Ducks coach says his youngest team so far is 'fearless'
Thanksgiving is the best time to be thankful. After falling out of the national championship picture, and before the Oregon Ducks tried to make the Pac-12 title game by beating Oregon State on Saturday, UO coach Chip Kelly gave thanks for the good things in his life.
A football coach to his core, and somebody who stresses the love of practice and the love of playing the game above all else, Kelly said nothing makes him happier than time with his players.
'That we get to spend every day with our players,' Kelly says, of being thankful for something. 'Every day is a blast.
'The experience of watching this team grow. It's the youngest I've been around. They keep getting better, not letting outside influences affect them. Staying focused on the task at hand.'
Asked to describe his team, he added:
'Fearless. It's a fun group to be around.'
• The Ducks (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) are playing their final home regular-season game, 12:30 p.m. Saturday against the Beavers. Only a limited number of tickets had been made available to Oregon fans for the Pac-12 championship game, which the Ducks would host as North Division champs on Dec. 2, if they beat the Beavs.
Seniors who will be seeing the end of their time on the UO home sidelines: Mark Asper, Anthony Gildon, Ramsen Golpashin, Brandon Hanna, Josh Kaddu, Nick Musgrove, David Paulson, Eddie Pleasant, Josh Sanford, Dewitt Stuckey, Blake Thompson, Lavasier Tuinei, Terrell Turner and Darrion Weems. Musgrove (Eugene), Sanford (St. Helens) and Thompson (Cottage Grove) are Oregonians, and all three are walk-ons.
It's a small group of seniors - 14 - and 'it's a group we want to send out the right way,' Kelly says.
Then you have junior running back LaMichael James, the school's all-time leading rusher and touchdown maker. Could he be playing at Autzen for the last time? He returned for his junior season - fourth year at UO - to concentrate on getting his degree. So, does the NFL now call?
• Kelly doesn't discuss injuries and doesn't issue an injury report, which means injury information remains vague at best, yet the coach says, 'this team's as banged up as any team I've ever been around.'
• His Heisman Trophy chances might have been diminished after USC held him to 78 yards, but James has been named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, along with Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Alabama's Trent Richardson. James won the award last season; only Ricky Williams of Texas (1997-98) and Darren McFadden of Arkansas (2006-07) have won the award twice.
James has 1,285 rushing yards - averaging a career-best 7.4 per carry - and 15 total touchdowns in nine games; he missed two games with a dislocated elbow.
The 5-9, 195-pound James has a chance to reach 5,000 career rushing yards and 50 career rushing touchdowns, with three possible games left this season. He has 4,562 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns - 53 total TDs.
• Mark Helfrich grew up in Coos Bay, with split loyalties within his family and friends. You were a Duck or you were a Beaver.
'I've always been a Duck,' the UO offensive coordinator says. 'I had a lot of friends who were half and half. Both of my parents went here.'
So, Helfrich went to a lot of Oregon games - at Autzen Stadium and old Parker Stadium (now Reser Stadium) in Corvallis. 'Lot of great memories,' he says.
This season's Civil War game will have a different feel for Helfrich, whose father died in September. Mike Helfrich, 68, passed away Sept. 24 of natural causes in a Tucson hotel room, hours before he was planning to watch the Ducks play Arizona. The younger Helfrich found out about his father after the game.
Mark Helfrich thinks about his father every day, 'which in a lot of ways has been a positive, making sure he's in my life.' And, he adds, just about every day somebody somewhere offers condolences, best wishes or thoughts on his father.
• With QB Sean Mannion and receivers such as Markus Wheaton, 'they have a passing attack that really has our attention,' Kelly says of the Beavers.
Kelly compared Mannion somewhat with Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley.
'I just think he's younger,' Kelly says. 'With Andrew and Matt, they have a wealth of experience. A lot of guys have struggled in their first year.'
The likes of Beaver defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn and defensive backs Jordan Poyer and Lance Mitchell are also on UO's radar. 'I think they're athletic on defense,' Kelly says. 'They generate a really good pass rush.'
• Offensive linemen Asper and Carson York and tight end Paulson have been named Pac-12 all-academic first-team members. Paulson and York are three-time members.
Now a graduate student, Paulson has a 3.67 grade-point average in General Business, after carrying a cumulative 3.62 GPA as an undergrad.
Redshirt junior York has a 3.76 GPA in Advertising; fifth-year senior Asper has a 3.77 GPA in Educational Leadership in graduate school.
• If the Ducks should get by the Beavers, it could be UCLA (5-3 Pac-12), Arizona State or Utah (both 4-4) from the South Division visiting Eugene for the Pac-12 title game. UCLA plays at USC, Utah plays host to Colorado and ASU plays host to California.
Here's the tiebreaker, via the Pac-12:
UCLA can represent the South Division with a win over USC. Should it lose, three tie-breaking scenarios could occur after the final weekend of Pac-12 play:
Three-team tie (UCLA, ARIZONA STATE, UTAH): Arizona State. The Sun Devils get the berth with a win over California, combined with a loss by UCLA to USC and a win by Utah over Colorado.
Two-team tie (UCLA, ARIZONA STATE): UCLA. The Bruins get the berth should it lose to USC, combined with a win by Arizona State over California and a loss by Utah against Colorado.
Two-team tie (UCLA, UTAH): Utah. The Utes get to the Pac-12 title game with a win over Colorado, combined with a UCLA loss to USC and an Arizona State loss to California.