to simulate stadium chatter.

Monday morning, the roll into practice began with players doing free-form warmup.

At 8:50, Kelly blasted an air horn and shouted "Let's go!" to the backdrop of startling lead-in screeches to the song "Jump Around."

The players all jump around. Another horn blast sent the team to the goal line where a "chorus line" of leg kicks ensued.

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