November 12, 2011

Quick Reads: Stanford-Oregon

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By Willys DeVoll

or all the hype about Saturday night’s primetime game in Stanford Stadium, everything came down to one key distinction: Oregon was simply, and obviously, the better team in its 53-30 drubbing of Stanford. The Ducks’ win levels the teams’ overall records at 9-1 but gives Oregon a perfect 7-0 conference record while Stanford slips to 7-1 in the Pac-12. Here are your Week 11 Quick Reads:

  • Big plays broke the Cardinal defense, which couldn’t wrap up Oregon’s speedsters in the space created by UO head coach Chip Kelly’s spread option offense. Even a cursory glance at the game-long plays for Oregon’s top skill position players illustrates how successfully the Ducks turned single plays into big gains and touchdowns. Running back LaMichael James had a 58-yard run, wide receiver Josh Huff caught a 59-yard pass and true freshman De’Anthony Thomas took a Darron Thomas pass for 41 yards. Had open-field tackling been a problem for Stanford before? Absolutely. But it surfaced more frequently and more harmfully on Saturday night than it had at any other point this year.
  • Perhaps part of that problem came from the cruddy field condition, which left the grass largely turned up as early as a few minutes into the 1st quarter and left Stanford players slipping and sliding throughout the night. Admittedly, this is weird (why didn’t Oregon players slip even close to as often as Stanford players did?) and particular Cardinal players (such as tight end Levine Toilolo) were on the ground without contact virtually every time they were involved in play. The poor conditions could also help explain why Andrew Luck was noticeably off throughout the night and uncharacteristically overthrew receivers on several occasions.
  • What remains unexplained is why Stanford suffered the curse of slippery cleats so much more often than Oregon did. As trivial as it sounds, the slipping played a major role in determining the outcome of the game.
  • The key stat, though, was turnovers. Stanford committed 5 to Oregon’s 2. That alone is just about as strong an indication of who won as the final score is. Stanford was significantly better than the Ducks on 3rd down (36% to 11%) and produced 13 more yards than Oregon did. But having a -3 turnover ratio makes winning nearly impossible. Who knows what could have been if Stanford had held onto the ball?
  • Game MVP honors must go to LaMichael James, who took just 20 carries for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns. Stanford had no response to the relentless rushing attack of James, Kenjon Barner and the rest of the Oregon roster, which piled up 232 yards on the ground and averaged 5.0 yards per carry.
  • The rushing attack left little for junior quarterback Darron Thomas to do other than complete a few screen passes and call it a day. But he did his job effectively by throwing for 3 touchdowns and 155 yards on 11-17 passing (65%).
  • But back to Stanford. The run game had a down night, but Stepfan Taylor still fell just 1 yard short of another 100-yard game. Tyler Gaffney, in very limited duty, averaged nearly 8 yards per carry. The problems for the Stanford offense primarily occurred in the passing game, where, without Owusu to at least pose the threat of deep balls, Luck rarely had open receivers to throw to. Oregon is fast–very fast–on both sides of the ball and Stanford’s receiving corps struggled to get separation on their routes.
  • While wide receiver Griff Whalen wasn’t blowing past Oregon corners, he turned in another excellent performance and pulled down a handful of catches that no coach would have expected a player to successfully execute. Whalen’s 9 catches for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns made him the clear-cut offensive player of the game for Stanford on a night when even Luck looked frustrated.
  • Luck’s final line, by the way, went as follows: 27-41 (66%), 271 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions. The loss and the unspectacular performance certainly damage his Heisman candidacy, but far from ruin it. In all likelihood, Luck is still the frontrunner for the Heisman barring outstanding home-stretch performances by Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden and/or Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
  • Chip Kelly clearly out-coached David Shaw. And that shouldn’t be too surprising or upsetting. Shaw is a rookie head coach that has never been the head of any team at any level before; Kelly is one of the finest and most innovative college football coaches in America. The fake extra-point turned 2-point conversion following the Ducks’ opening touchdown let everyone in the stadium and watching on TV sets around the nation know that Oregon would be breaking out all the tactical tricks necessary to beat Stanford, and it turned out Kelly only needed a couple of them to leave California with a win.
  • So where does Stanford go now? Bowl situations are complicated and not very interesting, so suffice to say that Stanford is most likely headed to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio if the Card win out. Making the Pac-12 Championship Game is now highly improbable, so Stanford will state its case to the bowl selection committees in games against Cal and Notre Dame, both on the Farm, in the coming 2 weeks.
(Headline image courtesy of Neon Tommy on Flickr)

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About the Author

Willys DeVoll
Willys DeVoll is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Axe. He writes about Stanford sports for and writes fiction, reviews and commentary elsewhere.


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