October 3, 2010

Can You Say Disaster?

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By The Daily Axe Staff
Eugene Oregon Ducks
Oregon handed Stanford a humiliating loss. (Image by Don Hankins via Flickr)

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 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

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The Daily Axe Staff
The Daily Axe is an independent Stanford sports website covering Cardinal athletics year-round. Find The Daily Axe on and on social media via the links below.


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  • First of all, Oregon is one of the best teams in the country and there stadium is one of the most difficult environments in which to play in the country. There is no shame in losing a game like that, even if they were up 21-3. In fact, if it weren’t for a handful of unlucky moments (the Owusu fumble, the goal line fumble, the end zone interception), the game would’ve been much closer. Also, remember that Oregon’s last touchdown really didn’t matter, coming as it did when most teams would’ve been taking a knee. So essentially they lost by 14 points on the road to one of the best teams in the country. No shame there.

    As for the Rose Bowl, I don’t think it’s a long shot at all. I expect Oregon to run the table, putting them in position for a possible BCS championship berth. If that happens, and Stanford wins out — something I still believe can happen — the Mighty Card will be playing in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

    • Daily Axe

      That would be true if the Rose Bowl didn’t have new restrictions regarding team selection if the champion(s) of the PAC-10 and/or Big Ten make the BCS National Championship Game. If Oregon makes it to the Championship game, the Rose Bowl must take a BCS non-automatic qualifier in Oregon’s place, meaning that Stanford–if it finishes second in the conference–would not be Pasadena-bound.

  • EUTM

    I wanted to shout a rally cry for the great Bay Area sports crowd to get behind Stanford Football! As shown most recently with the SF Giants in baseball, the Bay Area is a great sports community that I know can get behind college football, especially with the great weather at times.

    Seeing Ted Miller’s recent post on Oregon maybe becoming a PROGRAM, I think the same can be said of STANFORD, maybe even more so. The students are rallying and if we get the community to follow with passion, Stanford will get great recruiting classes and coaches year after year, and here’s why:

    With solid wins and a devoted fanbase, almost all recruits able to get past one of the strictest academic standards will consider coming. This is because the NFL isn’t a guarantee for most players (4-stars and even some 5-stars) and the education opportunity truly is fantastic.

    The small recruiting pool has led to depth issues in the past, but if the fans come out, I’m hoping Harbaugh recognizes the chance to utilize Stanford’s education to become an established PROGRAM. Then, in the next year or two, depth will instead become a strength.

    So far, the winning is definitely there, but WE NEED THE FANBASE. The all-caps is not out of desperation, but rather highlights the importance.

  • Mike in PDX

    I don’t think you’re giving Stanford much credit. It’s entirely plausible that they will run the table from here on out. What I saw was a team that didn’t give up so much as they were simply spent midway through the third and much of that was because Oregon dictated a light speed tempo.

  • Lindsay

    You are clearly too young to appreciate this Stanford football team. Give them a break. They left their hearts on the field.

    • Tree fan 1

      I guess that means the team can’t appreciate their own effort.