The customary “Quick Reads” article simply wasn’t necessary after yesterday’s debacle in Eugene. When a football team leads 21-3 after 1 quarter and still manages to lose the game, there are some serious–and extremely apparent–problems with the team’s performance.
In Stanford’s first game against a quality opponent this season, the Card showed that its defense is not much different from last year. It was only a matter of time before the secondary was exposed as the weaker part of the unit. After halftime, the troubles incurred by playing Oregon in Eugene–crowd noise and the inevitable fatigue of playing against the no-huddle spread option–broke down the Cardinal pass defense. Previously unproven Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas–who made just the 5th start of his career yesterday–had several opportunities to hit wide-open receivers downfield.
Of course, Stanford’s defensive woes were not solely the problem of the secondary: the whole defense fell apart beginning in the 3rd quarter. Oregon racked up 626 yards of offense against Stanford, including 388 rushing yards and 257 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns from sophomore running back LaMichael James (we warned that he was dangerous). James will undoubtably emerge as a legitimate Hesiman contender after yesterday’s remarkable performance, but that doesn’t let Stanford’s defense off the hook. When a team is able to gain over 600 yards in a game, the problem lies in both scheme and execution, and it’s hard to see how Stanford will change much about either this season. They’ll obviously stick with Vic Fangio’s new 3-4 base formation, but so far it’s only proven itself against 4 teams that don’t look to be bowl-bound. The execution problem is much more complex, but can be summed up accurately with this: Stanford has a serious depth problem on defense. To put into perspective how serious Stanford’s defensive problem was, Oregon only managed 405 total yards last week against Arizona State, a team that ranks 68th in the nation in scoring defense.
More surprisingly, the Stanford offense looked stagnant after halftime. Sure, the 31-point first half was productive, but Stanford scored 31 points the whole game. No team can expect to win without scoring a single point in the second half, especially against an offense as potent as Oregon’s. Stepfan Taylor had a great game (113 rushing yards, 181 total yards) but Oregon had two players post more rushing yards than Taylor. If Stanford expects to compete in the PAC-10, it needs other running backs to be productive. After Taylor, Stanford’s next-best running back (freshman Anthony Wilkerson) only picked up 13 yards. Even when Taylor performs well, as he has by running for over 100 yards in each of the last two games, Stanford will only be able to get through the PAC-10 if it opens up opportunities for other backs to be productive in the running game.
We don’t yet know much about Chris Owusu’s injury, which he suffered when an Oregon defender hit him in the head/neck and forced a game-changing fumble. It appeared that the wideout was functioning on the sideline, which is always a relief after that kind of hit. We wish Chris the best of luck in his recovery.
Stanford’s season isn’t over, but it certainly looks a lot worse than it did 24 hours ago. The Cardinal will probably win against a very average USC team in Stanford Stadium next week, and then regroup during the bye week before facing Washington State and Arizona at home. In all likelihood, Rose Bowl aspirations are gone. Oregon would have to lose and Stanford would have to win out and get lucky to have any hope of a berth in Pasadena. In many ways, 2010 could become the season of what could have been had Stanford shown up in the second half yesterday. With Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck perhaps leaving for greener pastures after this year, the window for big-time football success on the Farm could be pretty small.
(The above article differs slightly from the original version published on DailyAxe.com. The staff responded to reader sentiment and our own judgement and hindsight in deciding that the tone prevalent in the first edition of the article was not that which we wish to have readers associate with The Daily Axe. Though the content of this edition is almost exactly the same as the content of the previous rendition, we feel that the new edition better provides constructive analysis of the Oregon game. As always, any concerns can be directed toward firstname.lastname@example.org.)