Time runs out on Ducks

Sometimes Mighty Mo-men-tum needs a little extra time to complete its journey.

The expanse can be that far and wide.

As Oregon learned the hard way Saturday night.

The No. 4-ranked Ducks roared from far behind only to come up short 38-35 against Southern California in a college football thriller at Autzen Stadium that is sure to be remembered for years in the Pac-12.

For the record, kicker Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play that would have deadlocked things and ushered in overtime.

The defeat eliminated Oregon from BCS title contention and halted — momentarily at least — its berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game. A win over rival Oregon State in next Saturday’s Civil War changes that. A victory in the subsequent league title game would ensure a Rose Bowl appearance.

In the meantime, troubled Duck minds will be left to ponder what could have been against the No. 18-ranked Trojans.

“This is a game you’ll toss and turn and look back at a lot of different plays,” a somber Oregon coach Chip Kelly said afterwards.

Some will say the Ducks simply ran out of time.

The comeback was so ferocious — Oregon rallied from a 38-14 deficit over a span of 11 minutes, 23 seconds from late in the third to the middle of the fourth — that USC was firmly on its heels when the final Duck drive came to a halt at the Trojan 20 with four seconds left.

Had the Oregon offense had another 30 seconds to work with — equivalent to three or four plays — it’s difficult imagining the Ducks not reaching the end zone.

But if football is a game of inches and seconds, it also is a game of long drives and patience.

And for the longest while Saturday night, the Trojans had their way with the Ducks.

Until late in the third quarter, it was USC that had the look of a national title contender — confident and in charge — and not Oregon.

The Trojans had arrived at a frigid Autzen determined to make a statement and to ease the sting of their bowl ban. They also came in 16-point underdogs after having been blown out by the Ducks the last two seasons.

For most of the middle quarters, the Trojan offense owned the line of scrimmage, allowing quarterback Matt Barkley and his top-flight receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to play jump ball at the Ducks’ expense.

For Oregon’s freshmen defensive backs — Terrance Mitchell, Troy Hill and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu  — it was a rude awakening. Just a week earlier, they had solved the puzzle of Stanford QB Andrew Luck, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner. A week before that, they had put the clamps down on UW signal caller Keith Price. Earlier, they had neutralized ASU’s Brock Osweiler.

Unlike those other top Pac-12 quarterbacks, though, Barkley picked the Ducks clean.

(Note to Heisman voters: You might want to take a second look at the guy wearing No. 7.)

Through three quarters, Barkley had four touchdowns through the air. He would finish 26-for-34 for 323 yards.

“He’s the top quarterback that we’ve faced this year in a game situation,” said Kelly, who lost for the first time as a head coach in Autzen.

Defensively, the Trojans were putting enough heat on Duck quarterback Darron Thomas and enough sure tackles on LaMichael James to keep Oregon’s prolific offense in a funk.

Still, it could have been — should have been — a closer contest through three quarters. Two turnovers in particular hurt Oregon: A fumble by De’Anthony Thomas early in the first quarter with Oregon on the USC 20 and another fumble by LaMichael James on the Trojan 9 just before the end of the first half.

The visitors would need every last break and point they could muster.

There would be no quit in these Ducks.

The comeback began with De’Anthony Thomas ‘ scintillating 96-yard kickoff return for a TD. It gained more traction behind Kenjon Barner’s darting runs and TD; and then an interception of a Barkley pass by safety John Boyett, a fly-paper catch by tight end David Paulson, and a score by James.

With seven minutes remaining, what had looked to be a runaway Trojan victory had turned into a white-knuckle affair worthy of the near freezing temperatures.

Autzen was rocking and rolling.

But USC would answer — as it had for much of the evening. It marched 61 yards, eating up four minutes of the clock, behind Barkley’s arm and Curtis McNeal’s legs. The drive would end with a fumble by Marc Tyler just 11 yards from the end zone. But ultimately it served its purpose. It had kept the Ducks’ hot offense off the field and left them with not much time to travel a sizable distance and complete their rally.

As he has over and over in his career, Darron Thomas promptly led the Ducks down the field. But the increasingly weary Trojan side did just enough to keep Oregon 20 yards from pay dirt and to force the Ducks to go for the tie.

