In at least one significant way, Chip Kelly is still Chip Kelly.
And in at least one significant way, Mario Cristobal is not.
Those two coaches will go head-to-head Saturday when the Chipster returns to Autzen Stadium for the first time in six years. Both addressed their quarterback situations Monday, and their answers couldn’t have been more different.
At UCLA, you had Kelly playing coy about the status of Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who was the Bruins’ starter until he suffered an injury two weeks ago against Arizona. It’s not clear whether Thompson-Robinson will be healthy enough to play against the Ducks, and even if he is, Kelly isn’t promising he’ll be the starter.
“I’m not a hypothetical guy,” Kelly said. “There’s no reason to make any predictions on this or that.
“(Thompson-Robinson) could be 100 percent and the rest of the team could have bubonic plague and wouldn’t be able to play at all. We’ll see what happens.”
Barring a typhoid outbreak, the Bruins will start somebody at quarterback Saturday afternoon. So will the Ducks, though it’s suddenly unclear if that will be Justin Herbert.
Herbert is going through concussion protocol. We know that because Cristobal volunteered as much when talking about wide receiver Dillon Mitchell, who also is being evaluated for a concussion.
Of all the ways Oregon has changed since Chip was here, that one might be the most glaring. In previous years a quarterback had to be riding on a motorized scooter, with both arms in slings and his leg in a cast, before the coach would acknowledge he was anything but 100 percent.
I’ll give Cristobal credit for disclosing Herbert’s injury even though it opened him to criticism for playing his star quarterback in the fourth quarter of a blowout. It’s almost as though he values player safety over silly gamesmanship, which is a novel concept in college football.
Now, if only Cristobal had been more careful with his franchise QB against Arizona. When Herbert broke his collarbone last season, I wondered aloud if it was worth jeopardizing the entire season to have him bowling into the end zone for a first-quarter touchdown against Cal.
I thought the same thing Saturday night when I saw Herbert scrambling for the goal line in the fourth quarter with the Ducks down by 29 points. Cristobal said he wasn’t sure when the injury occurred, but it seems likely Herbert was hurt with about a minute remaining when he tried to run for a touchdown and got crunched at the 1-yard line.
The fourth quarter of a miserable loss seems like the perfect time to get some reps for Tyler Shough or Braxton Burmeister. Or to try to re-establish that running game Oregon has been missing.
Instead, the Ducks got the ball with 3:32 remaining and came out firing. Herbert threw the ball on seven straight snaps — eight if you count a pass interference penalty — before scrambling for a yard to the Arizona 6.
Oregon called timeout, then ran the play that ended with Herbert taking a shot as he tried to cross the goal line. He stayed in the game and threw an incompletion on fourth-and-goal at the 1.
“We were not having much offensive success, and we wanted to end the game on some type of positive note offensively,” Cristobal said.
The result was unfortunate. And unnecessary. But I’ll give Cristobal props for owning up to it and not trying to hide the injury the way so many other coaches would.
If Herbert can’t go, Chip’s return to Autzen Stadium will got a lot more interesting. The point spread, which started at more than two touchdowns, tumbled like the stock market with the word of Herbert’s injury.
It’s worth noting that being in the concussion protocol doesn’t mean someone has a concussion. It could be a precautionary measure, and when you’re dealing with head injuries, precautions should be taken.
I think there’s a good chance Herbert gets cleared later this week and starts against UCLA. And if that’s the case, it’s a good bet Cristobal will just say so rather than clinging to some kind of pointless misdirection.
That’s how you know times have changed.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email email@example.com.