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A Possible Explanation for Recent Offensive Problems in Bowl Games

Chip Kelly can't win the bowl game. He should have at least beaten Ohio State on a day when their quarterback had the best game of his life and they sure as hell should have beaten an Auburn team that was led by the Heisman winner and a future NFL rookie record breaker. Yeah, Chip Kelly sure as hell should've won both of those games.

For a moment let's take all context away from the two bowl games. Let's forget that they were BCS bowl games in consecutive years. Let's forget one was the national championship game. Lastly let's ignore the fact that the national championship game ended on a field goal as time expired and the Rose Bowl was close all the way through and the turning point was a LeGarrette Blount fumble through the end zone near the end of the third.

If you had told me before the each bowl game that we were going to hold Ohio State to 26 and Auburn to 22, I would have guessed we would win both games by at least two touchdowns. No Duck fan can complain about how the defenses performed in our two previous bowl games.

One of the points that national writers hammer home is that teams who have a lot of time to prepare for the Oregon offense tend to win. However, I would argue that the point of extra time to prepare is a confounding variable. Oregon-Auburn was played so close throughout and featured multiple goal line stands that sometimes games come down to who has the ball last. In Oregon-Ohio State the Ducks gave up a turnover on Blount's fumble in to the end zone that basically took 7 points off the board. Oregon-Boise State just was blown from the get go, but Boise State has a habit of doing that to teams. Oregon-USC this year was a mismatch at the defensive back and wide receiver position and Matt Barkley found Marqise Lee at will. The first time Oregon played Stanford under Chip Kelly the Ducks defense couldn't get a stop, but the offense scored just as much as Stanford's (well, slightly less, hence the loss). Against LSU, Oregon did better offensively than any other team and had their not been such a nasty string of turnovers LSU wouldn't have been able to play with such a large lead and gas our defense by running so many power plays.

I don't think any of these teams solved the Oregon offense. There wasn't a strategy that universally works or every other team would run it. What had the biggest impact in those games was that Oregon didn't win the turnover battle, which is a pretty basic part of winning a game. But let's look back again at the bowl games. Better yet, let's look at the offensive adjustments Oregon made for each bowl game since Chip Kelly has been a head coach.

Against South Florida in the 2007 Sun bowl the Ducks won convincingly with Justin Roper throwing for four touchdowns and Oregon outgaining the Bulls by 309 yards. Oregon didn't do anything crazy different from that season. To compensate for Roper's lack of speed Oregon always had a pitch option for him in case he pulled the ball from the running back and to slow down the defense's pursuit there was a lot of pre-snap motion which Oregon hadn't done a lot of that season. Nothing radically different from the season took place, just a few wrinkles that gave different looks.

In the 2008 Holiday Bowl against Dez Bryant and the Oklahoma State Cowboys Oregon won 42-31. On offense the Ducks sprinkled in some regular speed options, rolled out more than normal, and read play side defenders (rather than the backside defensive end as usual) that open up some big holes for Masoli to run through the middle of the offensive line. Again, these are just smaller wrinkles, and the majority of what fans saw was what Oregon ran during the season.

Where we started seeing big changes was in the bowl games when Chip Kelly took over as head coach. Against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl Oregon tried to avoid a strength of the Buckeye defense by attacking the perimeter. Oregon ran jet sweeps from under center and often motioned LaMichael James out of the backfield and in to bunch formations on the perimeter. In the national championship game Oregon ran a lot of triple options with H-backs. There were also the formations with jet sweeps and H-backs where Oregon didn't have anybody next to Darron Thomas. Often times running these plays, in both the Rose Bowl and National Title game, was that the offense didn't seem 100% sure of where it was going. Kenjon Barner kept trying to jam through the line rather than hit the corner of the end zone. Receivers didn't seem on the same page with Darron Thomas on when to turn when dealing with sight adjustments for blitzes. It didn't look like an Oregon squad that had taken four weeks off, it looked like things teams would struggle with the first time they were running plays in a game.

The new formations and plays were the majority of the offense in the Rose Bowl and the majority of the first half in the BCS game (Apparently if you just read Nick Fairley he'll run at the quarterback and running back to tackle both of them simultaneously). These adjustments may have been made to account for people having extra time to prepare. The formations may have been used to create looks that the defense didn't know how to react to.

I think above all this may throw our own offense off. The drastic changes in offense may be a result of over thinking. These new looks on offense have been exciting to me as a fan, especially since the x's and o's of football are an obsession of mine, but the results have been much better when there are simply wrinkles applied to the offense rather than whole schematic makeovers. Oregon's run a lot of plays only a couple times this year that have been under the radar enough for Oregon to run them more than usual in the Rose Bowl. This season there's been a ton of plays sprinkled here and there that could easily complement a nice set of wrinkles for the Oregon offense. Wisconsin is going to finish with a score that would lead me to believe Oregon would win, say less than 30. It's time to let the offense Oregon runs during the regular season try to score more than 30. Let's truly let Wisconsin be a faceless opponent and have the Ducks play by their strengths rather than avoid the strengths of others.