On a warm and sunny day in Autzen Stadium when the game between #4 Oregon and #9 Stanford began, the first half was anything but beautiful for the home-standing Ducks. Stanford took advantage of a few early Oregon turnovers and an overpowering offensive line to race out to a 21-3 lead in the first half. Stanford Quarterback Andrew Luck seemed to be in complete control early, and the powerful running game for the Cardinal was effective enough to keep the Oregon defense guessing. However, with an offense that can score as quickly and as often as the Ducks it was no surprise to see them rebound after an early deficit. After Quarterback Darron Thomas lead the Ducks to a touchdown, making the score 21-10 in favor of Stanford, Head Coach Chip Kelly took a chance on the ensuing kickoff. Hoping to catch the Stanford special teams off-guard, Kelly called for an onside kick. As it turned out the man in the visor has never been wiser, as kicker Rob Beard tapped the ball and as soon as it crossed the 10-yard barrier he pounced on the pigskin, giving possession back to the Oregon offense. That proved to be the turning point of the game, and from then on Oregon outscored the Cardinal 42-10 and seemed in complete control resulting in a 52-31 victory for Oregon. While Luck may have been on the side of the Cardinal, the Ducks proved they only needed to play their type of football to fly past Stanford.
The goals for the Oregon offense coming into the game were to control the game and avoid mistakes that allowed Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense extra opportunities to score. With a game plan that revolved around that basic idea, the Ducks came out with a few differences than we had seen in previous weeks. From the beginning of the game it was clear that Chip Kelly had designed an early strategy to get Darron Thomas involved immediately in the run game. Thomas ran the normal offense, but displayed more confidence and leadership than we had seen out of the young sophomore to date. The result was his best game this season, throwing for 238 yards and 3 touchdowns and also adding 117 yards and another score on the ground. Thomas did make a few mistakes in the first half, throwing 2 interceptions and missing a few open receivers. Nevertheless Thomas did well in executing the game plan and putting the ball in the hands of his playmakers Running Back LaMichael James and Receiver Jeff Maehl. James sprinted into the Heisman conversation on Saturday night by rushing for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a 76-yard romp in the last minutes of the game for a score. The most electrifying player in the Pac-10 was working behind an offensive line that looked much improved after last week’s lack-luster performance against Arizona State. One noticeable difference from last week was the increased amount of substitutions for the offensive line, as they routinely rotated in fresh bodies to try and create more room for Thomas and James to operate. Even when there were not holes for James to run through he never stopped moving his feet and showed how tough of a runner he can be. He spent most of the game gaining 7 to 12 yard chunks and everyone in Autzen Stadium knew he could burst through for a big run at any time, before finally finding the open field towards the end. The Oregon offense returned to form in a big way, racking up over 620 yards and scoring over 40 points for their 5th consecutive game.
On the defensive side of the ball the Ducks deserve more credit than the statistics will show in the morning paper. The intent to disrupt Stanford’s Andrew Luck was apparent but did not come to fruition early in the game Saturday. The Ducks had their defensive backfield playing deep, allowing Luck to basically play an easy game of catch with his receivers in the short passing game. The defensive line was struggling to find Luck and the running backs for Stanford, as they seemed overmatched by a bigger and more physical offensive line for the Cardinal. Luck was able to work with open receivers all night long, as there were several instances of blown coverages for the Ducks. But something has to be said for the way the Oregon defense has stood tall this season. After being forced to play a Stanford offense that was given the ball in Oregon territory twice because of turnovers, they did not relent a single point to the Cardinal after halftime, the 4th time in 5 games they have shut out an opponent after half and only allowed a total of 7 points in the second half all season. The difference in the second half came in all facets on the defensive side of the ball. The linebacking core was able to stop the run, forcing Stanford to drop back and throw the ball. The defensive line was then able to pin their ears back and rush Luck, getting much more involved in the backfield and knocking Stanford’s star to the ground on several occasions. All of that pressure on Luck resulted in errant or hurried throws that lead to defensive stops and turnovers for the defensive backs. Cornerback Cliff Harris continued his stellar season, adding two more interceptions giving him 4 on the year to lead the team. Stanford also fumbled the ball after gaining yardage for a first down that was picked up by Rover back Eddie Pleasant and returned to Stanford’s 3 yard line, which lead to another James touchdown. Like the offense, the defense for Oregon also increased their substitutions, in the second half in particular by working in safeties Javes Lewis and Chad Peppars to try and make plays and give Stanford something else to deal with. There is still plenty of work for the Ducks to do on the defensive side of the ball, but give Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti the credit he deserves.
The atmosphere around Autzen Stadium was electric all day starting with ESPN’s College Gameday where the Oregon fans displayed just how much they love their ducks. The most entertaining part is always the humorous signs that students create to try and get noticed by the national audience for their 15 minutes of fame. The ones that stuck out to me were “LaMichael for LaHeisman,” “Masoli stole my other sign,” and “Andrew Luck wears a onesie.” That fanatic atmosphere carried over to game-time as the Oregon fans jammed Autzen early and stayed well after, providing another sell-out crowd and once again showed why Autzen is one of the toughest places to play in the country.
It will be interesting to see where this victory places the Ducks in the polls. Most experts estimate that the win will allow Oregon to jump past Boise State due to strength of schedule and BCS points. Some are arguing that the Ducks should even jump past Ohio State, who has played a weak non-conference schedule and looked unimpressive against Illinois today. That may be getting a little ahead considering this time of the season, but there is no doubt that after today the Ducks are squarely in national championship conversations and very much in control of the Pac-10. Next week the travel to Pullman to face Washington State, who contrary to belief around the nation apparently still has a football team. They have pads and everything, even if their record over the past few seasons have shown no indication of successful football activity whatsoever.
About the Author
Written by Rob Parness
My name is Robbie Parness and I am a student at the University of Oregon. I'm a California native that loves to play, watch and talk about all kinds of sports. I would love to become a sports writer someday or work in sports in any capacity.