When Maldonaldo pulled the kick to the left, many of the Oregon faithful stood in silence, unable to budge from their seats.

When Mighty Mo runs out of time, squashing the dreams of many, it can take awhile to comprehend.

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FishDuck Staff

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  • Spursfan746

    they had 20 seconds, first down in ten, 3 timeouts, about the 18th or 19th yard line
    chip Kelly decides instead of slowing down the ducks, instead of just simply spiking
    the ball, instead of taking one of the three timeouts, he decides to throw the ball away and take 6 costly seconds off the clock. Now with 3 timeouts and 14 seconds they try to throw a screen to get extra yards on a field goal? they lose 2 to 3 yards on the play. they use a timeout and come out to kneel the ball and get a false start and lose five more yards and yet he still wants to take a field goal, 8 second is enough time for one shot in the end zone, so they kneel, lose a yard and take a field goal. they miss the field goal.
                                     time didn’t run out on the ducks it ran out on chip Kelly.
    other teams to try this strategy
    1998 vikings (NFC championship) decide instead of advancing the ball closer to the goal, to kick a field goal and go up by ten with 2 minutes left, it misses and the falcons drive the ball down field and tie the game, they sent it to overtime and they eventually win in overtime 
    (and yes they began kneeling the ball with 3 minutes left in an undecided football game)
    2010 vikings (NFC championship) the vikings once again get into field goal range, this time with just a minute to go, they began running the ball and lose about 5 yards from an already out of reach field goal of about 50 yards. realizing they lost there field goal, to throw the ball, its intercepted and the vikings lose in overtime.
    2011 Florida state (against Virgina)
    2011 Boise state   (against TCU)
    and many others, i don’t understand this strategy and why it happens so often, it  never works,

  • DC Duck

    I agree with Spurs Fan.

    Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I wouldn’t trade Chip Kelly for anybody cuz of his strengths.  But CK’s weakness is he chokes in big games, like the Natty.  In the USC game, it came in the form of failing to use his timeouts at the end of the game to set up a winning TD.  DaT was on fire: why wasn’t he in for every play of that final drive?  Paulsen could get open on every play. The USC D was tired and losing it. The only play USC stopped was that goofy flat pass the lost yards and valuable time.

    Don’t forget also at end of 2nd qtr., when with 35 seconds left and ball on 6 yd line, instead of taking TO, they do a predictable, hurried hand off to LMJ, resulting in a fumble and an injury to his elbow. 

    CK just freezes and it seems no one on his staff YELLS in his ear.  That said, I wouldn’t trade CK because it’s more important to run a clean program where the players get an education, recruiting follows the rules (there will be no more Willie Lyles) and  bad behavior, even by SuperStars Cliff Harris and LG Blount are not tolerated. Not to mention the Ducks are fun to watch and fun to love.  I just wish CK would get a “bench coach” to serve as his cool, strategical mind while he’s freezing up in big games.

  • Steve Maher

       Oregon’s offense is predicated on a no-huddle, hurry-up pace. When the Ducks slow down, call timeouts, they seem to fall out of sync. They had moved about 70 yards on that final drive using that pace. They also had not thrown downfield successfully all game. Most of the successful pass plays had been screens, short throws to the tight end, wheel routes.
       I get the part about Kelly calling a timeout after Barner’s rush to the 23 left a 2nd-and-1 with about 27 seconds left and the clock ticking. But after that play and subsequent first-down run, it was probably moot because they weren’t going to throw into the end zone. It hadn’t worked all game. If they were going to score a touchdown, it was going to be on runs and short passes. Those can eat up some time, however. So I think once the clock got down under 20 seconds or so, Kelly and the Ducks knew a FG attempt was highly likely. My hunch is that Maldonado hits that 8 out of 10 times.
       There was approximately 40 seconds left when Oregon reached the USC 31. If you add 30 seconds to that, I believe the Ducks would have scored a TD using their normal flow of plays.
       All speculation, obviously.
       I think it’s fair to say the game was not lost on that last drive. It was lost in the second and third quarters when the Trojans owned the Ducks.
       I also tend to agree with what The Oregonian’s Ken Goe wrote in this piece:

  • DC Duck

    Allow me to respond start at end, work way back:

    DUcks also “lost” game (i.e. Huge opp) in 1st quarter failing to score with 3 good field positions including Barkley fumble at 20.  One reason we crushed Stanford is we took and kept early lead, and forced Stanf to play catchup.  We blew the chance to do that v USC. This time, Ducks propensity for slow start truly bit us in the butt.

