EUGENE, Ore. — Chip Kelly didn’t see this coming.
Didn’t see his defense, which had been dependable while the Bruins won their first six games this season, would utterly fail to stop Oregon at crucial times. Or almost any time, really, as the Ducks scored on each of their first seven possessions Saturday.
Didn’t foresee that small cracks within UCLA’s defense would be exploited by the Ducks in a 45-30 win that ended the Bruins’ undefeated record and nine-game winning streak with loud, ugly thuds.
“I thought we practiced really well all week, and I thought our defense has been really good all year,” Kelly said after Oregon racked up 545 total yards, the most by a Bruins opponent this season, and scored the most points the team has given up in 2022. “Sometimes I think you gotta give credit to the other team.”
Credit goes to Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who out-Chipped Kelly with a daring game plan, and to a dynamic offense led by quarterback Bo Nix, who passed for 283 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 51 more yards.
“I don’t think anyone can sit here and watch football right now and watch our quarterback play and not tell me he’s an elite quarterback,” Lanning said.
Lanning, the fifth man to coach the Ducks since Kelly left for the NFL after leading them to four consecutive BCS bowl appearances and the 2011 national championship game, was unafraid to go for it on fourth down deep in his own territory and orchestrated long, minutes-eating drives that kept the Bruins chilling on the sidelines.
“That’s the game. We gotta get stops on defense so that doesn’t happen to us, and whatever we have to do offensively, we have to do offensively,” Kelly said. “I thought we moved the ball well today, but not well enough against this team. We had to keep up with them and we didn’t keep up with them.”
Lanning also boldly called for an onside kick the Ducks recovered soon after they had taken a 17-10 lead in the second quarter. That changed the game, though Kelly insisted it didn’t change the Bruins’ need to get stops. It certainly didn’t change their inability to get those stops, much to the delight of the rain-dampened sellout crowd of 59,962 at Autzen Stadium.
The Bruins (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12 Conference) had previously shown they were vulnerable on deep plays, and they knew their secondary would be tested Saturday by Nix, an Auburn transfer. They failed the test repeatedly and badly.
“I had not seen Bo Nix in person, I thought he played a whale of a game today, he’s a really good football player and you have to give him credit,” Kelly said. “He made a lot of plays. And I think at times some other cornerbacks in our league may have gotten to him, but we couldn’t get to him, we didn’t do a good enough job or disrupting his timing and because of that, we paid the price.”
Kelly showed little sentiment in his third visit back to his old home, where he’s now 0-3 (and 0-4 against Oregon overall). A fan attending the pregame College Game Day festivities held up a sign with a photo of Kelly and the caption, “This isn’t rain, this is Chip Kelly’s tears,” but he was stoic afterward when asked about the energetic, noisy environment — an atmosphere where he once thrived and was celebrated.
“It’s a great place to play, it’s one of the iconic places in college football,” Kelly said. “Whether you’re the visiting team or the home team, it’s an unbelievable experience for you. It’s a lot better feeling when you’re on the winning side.”
UCLA’s loss leaves Oregon the lone team undefeated in Pac-12 play at 4-0. The defeat also complicates a road that the Bruins, who entered the game ranked No. 9 to Oregon’s No. 10, had hoped could lead to the College Football Playoff.
That’s still possible, but they now need a lot of help. They pretty much have to win out, which means beating USC on Nov. 19. They have no margin for error, no room for drives or quarters or games when they can’t get stops and their defense is sliced apart. “They were just having their way, at the end of the day,” defensive back Stephan Blaylock said of the Ducks.
That can’t happen again. “It’s just something we got to sit with,” Blaylock said, “something we didn’t see coming into the week.”
No one saw it coming. Seeing is believing that the road ahead has become treacherously difficult.