Published January 11, 2011
Coach Chip Kelly kept Oregon focused this season with a deceptively simple philosophy: Win the Day.
While it sounds like a modern twist on Al Davis' "Just Win, Baby" catch phrase, the Ducks totally bought into Kelly's day-at-a-time mantra, and it took them all the way to the BCS championship game.
The Ducks finished 12-1 and ranked No. 3 after losing to top-ranked Auburn 22-19. TCU went 13-0 to earn the No. 2 spot.
The Ducks started the season ranked No. 11 with uncertainty about their quarterback situation after Jeremiah Masoli was dismissed from the team in the offseason.
But a sophomore duo, quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, would become the stars of a spread-option offense known for its speed.
Oregon would outscore its opponents 592-221 in the regular season, scoring an average of 49.3 points and winning by an average margin of 30.9 points to repeat as Pac-10 champions. The Ducks' closest game was a 15-13 victory over California.
James, a Heisman Trophy finalist who moonlights on Oregon's track team, was ranked atop the nation with 153 yards rushing per game until Auburn held him to 49 yards in the title game. He set a new single-season record for the Ducks with 1,731 yards.
Thomas performed admirably as a first-year starter, throwing for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns. He ran for five more scores.
They were the faces of Oregon's so-called "blur offense," which former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh described simply as "fast-fast."
Oregon would basically outrun opposing defenses, wearing them out. They outscored foes 115-24 in the fourth quarter before the championship game. Thirty-five of their 71 regular-season scoring drives took five plays or less, and 24 took less than 56 seconds.
Oregon opened with a bang, beating New Mexico 72-0, and followed it up with a 48-13 win at Tennessee.
The Ducks also blanked Portland State 69-0, giving the team multiple shutouts for the first time since 1964.
The only time the Ducks deviated from the formula was midway through November, when Oregon visited Cal and barely escaped with a two-point victory. The Golden Bears had a chance to go ahead early in the fourth quarter, but they were thwarted by a missed field goal attempt and the Ducks held on.
More often, Oregon's games looked like the 52-31 win over Stanford on Oct. 2. The Ducks fell behind 21-3 early, but the frenetic pace eventually caught up with the Cardinal, who didn't score in the second half.
But the blur didn't faze Auburn, who held Oregon to just 75 yards on the ground.
"I said in my first game when I was the head coach, one game doesn't define you as a person or as a football player," Kelly said following the loss. "And the same thing holds true. These guys are champions. I love them. We'll be back."
Offensively, the Ducks appear in good shape for next season. Thomas and James are just sophomores, and James has already announced that he'll be back. But they lose senior Jeff Maehl, who had 77 catches for 1,076 yards.
Defense will take a harder hit, with linemen Brandon Bair, Casey Matthews, Kenny Roe, Zac Clark and Spencer Paysinger all finished.
As Auburn celebrated its title, Kelly waited for each of his players to leave the field at University of Phoenix Stadium before he left himself.
"It has been an unbelievable journey," he said.
James was already looking ahead.
"We have next year. We are going to play plenty more football games. We are going to win plenty more," James said. "I think this is a lesson for us."