     4th Qtr: Fact is Ducks had 2:31 second to score a TD to win.  w/ 1:13, a 9-yrd to Vaughn, then a 2-yr Barrner game for 1st down.  44 Seconds, ball on USC 32.  IMHO, this is where CK/offensive coordinator choked. Here’s where we shoulda called time out, and made sure every play we had a chance to hit DaT “dragging over the middle” or a seam for a TD to Paulsen or Tulenei. With 3 timeouts, you could continue exploiting the middle of the field for at least 3 more plays.  And they had not been able to tackle DaT in space (no one can). And we had 2 TD passes earlier in the game from this yard-line!  The ball never went in DaT’s direction from this point on.  (Football malpractice, IMHO)

    Instead, We let clock run to 38 seconds, and USC calls a Time out. at this point we still could done the above strategy, but instead, Barner does a 9 yd run, (33 seconds, no time out) and then a five yard, run, (NO time out) and then the pass out of bounds to stop clock 20 seconds.

    To be a champion caliber team, the Ducks need to be able to finish a 4th qtr drive for a TD. The view that they “cant call timeouts or they fall out of sync” means Ducks are a hurry-up offense that can’t run a classic 2-min offense to win the game.  You’ll notice Ducks’ record in close games is not good: (Rose Bowl, Natty, USC).  in the OKL-Baylor game, OK scored go ahead TD IN less than 2 mins and Baylor did same to win in less than 1 minute..

    Steve, I agree that passing was sub-par.  DT was quite simply OFF on many important passes.  On the “lateral-turned-fumble,” the pass was above DaT’s helmet; Dont forget, right before LMJ’s fumble on 6 yd line at end of 2nd Qtr, DT had DaT WIDE Open in endzone but threw to High and outside, forcing him out.  On the final 4th Qtr drive w/ !:20 left, DAT was open on the wheel play down the left sideline.  But DT throws behind him, allowing for the catch-and-tackle.  Herbstreet comments at the time that a proper lead would have allowed DaT to race into the endzone with a TD. 

    This is where flaws in DT mechanics catch up.  Plus, like the LSU game, he gets so ramped up, often throwing too hard and too high.  He’s also not much of a threat to run.

    In the end, I believe we’ll see that B Bennett is a far superior QB both running and passing.  His mechanics are amazing. Please pardon the rant.  This is how I love my Ducks.

  • JV

    Didn’t Maldonaldo miss two 40+/- field goals against the Cardinal? The guys range is under-40 yards. On a cold night, less than that. He had the length, unfortunately, but he pressed and ended up hooking it. 
    So what? He didn’t lose the game. 
    Mistakes did. 
    The clock management wasn’t the greatest. And why stop feeding Kenjon? Or using DT on a keeper? Both safe plays that would have advanced the ball and left time (conceivably we can run three running plays (using time outs!) in 30 seconds and leave at least one for the FG try. 
    I just don’t understand why we elected to throw when it got down to crunch time.
    Let’s give Chip some slack here: how often do the Ducks come down to the last play to win? Not once this season. Or last, if memory serves. Our losses were decided well before the last series, except for the Natty…..

  • Steve Maher

       Yes, this was the first time ever under Chip Kelly that the Ducks had to rally with under 3 minutes to play (and being a touchdown or less down). This was the first time we had witnessed how Kelly would approach it. Entering this game under Kelly, Oregon had won something like 22 of 24 Pac-12/Pac-10 games by at least two touchdowns or more.

       Given how the Ducks operate the best, I don’t know if a traditional “two-minute drill” was in the cards, or ever will be. That might be a flaw in Kelly’s system — similar to what a traditional run-oriented attack faces when it gets way down. I don’t know. Certainly, Oregon’s strategy is geared toward getting a lead (if not in the first half, certainly by the third quarter) and forcing the other team to play catch-up.

       I believe it also depends on personnel. If the Ducks had more of a downfield passing attack (like they did with Dennis Dixon and Co.), my hunch is you would have seen more of those plays on the final drive (and not the Barner runs and screen plays).