Editor's Note: The following commentary offers the author's personal views of the on-field performances of some of Stanford University's exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire, dedication, sacrifice and commitment. The views expressed below do not reflect necessarily those of Bootleg management, Major Upset Productions, the Scout Network, Fox Sports, News Corp, Rupert Murdoch or Coach Harbaugh.
difference a half makes. What a difference a couple of calls can make. That was
pretty much the difference between a Stanford upset at
After four weeks of "A" grades to pen the 2010 campaign, I sense some different letters coming this time around. If only grades could be granted differently for each half. It would be an "A-" grade for the first half, and it would be..... a much lesser grade for the lamentable second-half experience.
RUNNING GAME: B-
Like all the grades, the difference between the halves is huge. The "B-" grade seems like reasonable middle ground. The statistics look good. Stanford rushed the ball 31 times for 177 yards and a 5.7 yard average per carry. Not too shabby under most circumstances.
After being questioned the previous week about not breaking free, Stepfan Taylor (#33) answered with a tremendous 44-yard touchdown run that featured a nice cutback, some impressive balance maintenance and two broken tackles. For the game
Quarterback Andrew Luck (#12) was again sharp early, especialy when he needed to run. Eight carries for 39 yards and a nice 21-yard end-around. Once again, he converted a couple of critical first downs using his legs and remarkable field awareness.
But while the numbers were good for the game, most of the positive numbers for the Cardinal came from the explosive first half. In the second half the Cardinal could not muster much of a running attack. Give credit to
PASSING GAME: C+
Yet another example of an "A" for the first half and maybe a "D" for the second half, so let's just call it an overall a "C+"
In the first half, Luck looked unstoppable. He was taking his time and connecting on all of his passes. He looked in rhythm, sharp, focused, as though he could do no wrong. The TV announcers were ready to adopt him, or at least draft him. His receivers looked good as well. Griff Whalen (#17) made an absolutely outstanding play on the ball for his first career touchdown. Chris Owusu (#81) had some nice short routes to go with his downfield slants.
Then the soul-sucking second half arrived. On the first series, Luck scrambled for a first down. He got hit hard going down to the ground. He did not look quite the same after that. Did he get his bell rung a bit? We may never know.
Andrew was uncharacteristically off-target from that point on. Like the previous week against Notre Dame, most of his deep passes were underthrown, except the one he launched to Corey Gatewood, which unfortunately was intercepted.
Luck's stats at the end of the game look nice. Who would not want 29-46 for 341 yards with two touchdowns? Unfortunately Luck had his second straight two-interception game and really, he could have had a couple of more.
He doesn't call the plays, but Luck is the first to say that he needs to play better. "Decision making", he said, is the thing he needs to improve on. Maybe Stanford fans are critical of the quarterback because expectations are so lofty, but no one will be as critical as Andrew himself.
Would you really trade this guy for any other college QB? So, he had a couple of throws he would like back. He is the real deal. Let's give him a little time to develop. He was playing his 17th college game and his first at Autzen.
A little fact for you - Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy in 1970 after throwing 18 interceptions against 18 TDs. #16 threw a school-record 47 picks in his three years (14-15-18) as a starting quarterback from 1968-70. Yet, he was selected the second-team quarterback on ABC Sports' "College Football All-Time All-American Team" (Elway was picked first!)!
The blocking schemes were challenged in the second half. The Ducks blitzes brought pressure on Luck that he has not seen consistently in his year and a half as a starter.
RUNNING DEFENSE: D+
It would be nice to upgrade this letter as there were a few nice stops. Especially early on the Cardinal was able to stuff just enough plays to help build a lead. But the stats do not lie. 51 rushes, 388 yards (the sixth-most rushing yards allowed in school history) and four touchdowns. Enough said. Sure, the 7.6 yards per carry was helped by the meaningless, late 76-yard rushing touchdown by superback LaMichael James, but even before that, it was still a 300-yard rushing day for the Ducks.
Everyone knows about James, but slight yet swift quarterback Darron Thomas going for 17 carries and 115 rushing yards was a bit of a surprise. Early on, that was the difference-maker because it forced Stanford to cover the edges and it opened up the middle for James in the second half.
PASSING DEFENSE: C-
I first had this down as a "C+", but a closer look at the numbers gets it downgraded. Yes, there were two interceptions. The play by Chase Thomas (#44) against the screen to pick one off was great. Delano Howell (#26) was all over the field so it was nice to see him pick up an interception as well.
Despite his early struggles though, Thomas responded with a 20-29 day for 238 yards and three touchdowns. The scheme was easy to see. Get the ball to the edges. Just like the run game, it was all about creating space on the outside. At least 10 of those receptions must have been the quick pass to the wide receiver on the outside with one or two other receivers blocking in front. The play did not go for a lot of yards, but
By pushing the ball to the outside, it really stretched the safeties and middle linebackers to have to cover sideline to sideline, which again, opened up the inside running game.
The quick ("quack"?) passes used by Thomas minimized the blitz package that has been so successful for the Cardinal. The ball was out of Thomas's hands before anyone could get close to him. The passing game worked like a well-oiled machine, as did the offense as a whole.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Special teams played well for the most part. They created one turnover on the kickoff. Nate Whitaker hit his field goal and routinely put his kick-offs into the end zone. Daniel Zychlinski (#36) was fine, punting for nearly 40 yards per kick, although he was helped by some favorable bounces. The coverage team only allowed one punt return which went for 17 yards. It happens.
The big knock of course was giving up the onside kick which helped turn the game decidedly for the worse. What can you say, it was a great call by the Ducks. One can't blame Austin Yancy (#23) who valiantly tried to make a play despite five Ducks coming straight for him. The execution on the play by the Ducks was flawless.
Bottom line, the Ducks got the better of it in this go around. Chip Kelly's onside kick call was a game-changer. Then the second-half adjustments that defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti made for the Ducks defense were huge.
The first-half game strategy made sense and worked. But Stanford seemed unable to make the mid-game adjustments to counter the Ducks.
OVERALL: C [Thinking: "A-" + "F+" = "C" ]
Admittedly, out of frustration, our first inclination was to hand out an "F+". Hate to say it, but the second half was a failure across the board. Mistakes, penalties, panic. Fear not, Stanford is still a very good football team and it showed in a terrific first-half effort.
This was not a season-spoiling catastrophe. It makes the climb steeper now, but most of the team goals remain within grasp. We can't get overly worked up by failing to play 60 minutes of near-flawless football and failing to ace the second half in a famously hostile environment against a very difficult offensive scheme and being subjected to the second-half adjustments made by an accomplished 20-year defensive coordinator.
This game was much more about just how good
As stated previously, the 2010 Stanford Cardinal is a "very good" team, but the 2010
Bootleg Players of the Game vs. Oregon:
Offense: Andrew Luck
Defense: Delano Howell
Special Teams: Austin Yancy
Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan, who is finally seeing his loyalty pay some serious dividends. Born at Stanford hospital and raised on the Peninsula, he has been a football season ticket holder since 1981. In that span he has only missed three home games, but of course never a Big Game. Dave currently works in media both on the air and behind the scenes in advertising sales. He has covered sports on and off since 1992. Currently he works as a traffic, news and sports man on several Bay Area radio stations under a few different on-air aliases. Dave blends the passion of being a fan with the perspective of being a reporter in his stories. For more Stanford football coverage by Dave Fowkes, you can read the "Stanford Football Examiner" at www.stanfordfootballreport.com
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