Chip Kelly would tell you it's because he trusts his players. He trusts them to execute, even under pressure. He trusts his high-powered offense to be able to pick up 1-6 yards whenever they want or need to. Chip Kelly would tell you it makes complete sense to take the risks he takes. And he might be right. But he certainly didn't earn the nickname Big Balls Chip by being conventional.
Oregon fans grew accustomed to Kelly's offensive bravado in 2007 and 2008, but he became Big Balls Chip as Oregon's head coach, by turning the Ducks into one of the most aggressive, and efficient, fourth-down teams in football. In Kelly's four years as head coach, Oregon converted 71 of 118 fourth-down attempts, a 60% success rate. In those four years, only Air Force and Navy attempted more fourth-downs, and only the Falcons were more successful. Fun fact: Oregon didn't convert a 4th-down for the first three games of the Chip Kelly Era, going 0-4 until Jeremiah Masoli hit Jeff Maehl with a pass in the first quarter against Cal. Oregon converted its next six fourth-down chances.
But a true Big Balls Chip moment is not merely a fourth-down. A Big Balls Chip moment is one of those calls where 99% of all other football coaches would choose to play it safe. The season-extending conversion late in the fourth quarter of the national championship game was a huge play, but going for it there is a no-brainer; Oregon knew that was its last shot with the ball, and any coach in Kelly's situation sends his offense back out there. A Big Balls Chip moment is a second-quarter onside kick, when your defense has already given up three touchdowns. A Big Balls Chip moment is going for it from your own territory in the first quarter, when every other coach would send out the punt team knowing there's a lot of game left. But before we take a look back at the true Big Balls Chip moments of the last four years, let's first examine another eccentricity of the Kelly era: the two-point conversion.
Many Duck fans who follow the team closely know Chip Kelly's two-point strategy: the coaching staff prepares a number of options out of the "swinging gate" formation, and it's up to the holder (Nate Costa in '09 and '10, then Jackson Rice) to identify a possible mismatch in coverage and try to steal a point. If no mismatch exists, the holder simply calls the team to line up in the extra point formation, and they kick. Only twice since 2009 did an Oregon team attempt more than one two-point conversion in a game: the BCS title game, and the 2011 loss to USC. In both cases, at least one of the tries was situational. So you're only seeing the swinging gate once a game. And in every case but one, against UCLA in 2010, the gadget conversion came after Oregon's first touchdown. So, knowing all that, does it work?
- Total 2-point conversions under Chip Kelly: 17-23 (74%)
- On tries out of an unconventional set (a fake XP or the "swinging gate" formation): 13-16 (81%)
- Costa throws a WR screen to Morgan Flint, who runs it in for the deuce. (Cal 2009)
- Costa and Brandon Bair hook up on a textbook QB-to-DT slant pattern. (USC 2010)
- Lining up in the extra point formation, Costa takes the snap and hands off to Rob Beard, who simply barrels up the middle. (Uw 2010)
- Jackson Rice fakes a run up the middle, stops and throws a jump pass to Alejandro Maldonado. (WSU 2011)
- Jeff Palmer snaps it sideways to David Paulson, who surveys the field and throws a fade back to Palmer, who goes up and gets it with a defender wrapped all over him. (Stanford 2011)