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Stanford Cardinal Football Preview: Battle for Control of the PAC-10

Posted By Donovan Williams On Sep 30 2010 @ 4:43 am In Pac-10 | No Comments

The last time the Stanford Cardinal cracked the top 10 of the Associated Press poll, Jim Harbaugh was waning on the Carolina Panther bench in the final season of his otherwise respectable NFL career. Stanford’s stay in the top 10 back in 2001 was a brief one. They fell out of the top 10 the following week after a loss to Washington. Rest assured, Jim Harbaugh is looking to keep the Cardinal in the AP top 10 for longer than a cup of coffee.

It’s just too bad that Wazzu was not on the schedule this week, because another brief stay in the top 10 just may be their fate.

This is because the obstacle in front of Stanford is as tough as it gets in the PAC-10. If Stanford has any aspirations of playing in the Rose Bowl and have an outside chance of a BCS title shot, the Cardinal must travel to the PAC-10’s most hostile venue, Autzen Stadium, and beat the 4th ranked team in the country, the Oregon Ducks.

Not exactly the ideal scenario for Cardinal fans.

THE BREAKDOWN

This game is the epitome of contrast in styles; in particular, the offensive philosophy that each coach employs.

Stanford is tough and gritty. They run the ball down your throat in order to setup play action pass with Andrew Luck. This offense is built to grind your defense into submission by winning the time of possession battle and beating the hell out of your defensive front up and down the field.

And after punishing the foe between the 20′s, the Stanford offense backs your defense against the wall of their own goal line and goes in for the kill. Of the 22 offensive touchdowns scored by Stanford this season, exactly half has come from inside their opponents 5 yard line.

This is not to say that Stanford does not have playmakers at the skill positions, because they do. But they are an opportunistic offense that will only go for the home run after lulling the opponents safeties to sleep with run plays.

On the other side of the spectrum you’ve got the Ducks. Chip Kelly’s offense is looking for the quick strike on each and every possession. They have one of, if not the most electrifying running back in college football, LaMichael James. After missing the first game of the season due to suspension, he was arrested on a domestic violence charge in February, James has scored touchdowns on runs of 72, 66, 35 and 40 yards. If you get a moment, pull-up his 72 yard run versus Tennessee on YouTube. It’s electric.

This Oregon team is coached to score in all three phases of the game. In addition to its explosive offense, currently ranked #2 in the country averaging 555 yards per game, the Oregon defense and special teams have combined for six touchdowns of their own. And we are just 4 games into the season.

Here’s what I think Stanford needs to do to have a shot at winning this game:

  1. Win the time of possession by a 10 minute margin. Keep that Oregon offense off the field. Don’t allow them to get into any rhythm whatsoever. Once the Oregon offense gets on a roll, it’s going to take the ’85 Bears to slow it down. And I don’t see the likes of Mike Singletary, Richard Dent or Dan Hampton on the Cardinal defensive side of the ball.
  2. Don’t turn the ball over. You can’t give the Oregon offense easy opportunities. I know, duh. More importantly, Stanford has to shorten the game by keeping the Oregon offense off the field. You can’t shorten the game if you are giving your opportunities away. Andrew Luck has to choose his opportunities for a long pass play very carefully. I’ve already established that the Oregon defense will be looking to convert any miscue into a scoring opportunity.
  3. Luck has to move the chains with his legs. He’s got to find his inner John Elway and seize those opportunities to convert 3rd downs with his legs. There are going to be several key situations in the game when Stanford is stuck in 3rd and long and Luck will have the opportunity to deflate the Oregon defense and the crowd by converting on those low percentage situations. As someone who watched Elway for years, seeing him convert on 3rd and long with his legs is demoralizing. If Stanford is to win this game, Luck has to make the Duck defense and the Autzen Stadium crowd feel the pain I felt every time John Elway ran his way to a 1st down.
  4. Win the coin flip and take that first possession down for a score. Oregon feeds off their crowd and this would be a great way to punch all of the Duck fans in the mouth and plant the seed of doubt in the crowd. Home crowds hate after a day full of drinking to see their team lay an egg on the first possession of the game.
  5. Score touchdowns. Nate Whitaker is an above average college kicker. But Stanford is best served with him kicking XPT’s than FG’s.

FEARLESS PREDICTION

Let’s face it, Harbaugh is a better game day coach than Chip Kelly. Harbaugh will have his guys ready to go. It’s too bad he just does not have enough talent to keep up with Oregon. This is going to be a high scoring game that will fun to watch. Unfortunately, I am sure we will hear afterward how the PAC-10 doesn’t play defense and blah, blah, blah from the national media.

Final score: Oregon 41 Stanford 34

GAME TIME: 5: 00 pm PST

DATE: Saturday, October 2, 2010

NETWORK: ABC/ESPN

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