UO NOTES: Ducks are young and need to regroup, coach Kelly says
ARLINGTON, Texas - Oregon coach Chip Kelly said youth wouldn't be used as an excuse for the 2011 Oregon Ducks - "doesn't fly in this operation" - but youth and inexperienced reared their ugly heads in the 40-27 loss to LSU.
Not much went right on offense, defense and special teams. A conservative LSU offensive approach, a staple under coach Les Miles, seemingly kept the game close.
Kelly acknowledged the Ducks have a "ton of work" to do before playing Nevada at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 at Autzen Stadium.
"We're a young football team," he said, with 10 scholarship seniors and about 43 redshirt or true freshmen. It's a matter of "can you keep building and working?"
• Kelly said in a roundabout way that the Ducks haven't reached the elite level, as exhibited by losses to Ohio State, Auburn and now LSU since he took over as coach.
Asked to explain why, the coach indicated that the Ducks lack the kind of athletes that other top-tier teams put on the field, citing defensive linemen in particular.
"They got a little bit different athlete running around out there," he said. "Look at their defensive linemen. Standing next to them, walking off the field, they don't look like a lot of the guys we see. That's the common trait."
• Cornerback Cliff Harris and linebacker Kiko Alonso didn't play in the LSU game; Harris was suspended for his 118 mph drive down Interstate 5, Alonso presumably suspended for his criminal mischief case.
Did the Ducks miss Harris, an outstanding coverage corner who had six interceptions last year (and four punt returns for touchdowns)?
"Didn't miss Cliff at all," Kelly said.
Oregon players had different takes. Redshirt freshman Terrance Mitchell, although a promising player, gave up a touchdown to 6-4 Rueben Randle and got called for pass interference on the same receiver.
"Oh yeah, I think the whole team missed Cliff Harris," quarterback Darron Thomas said. "He's a guy who's working toward coming back. It's on him, it's coach Kelly's decision. I know he's going to come out and bust it hard after he saw what happened (against LSU)."
Running back LaMichael James said the Ducks "definitely" missed Harris.
"We really needed Cliff. Cliff and Kiko," he said.
• Four true freshmen - receiver/running back/returnee De'Anthony Thomas, running back/special teams player Tra Carson, tight end/special teams player Colt Lyerla and offensive lineman Jake Fisher - saw action against LSU, as did junior college transfer receiver Rahsaan Vaughn.
The 5-9, 170-pound Thomas, the ballyhooed player from Los Angeles' Crenshaw High, showed flashes of athleticism, rushing four times for 22 yards and catching six balls for 47 yards. But, he had fumbles in UO's own territory on a carry and a kickoff return, turnovers that the Tigers turned into second-half touchdowns to establish their commanding lead.
Kelly said Thomas showed poor technique in toting the ball, with the ball held away from his body.
But, "you'll see a lot more of him," Kelly said. "We planned on using him," including with James and Kenjon Barner in the game at the same time. Thomas carried the ball in the fourth quarter with James and Barner hobbled.
"He's a talented young kid," Kelly added, of Thomas. "Kids are going to make mistakes. One thing I'll never do - our players play from a desire to excel and not a fear of failure. And, I'm not yanking a kid when he puts the ball on the ground.
"I learned from (UO women's basketball coach) Paul Westhead, 'you may stop the bleeding, but you're going to kill the patient." That's not going to happen here."
James said Thomas had to be nervous. "He's a freshman, playing in a big environment," he said. "You would expect him to make mistakes. He was thrown into the fire really quick, he has to grow up in a hurry, just like a lot of players on this team. In front of 100,000 fans, first time playing for an 18-year-old kid, I'm sure it was very difficult."
Said Thomas: "I felt ready for the game. I felt comfortable. I just wish we would have got the win. ... (After the fumbles) they told me to keep my head up. I'm just a freshman."
• Barner was helped off the field at the end of the game, favoring what looked like his right ankle. Of course, the Ducks don't reveal anything about injuries. So, we won't know his availability for the Nevada game.
"He's good. Happy," James said. "I don't know his prognosis. I just know he's fine," adding that Barner was walking around in the locker room.
• Of the 12 penalties, two were for "leg whip" by an offensive lineman (Darrion Weems, Ramsen Golpashin), a fairly unusual call.
So unusual that offensive line coach Steve Greatwood questioned both of them, saying that they supposedly occurred during cut blocks.
"I've been coaching the offensive line for I don't know how many years, and I've never seen 'leg whip' penalties like that," he said. "That's part of the game, I guess.
"One official's interpretation."
• It's rather unusual for a true freshman offensive lineman to play. But the 6-6, 285 Fisher, from Traverse City, Mich. saw action, as Greatwood looks to make the O-line more physical.
"Jake had a really nice camp for us," Kelly said. "He's a kid who has a nice future here."
Said Greatwood: "I think he gives us a physical presence inside."
• Center Hroniss Grasu played solidly in his first career start. "No snap problems at all," Kelly said. "He handled himself and played with some poise."
"I thought I did all right," Grasu said. "Could have done better. Communication went well."
Offensive line play needs to improve, obviously, and Grasu said "we gotta get more physical, a lower pad level."
• This and that: With his 54 yards on 18 carries, James passed Derek Loville as UO's all-time leading rusher. He has 3,331 yards. ... The UO defense had one sack and five tackles for loss and forced only one turnover. ... Thomas went 31 of 54 passing for 240 yards, one interception and no TD passes. "Not good enough" is how he characterized his passing. ... The Ducks have 170 yards rushing in their past two games, against SEC teams Auburn and LSU. Tight end David Paulson, on LSU's defense compared to Auburn's defense last year: "It was different. They didn't have a Nick Fairley-type guy. But their defensive ends were good, and defensive backs were running around making plays." ... Several UO players from Texas got to play in front of friends and family, including James, from Texarkana. "A loss is a loss, it'd be disappointing if nobody was here," he said.