Chip Kelly’s Ducks control what they can and ignore the rest

By Isaac Rosenthal

Chip Kelly is fond of reminding players and the media that the only things a team can control is its preparation, its effort and its attitude. Everything else — the venue, an opponent’s record, kickoff time, BCS ranking or weather on game day — falls into the category of things even he can’t control, and what he can’t control, he doesn’t care about.

It sounds cliche, but it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t have something of a knack for coaching on the road. In his short tenure in Eugene, the visor-clad architect behind the blur offense has lost just two true road games and none since his first season.

Oregon lost its season opener to Boise State in 2009 in a game overshadowed by something that happened afterwards (you know the thing) and wasn’t able to slow down the Stanford Cardinal’s Toby Gerhart later that same year. But since Oregon’s comeback against Stanford fell short on Nov. 7 three years ago, they have been undefeated on the road — losses to LSU, Ohio State and Auburn all came on neutral fields, and last year’s USC game was the only time Kelly wasn’t victorious at Autzen Stadium.

All told, the Ducks are 18-5 away from the friendly confines, with some of the most notable wins coming in recent history.

There was the game against Arizona in 2009 that looked destined to knock the Ducks out of the Rose Bowl. Oregon was losing, desperately driving down the field for the game-tying score. Then, with Arizona’s student section already spilled out onto the grass, anticipating an opportunity to rush the field, Jeremiah Masoli marched his troops down the field and tied the game. Oregon would go on to win in overtime, and the rest was history.

A year later, with the Ducks already off to a 9-0 start, Kelly’s men took the field at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley and were downright stymied. Oregon was held to just 15 points — the second-lowest point total in the Kelly Era — but still managed to win, admittedly with some help from a missed field goal from Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio and a lot of help from a rare clock-eating drive from the Ducks’ offense.

It was the last time the Ducks were really slowed down offensively, and it’s fair to say it’s among the most nerve-wracking wins in recent memory. But maybe it shouldn’t have been because the Ducks led at halftime — and Oregon has never lost under Kelly when leading after 30 minutes. In fact, the Ducks have only lost one game under his leadership when they led at the end of any quarter.

But not all of Kelly’s road wins have been so close.

Last season’s greatest road triumph was a three-touchdown win over a Stanford team then ranked in the top five, and a predictably dominant 45-2 win over Colorado in Boulder. Just a few weeks before the nail-biting win over Cal in 2010, the Ducks marched into the Coliseum and put 53 points on the board — one of USC’s worse home losses (that is, until the Ducks scored nine more on their next trip to Los Angeles). When Oregon traveled to Neyland Stadium in Tennessee for its most ambitious road nonconference game — the Volunteers head to Autzen next season — and overcame a shaky start to roll to a 48-13 win in the heart of SEC country.

That game against the Vols also featured an extensive lightening delay, and Kelly’s analysis of the delay falls right in line with his philosophy in general: “We had a delay, but they had the same delay — it’s just in how you handle it,” he said at the time.

This year, Oregon has once again looked just as good inside Autzen Stadium as they’ve looked on the road, and the reason why starts and ends with Kelly’s painfully simplistic philosophy: What the Ducks can control, they do. What they can’t, they don’t worry about.

What separates his philosophy from others’ coachspeak is simply how effective it is. Ask any member of the Ducks about playing on the road, and they’ll tell you they don’t treat road games any differently — and it’s not a case of Kelly telling his players the same thing over and over again, either. The bigger deal he makes of road games, Kelly has said, the more players will start to treat them as fundamentally different.

Winning on the road in the Pac-12 is important, too. Never mind the fact that the college football playoffs essentially begin in week one. Pac-12 teams play more key games on the road than do major conference schools that play only eight league games. Because the Pac-12 plays nine conference games each year, the Ducks must play five of those games on the road every other year.

It’s not that Kelly’s teams literally don’t notice where they play. He admitted last week he enjoys playing in stadiums like the Coliseum, Husky Stadium and Neyland Stadium because of their traditions and game day atmosphere. But once the game starts, it’s all about competition.

“We’re a very competitive bunch,” Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said before the Ducks traveled to Arizona State earlier this season. “I think as competitors, you look forward to going into different atmospheres, especially hostile ones.”

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