Chip Coulda Shoulda Woulda Learned From Mark

In just his first season as Oregon’s head coach, Mark Helfrich accomplished something that Chip Kelly never did in his four years as the Ducks’ head coach.  Mark won a game that was decided by a field goal or less coming from behind in the last minute. But it wasn’t just what he did, it was how he did it that showed his coaching brilliance.  It’s Kelly who is known for his innovation and thinking outside the box, but when push came to shove at the end of a close game, Helfrich simply one-upped the Chipster in dialing up the perfect play.

I refer, of course, to Oregon’s defensive play that allowed Oregon State to score a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes left in the game.  Oregon State was driving, getting closer and closer to a can’t-miss game winning field goal, when from Oregon’s 25-yard line, the Beavers called a play that NOBODY would ever expect them to call (wink-wink) — the jet sweep!  The Ducks’ defense came up with Oscar-worthy performances, taking themselves out of position, diving for missed tackles, basically doing everything needed to put the ball back in the hands of All Pac-12 QB Marcus Mariota as quickly as possible.

Darn! Missed again.

Kevin Cline

Darn! Missed again.

It was the kind of game that whoever had the ball last — with enough time to work — was going to win. An Oregon State turnover was unlikely and a missed field goal was becoming less likely by the yard.  The best solution, and the one that Helfrich dialed up wittingly or unwittingly, was to let the Beavers score and score fast.

If it wasn’t brilliance on Helfrich’s part, it was at least a coaching oversight by Beaver Coach Mike Riley for failing to tell his players that they needed to hang onto the ball until the game clock was eaten up, even if it meant tripping over the five-yard line to avoid scoring a touchdown.  All the Beavers needed was a fresh set of downs to run out the clock and set up a game winner.

Do whatever it takes to put the ball in your playmaker's hands.

Kevin Cline

Do whatever it takes to put the ball in your playmaker’s hands.

Of course we don’t KNOW that Helfrich and Aliotti called for Oregon’s defense to lie down on purpose, but if they did it was absolutely brilliant play calling.  And if you don’t think a coach would ever call such a play that initially works against his team, think again.

In basketball, teams routinely foul to send the other team to the free throw line in order to get the ball back.  In baseball, pitchers deliberately walk batters to create force plays.  In football, defensive backs take 15-yard pass interference penalties to avoid longer gains. Sure, all of these things have their risks, and so does going for it on fourth down.

But even if it was an accident and not brilliance on Helfrich’s part, it worked — and Chip Kelly coulda shoulda woulda learned something from it.  His Eagles made the mistake of scoring too fast, going ahead 24-23, but leaving New Orleans with 4:54 to put together a winning drive.

Once the Saints got within field goal range, Chip used his timeouts to give New Orleans time to move closer to the goal line and increase his chances of losing on a short field goal.  As a result, New Orleans kicked the 32-yard game winner with no time left.  When the Saints were closing in on can’t-miss field goal range, Chip would have been ahead if he just let them walk it into the end zone so he could get the ball back – just like Mark did.

On the first weekend of January alone, two other teams went down in similar fashion.  Green Bay tied the Niners with 5:06 left on the clock and used timeouts to let them move closer and closer to a 33-yard field goal with no time left.

And in the BCS Championship, Auburn took a four-point lead with 1:19 left on the clock. By that point in the game, defensive stops were not happening and turning the ball over to Florida State with over a minute left proved fatal.  Again, it was the kind of game where the last team with the ball, and enough time to work was going to win.  It was Auburn who failed to make sure that they were the ones with the ball.

Sometimes you make the right choices and sometimes accidents work out in your favor.  Whichever the case, Mark got it right and Chip coulda shoulda and would have, but didn’t.  And for that matter, neither did Green Bay or Auburn.

Main photo by Kevin Cline

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • hokieduck

    No way that was intentional. However, I know that I felt a jolt of hope when the Beavs scored early and thought that that was the best thing that could have happened under the circumstances. It still required execution and the Ducks proved their mettle after several weeks of disappointment and diminished expectations.

    Go Ducks.

    • Mike Merrell

      hokieduck –
      Thanks for reading. Aliotti said it wasn’t deliberate, but that he had thought about it. It would be gutsy to deliberately give up a touchdown, just as it would have been gutsy for Riley to tell his players to take a knee at the five instead of scoring… but with perfect hindsight, the only real chance for the Ducks was to let the Beavers score fast instead of slowly and the best chance for the Beavers would have been to avoid scoring fast. The common thread that I saw in a lot of the late season games was that with the new hurry-up offenses, it appears that more games became incredibly offense-oriented toward the end, when the defenses clearly wore out. As part of this trend, it may become wise for coaches to “play for the last shot,” even if it means giving up a score. It all goes against conventional wisdom, but innovation is always unconventional. It may just turn out that Helfrich blundered into a strategy that others will follow.

      • hokieduck

        I cannot remember who it was, Mike, but it was in an NFL game late in the season. A wide out got away from the pack and could have easily scored but went down at about the ten. It was the first time I had seen someone actually do it. I think it would be really gutsy and the coach would be creamed if the kicker missed a short one, but I see it coming in the future.