Chip Kelly era opens at Oregon

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Now that he's taken over as Oregon's head coach, Chip Kelly is clarifying his offense.

It wasn't so much that he was being super-innovative by implementing the Ducks' rush-happy spread-option when he arrived as offensive coordinator in 2007. He was simply adjusting to Oregon's personnel.

"When I was at New Hampshire before I got to Oregon, we threw the ball all over the place," he said. "But when I got to Oregon I was smart enough to realize that with Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson and the offensive line we had, that we were going to be really good at running the football."

And for the past two seasons, they were. In Kelly's first season, Stewart and versatile quarterback Dennis Dixon combined for a formidable ground attack. Last year, the Ducks had the second-ranked rushing offense in the country behind Navy. They were ranked seventh in total offense and seventh in scoring offense.

Kelly has some considerable shoes to fill in his first head coaching gig, now that Mike Bellotti has become Oregon's athletic director.

Bellotti coached Oregon for the past 14 years, during which the team went 116-55 and went to 12 bowl games. In 2001, Oregon won 11 games, including a 38-16 victory over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl to finish ranked No. 2.

Last season Oregon finished 10-3, capped by a 42-31 victory over No. 13 Oklahoma State in the Holiday Bowl. The Ducks were ranked No. 10 in the AP's final poll.

But it was a bumpy ride.

After injuries hit Oregon's quarterback corps, Jeremiah Masoli meshed well into Kelly's offensive scheme. He threw for 1,744 yards with 13 touchdowns and rushed for 718 yards and 10 scores. He broke the Oregon's quarterback rushing record of 644 yards set by Reggie Ogburn in 1979.

Nate Costa is Masoli's projected backup.

Costa, the projected starter going into last season, injured his knee before the opener and needed surgery. The Ducks used a number of quarterbacks, including Justin Roper and Chris Harper, before settling on Masoli.

But the junior college transfer took his knocks from fans, mostly because he opted to run at times rather than pass.

He won the naysayers over conclusively and in the 65-38 Civil War victory over Oregon State he threw for 274 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score. He was equally impressive in the Holiday Bowl, running for three touchdowns and throwing for another.

Costa, who has had three knee surgeries, will be the backup out of necessity. Roper and Harper have since transferred.

"If there's one person I would never count out from three ACL surgeries, it's Nate Costa. He's as tough a kid as I've ever had the opportunity to coach, both mentally and physically," Kelly said. "I really think he's going to add depth and really push Jeremiah, and that's what we want him to do because I think competition brings out the best in everyone."

Oregon's running game figures to be its strength again this season with the return of LeGarrette Blount, who rushed for 1,002 yards and 17 TDs last season but had trouble in the offseason and was suspended for a time for "failure to fulfill team obligations."

The Ducks, picked to finish third in the Pac-10 behind USC and Cal, open the season at Boise State - a team that upset the Ducks at Autzen last year. They'll host the Trojans on Halloween night, and the rival Beavers on Dec. 3 in the regular season finale.

As for Bellotti, he'll be watching closely on game days.

"I will be on the field sometimes, I'll be in the press box sometimes, I'll be in the coaches box sometimes, I may be on radio or television, I may be in the AD's box," he said. "I have said this publicly that I probably will not be really engaged in fundraising or giving people a lot of face time during football games. I will be involved in the football game itself. I want to watch it."

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