If the length of a football game was only 15 minutes, then this column would be about Cardinal plans for the BCS championship game. But Stanford showed the stamina of a sprinter and were effectively blown out by the Oregon Ducks, 52-31.
The start was beyond promising. The Cardinal defense held Oregon in the red zone to a field goal on their first defensive stand. The Cardinal offense scored touchdowns on all three of its 1st quarter possessions.
Aided by two Duck turnovers, the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-3 lead. Autzen was quiet. The Oregon sidelines appeared to be unraveling. Therewas a heated exchange between Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and star running back LaMichael James. The first quarter had the makings of Stanford very simply walking into Autzen stadium, punch the home team in the face and the home team was going to whimper away.
But not these Ducks. After scoring a touchdown to breathe some life into the stadium and regain some amount of composure, Kelly made the gutsiest call of the game. Realizing the team still reeling, Kelly called for an onside kick. Stanford was not ready for it and the Oregon kicker, Rob Beard, recovered the kick. Seven plays later, virtually all of the 18 point was erased and Ducks were within 4.
Stanford showed their mettle by answering back with a touchdown drive of their own, as Andrew Luck hit a wide open Coby Fleener for a 36 yard strike. But the Oregon offense countered right back with a touchdown drive of its own.
The Cardinal tacked on a field goal as time expired to walk into the locker room with a 31-24 lead. It was hard to believe that field would be the last time Stanford would score, but it was. Oregon outscored Stanford 28-0 in the second half and 49-10 from the 2nd quarter on.
The Oregon defense came out and applied more pressure on Andrew Luck and swarmed to the ball to tackle the ball carrier. Stanford fumbled the ball away on its second possession of the 3rd quarter and James scored from 3 yards out for his 2nd of 3 touchdowns of the night to give Oregon its first lead since its 3-0 lead with 11:01 left in the 1st quarter.
Bizarrely on its next possession, which appeared to be a play call that was very much out of character, Luck threw the ball up for grabs on a deep post pattern and was intercepted. Why Stanford didn’t stick to running the ball at this point I do not know. I don’t have a problem with going for the big play, but not on the first play out after relinquishing the lead you built so quickly.
The Stanford D answered big, forcing the Ducks to punt. But the game took its official turn for the worse when the Cardinal failed to score on 4 straight downs from within the Duck 6. With the ball down at the 1 yard line, Luck fumbled the snap from under center on 3rd down. And on 4th down, he threw a pass that fell incomplete.
The call by Harbaugh to go for it on 4th down was the correct one. Stanford was not going to get back into this game by kicking field goals. But the ill-fated attempt to score placed several nails in the Cardinal coffin.
The scoring was capped with a LaMichael James 76 yard touchdown run. James’ final line: 257 rushing yards on 31 carries and the 3 touchdowns. James is listed at 5’9” and 185 pounds. But he runs hard in between the tackles and on several occasions, could not be brought down by 3 or 4 Cardinal defenders.
Once Oregon got its act together by controlling their emotions and stopped turning the ball over, the differential in team athleticism was quite clear. As I expected, the Cardinal did not have the horses to keep up the Ducks. If not for two Duck turnovers deep in Oregon territory, the game could have been over much sooner.
The one thing that caught my eye was that it appeared Oregon was running the same 4 plays for most of the game. The Ducks would come out with in the spread with trips to the left or trips to the right. Duck quarterback Darron Thomas would throw the equivalent to a flanker screen and the receiver who caught the ball would push upfield for a nice gain. Then Oregon would run its option sweep and their read option between Thomas and James. Even though Stanford had a good idea what was coming, they could not do anything to stop the Ducks once they got into rhythm.
In my previous blog, I stated 5 things Stanford needed to do to win the game. They took the crowd out of the game early and made sure they scored touchdowns when given the opportunity. But the Cardinal did this in the 1st quarter only. The rest of the game was full of miscues: 3 turnovers, zero ball control and Luck did not get out of the pocket much because the pressure placed by the Ducks in the second half was too intense for him to break free of.
The teams combined for 624 total yards in the first half and 1134 for the game. The first punt did not occur until 3:59 left in the 2nd quarter. Oregon’s 3 turnovers all occurred in the first half. Stanford’s 3 turnovers all occurred in the second half.
About the Author
Written by Donovan Williams
32 year-old sports fan who has the audacity to think that he could be good at this sports writing thing. I'll be honest. I'll be snarky. I'll be sarcastic. Maybe not in that order. It is my goal to ensure that my opinions will generate a response from you, dear reader. Good, bad or indifferent, I welcome your replies.