Oregon vs. Michigan 2007: The True Dawn of the Chip Kelly Era

Joey Holland History

Football is an extremely complex game filled with trickery, mental toughness, and constant adjustments.  Coaches and players alike must be on their toes at all times, actively trying to remain one step ahead of their opponent.

As Oregon fans know, perhaps no coach in recent history has done this as well as Chip Kelly, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

Earlier this week, I was watching a Texas A&M game from 2012 in which the Aggies ran an extremely mild play action pass that involved a wide out, who had been in motion before the snap, that faked a handoff from quarterback Johnny Manziel, who subsequently threw the ball downfield.

Chip Kelly proved to be one of the most brilliant offensive minds in recent history.

© Kevin Cline Photography

Chip Kelly proved to be one of the most brilliant offensive minds in recent history.

Commentator Gary Danielson was beside himself, despite the relatively bland nature of the play, praising the Texas A&M team while laughing that he had never seen a fake statue-of-liberty play before.

Duck fans sure have, and can be excused for rolling their eyes at his comment.

In fact, Duck fans remember that fake statue-of-liberty play so well that it is often remembered as the dawn of a new era.

Chip Kelly came to Eugene as the offensive coordinator in 2007, and wasted no time making his mark.  Though he was more behind-the-scenes back then compared to when he took over as the head coach, his influence on the field was clear as day.

In only his second game with the Ducks, Kelly orchestrated one of the most dominant offensive performances Oregon has ever seen, and it just so happened to be against a reigning national powerhouse – the Michigan Wolverines.

Coming off of a devastating loss to a far inferior Appalachian State team, the Wolverines were vulnerable.  However, that does not take away from the fact that Oregon was able to walk into one of the toughest places to play in the country and cruise to a 39-7 victory.

With one of the best offensive backfields in Oregon football history in Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart, Kelly had all the weapons he needed to dazzle in the national spotlight.

Oregon had not even scored a point during its last four trips to the Big House, but the Ducks wasted no time in 2007.  On Michigan’s opening drive, Chad Henne’s attempted deep strike to Mario Manningham was picked off by Matthew Harper in his own end zone.

At that point, the Ducks were off to the races.

Now, as I stated before, football is a complicated game that relies on complicated strategies and, in many cases, deception.

Commentators regularly break plays down during games, showing the viewers what the coaches and players were trying to do.  One common strategy that they tend to point out is when teams “set up” a certain play by first running a similar play numerous times.

For example, repeatedly running a toss to the outside may lead to the defense becoming extra aggressive when they see it develop.  Therefore, it might be a good idea to have the running back throw the ball deep to a wide out after receiving the toss after a few attempts.

This strategy was utilized to perfection by Kelly and the Ducks offense in Ann Arbor.  After Jonathan Stewart picked up about 15 yards and a big first down on a real statue-of-liberty play, Kelly dialed up a gorgeous fake statue-of-liberty play that was almost embarrassing to watch.

With Oregon up 18-7 late in the second quarter, the Ducks had the ball at Michigan’s 10-yard line.  After receiving the snap, Dixon faked the handoff to Stewart behind his back, and watched as the sea of Maize and Blue parted in front of him.

Every single Wolverine on the field appeared to go after the running back, and Dixon strolled into the end zone with ease to put the Ducks up by three scores.

Now, while there was certainly no shortage of stellar play on both sides of the ball during this game that deserves plenty of credit, this particular play was special.

The unbelievable ease with which the play was executed marked a true turning point in Oregon football history, and the beginning of a notable trend.  With this play, Chip Kelly and the Ducks demonstrated the offensive dominance that would carry through successive seasons up to the present.

Including 2007, Oregon’s offense has finished in the top twelve nationally in both rushing offense and scoring

Mark Helfrich will take over as head coach in the wake of his departure for Philadelphia

Kevin Cline Photography

Mark Helfrich will take over as head coach in the wake of Kelly’s departure for Philadelphia

offense during each of the past six seasons.

On top of that, the Ducks have finished in the top ten in total offense in each of those same seasons, except for 2009.

The brilliant offensive mind of Kelly can be seen in both the numbers and the beautifully designed plays (such as the fake statue-of-liberty) that have been implemented since his arrival.

A controversial and often provocative figure though he may be, there is no denying Kelly’s genius on the offensive side of the ball.  No matter what, Duck fans will always be grateful of the truly amazing displays of offensive dominance put together during the Chip Kelly era, starting in 2007 with that stunning game against Michigan.

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