Friday, November 8, 2013

Follow-Up Friday: Thoughts on the Stanford Squashing

a sad Duck with no reason to do pushups
The more I thought about what I heard the Duck players and coaches say before the Stanford game on Thursday night, the more I thought it was a load of crap. “We weren’t focused last year against Stanford,” they said, almost to a man. “This year it's been different, we know what's at stake and we’ve been focused all the way through practice.” Um, last year you were also undefeated and it was the middle of November. If you'd beaten Stanford that game, then all you would have needed to do was beat an overmatched Oregon State and an undermanned UCLA in the Pac-12 title game and you'd have been in the BCS Title Game last year. How can you say you weren't focused on that game? I have witnesses that I said this before kickoff....


I've noticed plenty of pundits questioning the decision to go for it on fourth and goal early in the game- when the Ducks didn't make it and the Cardinal promptly marched down the field 96 yards for the first touchdown of the game. Um, why didn't you question this decision the last 75 times it happened? Oh yeah, because Oregon won those games. You remember the last time the Ducks play-calling was questioned? It was about a year ago exactly, the last time they lost a game. To Stanford. It's easy to look back and say, well, they should have kicked. The fact is, Oregon doesn't kick. To go for it on fourth and goal is what they do.


Where the play-calling should be questioned is in the final possession of the game. Where the Ducks ran it three times into the line, forcing them to use their final time out, before Pharoah Brown caught the touchdown on fourth and goal (see previous paragraph) to draw them within six. At this point Oregon should know that they can't run up the middle against the Cardinal, because they haven't been able to do it all game. To try and do it on a goal-to-go situation, where the end zone boundaries act like extra defenders, is ridiculous. Throwing the ball on the early downs would have extended the game, and Oregon likely would have gotten the ball once more, or at least forced Stanford to try to get a first down. However, the way Stanford ran the ball the whole game, that probably would have happened. Anyway, putting De'Anthony Thomas in the middle of that Stanford D-line was a bad idea. And speaking of...


It's not easy to say this, but I no longer believe in DAT man as the all-everything back he seemed to be. Last year in the Stanford game he failed to get a downfield block on Marcus Mariota's 86 yard run that didn't end in a touchdown- instead, Mariota got shoved out at the five or something like that, and the Ducks didn't end up scoring on that drive (they failed on a fourth and goal, I believe). Last night, when Skov knocks the ball out of his hands on the Ducks second failed red zone drive, this time also about the five, DAT doesn't fight for the ball. Instead he clearly thought he was down and did nothing, allowing Skov to recover the ball, and when it goes to replay, it gets overturned. In the open field DAT is uncatchable, but it is becoming more and more obvious that he cannot succeed in traffic. To say he can't succeed in “physical play” is a load of rubbish, because all of football is physical play. But there is a difference between an open field tackle and being hit in-between the tackles on inside running plays. That is where DAT fails, and that is why his future as an every-down running back can and should be questioned. Then you throw in a questionable desire- not completing that downfield block, and not fighting for the ball that Skov knocked out- and DAT's future as a heavy part of the Oregon running back rotation- never mind in the NFL- must be a discussion amongst the coaches.
Marcus needs an MFIC hat, stat.


I'm not quite sure how to assess Marcus Mariota I don't think MM knows how to assess himself at this point, and that's the problem. The best quarterbacks are jerks on the field. The best clip I saw that illustrates this point is actually about another Oregon quarterback, the one and only Dan Fouts. During practices when he was in San Diego he wore a hat with the letters “MFIC”printed on it. Never mind that I really want one of those hats, it tells you the attitude a QB must have in order to win, and win in tough, tough situations. You are the leader and sometimes that means being a jerk to people to achieve the result that you all want. Well, from all we know, Super Mario is anything but a jerk. It's one thing to be hanging loose when you're winning, but when the going gets tough..... you know the rest. Marcus has to be tough for Oregon to win those games. It's not in his nature to do so, it seems like, so it seems like Oregon will not win those games while Marcus is around. I know that's harsh. I also know it's true, until Marcus gets an MFIC hat.


In Chip Kelly's first year as Oregon head coach, the Ducks went down to Stanford and Toby Gerhardt ran all over the Ducks for a Cardinal record 225 yards. Well, in Mark Helfrich's first year as Oregon head coach the Ducks went down to Stanford and Tyler Gaffney ran all over the Ducks with a Cardinal record 45 carries. Is it also a coincidence that in Chip's first Stanford game the Ducks staged a fourth-quarter rally that came up just short, just like this one? As I mentioned in my preview column, only two first-year Oregon head coaches have ever beaten Stanford- the last time it happened was 1972. The coaches since then have been the most successful in Oregon history- Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti and Chip Kelly- and they all lost. Helfrich continued the Cardinal Curse. Odd coincidences, to be sure.


But I must also point out that what I said in my preview story still holds up: Stanford's offense is not good. They put together two 90+ yard drives, that is true... but they did it running the ball almost exclusively. They have plenty in common with the Green Bay Packers offense from the 1960's. Those teams were “We know that you know where we're running, but we're going to do it anyway,” teams, and it worked. Actually, those Lombardi teams were more balanced as an offense because Bart Starr still threw the ball occasionally to a flanker. This Stanford team is a throwback even further than that, to the times when you just hucked the ball deep for the hell of it every now and again. It probably has more in common offensively with Clark Shaughnessy's late-30's first-ever T-formation squads- when they were the Stanford Indians- (seriously, that was their official logo) than it does with anything Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck did four years ago. At least we know Luck can throw the ball.


Now, just because Oregon has a loss doesn’t mean they're out of it. Alabama has a couple of tough games left (including LSU on Saturday). Florida State is due to suck, that's just what they do. The Ducks can climb back in it, but they can't pass Stanford unless the Cardinal somehow lose to Notre Dame or something bizarre like that.


But here's the possible bonus out of this: who wouldn't want to see Oregon vs Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl?

photos courtesy:  dailyemerald.com and washingtonpost.com