Leave it to Chip Kelly to take the fun out of the Civil War.
Since the fourth-year coach took the head job over from Mike Bellotti, the Ducks have painted the state green and yellow. Ever since Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli trucked Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell on 4th and 3 (never forget, Duck fans), each Civil War has been more lopsided than the last.
And although Kelly paid his token respects to the rivalry this week after practice — “It’s a huge game; the state of Oregon is on the line.” — everyone who’s followed Oregon knows Kelly preaches nameless, faceless opponents. No team on the schedule is bigger than any other. It’s an effective mentality, but it douses the players’ rivalry flames. Just ask the Washington Huskies.
Of course the Oregon faithful doesn’t totally buy into that. I mean, you don’t see Duck fans burning Utah T-shirts. But many here in Eugene feel former Ducks cornerback Cliff Harris said it best in 2010, during the Ducks’ undefeated run to the national championship: “This is basically like the big brother-little brother backyard brawl … You know we (are) the big brother.”
It’s a cocky attitude some Beavers fans take exception to.
“It makes me want to lash out; it makes us want to prove ourselves,” Oregon State senior Sean Wallstrom said. “We don’t want to be the little brother. It just sounds so bad — we’re not completely inferior to the Ducks.”
Statistically, though, the Ducks have owned the rivalry for the past 40 years. Since 1975, Oregon’s record in the Civil War is 27-9-1. The Ducks won 15 of those games by at least two touchdowns. Most students on campus expect another Oregon rout on Saturday — not even a heartbreaking loss to Stanford can change that. But for Pac-12 fans in Eugene, the loss was anything but saddening.
“I originally grew up in Southern California,” Wallstrom said. “I always had a hatred for USC. Now I have the same hatred for (the Ducks). I definitely don’t appreciate any green and yellow around. My first three years, it’s been painful.”
Not every Beaver fan feels the same, but the Ducks’ overshadowing is inevitable.
“I’m a transfer, and I don’t how many times I’ve had to correct people,” Beavers senior Erich Dellinger said. “I go to Oregon State, not Oregon. The Ducks are just more well-known.”
This year, Oregon State has outplayed all expectations. After many analysts thought they’d finish last in the Pac-12 North, the Beavers have redefined resilience.
“No one wants to believe it here,” Wallstrom said. “We’ve seen it the past couple of years, they might be onto something, and boom! They fall off. Whenever you think something bad’s coming to happen, (the Beavers) keep trucking on. They’re not going to throw in the towel at any point.”
After sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion injured himself, Cody Vaz exploded onto the scene as his replacement, firing eight touchdowns and just one interception. Then, Vaz hurt his ankle against Stanford, and Mannion was again called on against Cal — how did he respond after losing his starting job? By throwing for 325 yards and four touchdowns.
Outside the hashmarks, the Beavers are equally talented. Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has enough respect for the Markus Wheaton/Brandin Cooks wideout combo that he’s compared them to USC’s obscenely talented duo of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.
“Last time I checked we didn’t do real well (against that combo),” Aliotti said Tuesday.
On the other side of the ball, the Beavers have a top-25 defense just given a blueprint of how to beat Oregon by Stanford last week: clog running lanes up the middle, throw Kenjon Barner off his rhythm and get a couple breaks defensively. If Oregon State can keep it close in the second half, head coach Mike Riley might be on his way to a conference coach of the year award.
“Reser (Stadium) gets pretty loud,” Wallstrom said. “If it does come down to the wire, both teams have shitty kickers. It could come down to some intangibles.”
It’s unwise to put too much weight on last week for either team. The Beavers romped, yes, but Cal pulled the plug on its on season a long time ago. And with the pressure of a perfect season off its redshirt freshman quarterback, Oregon could be free to play its own distraction-free game — you know, a game where it scores eight touchdowns before halftime?
“If your were to ask me at the beginning of the season (who would win), I would’ve been glad for a touchdown on our end,” Dellinger said. “But if we can put a complete game together like against Cal, it’s gonna be a toss up in the last couple of minutes.”
Corvallis celebrated when Oregon lost to Stanford last week, even if it was just for tradition’s sake. But a banner hangs in the Moshofsky Center where the Ducks practice:
“Tradition has a scary mascot,” the banner reads. “Tradition wears three colors. Tradition practices as ‘half speed.’ Tradition milks the clock. Tradition punts on fourth down. Tradition eats turkey on Thanksgiving.”
As long as Chip Kelly prowls the sidelines, Oregon doesn’t deal in tradition. When Kelly takes his talents to the NFL oh-so-soon, it’s okay to expect a little more out of the Civil War. But until then, it’s just another game.
“It’s more of a family rivalry than anything else,” Dellinger said.
Not all Beavers fans are so friendly.
“There’s definitely that swagger we want to wreck,” Wallstrom said. “I just want to beat them one of the years I’m here. Any time Oregon loses to anyone, I’m pumped.”