The Oregon Ducks could be in the BCS driver's seat if they could close their game with the USC Trojans the way they generally process their offense--an effective, quick one to two minute drill that puts the defense on its heels and picks up points that eventually puts pressure on the offense to catch up. It's a strategy that's generally worked for Chip Kelly en route to a 24-1 conference record prior to this weekend.
But something strange happened this week against USC.
Down three with a chance to tie things up and all three timeouts, Oregon went up-tempo to get into field goal range. And for most of the drive, things went according to plan, as Oregon needed only a minute to cross midfield, and a few more seconds after that to get into field goal range. It looked as if the Ducks would have a chance to either take the lead or get close enough to give the inconsistent Alejandro Maldonado a kick he could hit.
It didn't work out that cleanly though.
With 1:13 left, Darron Thomas found Rahsaan Vaughn on a wide receiver screen, but was stopped short of the first down marker. Kelly didn't call any of his timeouts, and the clock kept on ticking down from 1:06 to 0:51. Oregon picked up a first down on the next play to stop the clock at 0:45.
With 0:38 left, Barner rushed up the middle to try and pick up another first down, but was stopped short of the first down marker. Oregon would not get their next snap off until 0:23 remained. Instead of a spike or a timeout, Oregon decided to roll out and throw the football away (it might have been an overthrow by Darron Thomas or an option to throw away if the coverage was good, but it still wasted time). Kelly would not use his timeouts and it cost Oregon the opportunity to have extra plays if they did pick up first downs. Thomas would then make the critically poor checkdown to Lavasier Tuinei on the quick throw for the two yard loss, when Oregon really did have to use their timeouts.
With three timeouts in his pocket, Kelly would use only timeouts with under 0:07 remaining to get the field goal try and miss. It didn't work out, and Oregon's title hopes were done in.
Kelly does not like the defense to have any time to recover when his offense is rolling, especially when he's trying to come from behind and win a football game. So he's opposed to using those timeouts because it would allow the Trojans to sub in and out and stall Oregon momentum. Makes sense strategically, but in a two minute drill it seems like it became a weakness for the Ducks. Too much time trickled off the clock if they don't pick up the first downs, and it kept Oregon from getting the yards they needed to win.
While I doubt it's something that you can really plan for, it might give opposing Pac-12 defenses another potential way to combat Oregon's offense with minimal time on the clock. Because time catches up to anyone, even the Oregon offense.