Friday, December 4, 2009
On his way off the field Oregon State coach Mike Riley stopped at the goal line turned around, stood and watched it all.
It was Oregon 37, Oregon State 33 in the Civil War tonight. The Ducks go to the Rose Bowl. But it was the sight of Riley at the goal line that I can’t shake today.
Because he was waiting to congratulate Oregon’s Chip Kelly. And the Ducks coach was soaking wet from a Gatorade bath, 40 yards away, locked still by a mosh-pit of celebrating bodies. Also, ESPN cameras and the Rose Bowl Committee were waiting for him.
The field was filling with bodies. The players were leaving the field. And this is right about where most football coaches wave each other off, see.
But Riley stood.
And Kelly mushed on.
They eventually met at the goal line, shook hands, and wished each other well in the postseason. And that’s what I’ll remember most about Thursday’s Civil War.
I’m sure the Big 10 Conference is proud to send the Buckeyes to Pasadena, but they haven’t seen offenses like either of the ones on display in Eugene. And what we’re really talking about now is Oregon finishing the job that started in this rivalry game on Jan. 1 in front of the country.
It’s a simple game, we’re told.
Run. Block. Tackle.
But what Oregon must do now is take care of business in a Bowl Championship Series contest. Because the Ducks didn’t just outscore the Beavers on Thursday, they were validated by them.
It feels that way when you’re locked into a wonderful game with two of the best teams in the country exchanging wild possessions. And you had to realize that’s just what we had in the final five minutes, with both coaches unwilling to take their offenses off the field.
The first meeting of what will certainly be called “Mike Riley vs. Chip Kelly I” went to Kelly. And when I saw the men match wits, shuffle personnel and shake afterward, I thought, “Ohio State is toast.”
The Pac-10 is 9-2 in bowl games over the last two years. Conference commissioner Larry Scott said that not having USC as the conference champion helps validate the rest of the conference. But what happens if the Ducks go to the Rose Bowl and don’t win?
It becomes just another cute little story. The 90-day odyssey that was Boise State-to-the-Civil-War for Oregon ends up hollow without that big payday at the end. Not because of the stakes, but because it’s clear as the cold night that Ohio State couldn’t have handled what happened at Autzen Stadium.
Oregon State played a marvelous game. Even with Oregon wisely spying a linebacker man-to-man on Jacquizz Rodgers (64 rushing yards, 73 receiving), the Beavers still managed to make this close. They refused to stop playing and gave the Ducks a terrific test. By the end, everyone in the stadium must have agreed that if this game were played in a neutral site, we all might still be watching overtime.
But it ended with the Ducks offense, evaporating 6:09 with a 12-play drive.
Then, Riley waited and watched. You had to like that. And Kelly, in a first-class move, refused to jog over and accept a BCS berth before he'd shook the hand of the man he battled all night.
I'm not sure the Buckeyes understand where this is going.