Ready to run wild on the Smurf Turf

Kelli Curtis | Freelance Photographer

It can’t get much bigger than this.

Two ranked teams under the lights, on a Thursday night in front of a national audience. Expectations are high for No. 16 Oregon’s season opener in Idaho against the No.14 Boise State Broncos tonight, with tickets going for as much as $400 on Craigslist. The game doubles as college football’s season opener.

Boise State is putting its 64-2 home record on the blue turf on the line tonight, playing just its second ranked opponent at home during the regular season. And Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has nothing but respect for the Broncos, saying their success at home is not something to be taken lightly.

“Obviously it’s an advantage, but I don’t think it’s because of the blue turf,” Kelly said. “It’s because of how well they’re coached and the type of football players they have. A field has never won a football game for anybody. Every year they are one of the top executing teams in the nation; they’re very physical and they play hard. That’s the key to their success over there.”

Most of the Oregon players have had this game circled in red on their calendars since spring drills, considering the Broncos came into Autzen Stadium last year and beat the Ducks 37-32. Boise State sent a message, playing physical defense and laying hard hits, including a questionable hit on quarterback Jeremiah Masoli that sent him to the locker room with a concussion.

But Oregon’s coaches and players aren’t making reasons up for why they lost, and they’ve moved beyond thinking about that game.

“We won’t make any excuses. We have to prepare our players,” Kelly said. “You’ll never hear that we didn’t have a certain guy out and that’s why we lost. Everybody has nicks, bumps and bruises and they play hurt. We got beat. They came in here and beat us. My hat is off to them. They did a great job on both sides of the ball and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about making excuses.”

Now it’s Oregon’s turn, says team captain Masoli.

“(Boise State) is planning on a great season and their fan base is as well, but we’re coming in with a complete mindset of, ‘We’re going to win no matter what. We don’t care who we play,'” he said. “It’s going to be great. Hopefully we’ll end (the home winning) streak soon. We’ll have to see this Thursday.”

However, the two teams that meet tonight will be slightly different from a year ago. For Oregon — which is returning just 10 starters — running back Jeremiah Johnson (101 yards, one TD against the Broncos in 2008) and defensive leader Patrick Chung are gone, as are a host of other receivers and linemen. The Ducks will also break in a relatively inexperienced offensive line and young receivers.

For Boise State, sophomore quarterback Kellen Moore leads a group of 10 freshmen and sophomores who are starting on both sides of the ball. The Broncos are full of youth at every position, but that won’t stop them from playing hard.

“The only thing we know right now is that they’re a physical team,” running back LeGarrette Blount said. “We didn’t learn much from them from last year’s game. Guys are still holding a grudge because of a few cheap shots we thought they had, but like I said, that was last year and we have to look forward to Thursday.”

And so the game has finally arrived. Oregon’s first-year head coach says there’s really no better way to start his career than in a game where title hopes rest on the line.

“It’s a big game,” Kelly said. “Our players get excited to play in those games. Our staff gets excited. These are the types of games you dream about playing. You don’t want to open against a Johnson State or Adams State. You want to open against somebody that is a tremendous football team — which Boise State is.”

“It’s going to be loud,” added junior center Jordan Holmes. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, and it’s going to be a slobber knocker.”

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