Oregon’s onside kick spurs victory over Chip Kelly, No. 9 UCLA

EUGENE, Ore. – 12 years ago, Chip Kelly, then just 18 games into his tenure as Oregon head coach, stood on the sidelines across from Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh and demanded a surprise onside kick. The Ducks were trailing 21-10 in the second quarter, and the game sparked a 49-10 goal streak for Oregon and a win over the ninth-placed Cardinal.

On Saturday, Kelly returned to Eugene as UCLA head coach with an undefeated No. 9 Bruins team, and this time it was first-time head coach Dan Lanning who reached up his sleeve to pull off a nearly identical trick that helped Oregon’s No. 10 spurred a 45-30 win.

After the Ducks scored in the second quarter to make it 17-10, kicker Andrew Boyle dribbled the ensuing kickoff straight with his foot, waited until he got 10 yards, and then jumped on the ball. It was a game Oregon died practiced in secret all week, using an opening they saw on UCLA’s kickoff coverage team. Lanning even told media representatives who saw her working on it in practice to keep it quiet. The incoming rain also played a role.

“I told you don’t tell anyone or I’ll never let you come to practice again, right?” Lanning said after the game with a smile. “We saw it after the first kickoff and we were like, OK, this is the look we want, we think we have a shot at it. It looked like some weather was about to set in. We felt there would be a chance to steal a property before the weather really hit.”

When the Ducks’ offense came off the field, they tried to scatter down the touchline so as not to give anything away. Boyle perfectly timed the game he was set to recreate and the momentum of the game changed when the rain started to fall.

Quarterback Bo Nix, who finished the game on 22 of 28 for 283 yards and five touchdowns, took care of the rest, leading the offense down the field for another touchdown after the onside kick. Suddenly the Ducks were up 24-10.

“When you keep an explosive offense like this off the field, it slows them down and kills them,” Nix said. “We didn’t really look back after that.”

Oregon’s aggression and creativity wasn’t reserved for special teams. On offense, Lanning and offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham converted three of four fourth downs.

“I think you can attribute a lot of our offensive success to Coach Lanning’s aggression, right now,” Nix said after the game. “He’s a super-aggressive head coach, which is a little different because he’s defensively oriented.”

Lanning joined Eugene after making a name for himself coaching Georgia’s dominant 2021 defense. But against UCLA on Saturday, he knew he had to outmaneuver Kelly on offense to stand a chance of beating the former Ducks coach. More possession, pace and long drives would be key against a Bruins offense that had 40+ points in four straight games.

Oregon had five more minutes of possession overall than UCLA and had a total of 544 yards in attack on the Bruins’ 448.

“At halftime we sat and talked about how the team with the most stamina is going to win this game,” said Lanning. “You look at the kind of football we played going into halftime and coming out in the third quarter. We said we’re going to run the ball and be physical.”

The closing number came in the third quarter. After holding UCLA to a field goal in the first second half, Nix and company got the ball nine minutes from time in the quarter. They went for 82 yards in 15 games, including 12 carries, and needed more than seven minutes of rest before scoring a touchdown to go up 22.

Lanning said one of the team’s goals on Saturday was to ensure they had the edge on explosive plays, which Kelly’s offense accomplished with ease. That proved to be the case thanks to Nix keeping the Bruins defense busy all day and a Ducks defense that included Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Using his legs (51 yards on eight carries), Nix opened up highway-sized lanes in the passing game, where he was near perfect at everything from checkdown throws to a 49-yard parabolic ball to Troy Franklin for a touchdown that the sold-out crowd at the Autzen Stadium was broadcast in a frenzy.

Nix said after the game that this was what he wanted when making the decision to move from Auburn to Oregon.

“I can’t speak to anything beforehand,” Lanning said when asked what changed from the Nix in Auburn to the one in Oregon. “Furthermore … You can’t watch a football game now and tell us this guy isn’t elite.”

After a tumultuous season at Auburn last year, Nix has displayed the ideal combination of explosiveness and composure under Dillingham’s stewardship. Dillingham, a former Auburn quarterbacks coach, worked with Nix during the 2019 season, but this is the first season he has asked Nix to run games.

“We’re just connected offensively. I know what he wants out there,” Nix said. “He confides in me what I see and I think that’s the closest thing we’ve achieved all season.”

With Saturday’s win, Oregon turned their 46-point season-opener loss to Georgia into another fading memory. The Ducks now control their destiny in the conference. If they win, they enter the Pac-12 Championship in Las Vegas.

“I don’t think anyone on our team is happy and I think that gives this team an opportunity to be hungry and great,” said Lanning. “We’ll enjoy it though.”

https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/34857946/oregon-onside-kick-spurs-victory-chip-kelly-no-9-ucla Oregon’s onside kick spurs victory over Chip Kelly, No. 9 UCLA

Emma Bowman

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