Know Your Identity
There may have never been a game in which Stanford followed The Bootleg's pregame formula more perfectly than Thursday's 26-20 win over Oregon. The offense, which had entered suffering from a serious identity crisis, made the most epic return possible to its power running core.
"[Power] will have to prevail again Thursday if Stanford is to again knock off Oregon," we wrote last week. "The ticket to the winning opportunity lies in the power run.... commitment will be the key."
And boy, did Stanford ever commit. The Cardinal rushed an astounding 66 times. Sixty-six. On the four-year anniversary of Toby Gerhart's punishing 38-carry performance against Oregon, Tyler Gaffney broke Tommy Vardell's school record for carries in a single game, and there was never a better time to shatter it. He pounded the rock 45 times, besting the previous mark of 39. Gaffney's 3.5 yard per carry average didn't pop out of the box score, but Oregon's resulting bruises made it physically difficult for the Ducks to board their team bus afterward. The Farm Boys imposed their will. They repeatedly beat the Quack Attack with a sturdy two-by-four. They churned out over 42 minutes of possession and completely controlled the game's tempo, a must in any quest to knock off Oregon.
Kevin Hogan also embraced his power running identity. He broke three tackles on a critical third-down run that paid good tribute to the Gerhart's old heroics before launching himself into contact at the goal line for the Cardinal's second touchdown. Stanford rediscovered the brute magic that had brought it to glory.
Don't forget Michael Rector's 47-yard streak reception in the first quarter, either. Talented wide receivers are part of the Cardinal's 2013 identity, too, and David Shaw used them perfectly to complement and pry open room for the power run. Rector is now averaging 41 yards per catch this season.
Stanford's first drive did not go well. The Cardinal started at their own six, went four yards in three plays, and punted. The offensive line did manage to inflict its first few bruising body blows, though, and the dividends of that damage would begin to pay off shortly thereafter. After the defense held on fourth down near its own goal line again (apparently Mark Helfrich did not learn from one of Chip Kelly's fatal 2012 mistakes), Stanford went 96 yards in 12 plays to take the lead. They later went 96 yards again, this time in 20 plays, to close the half with a firm grip on the game. A 21-play, 82-yard drive in the second half put some more hurt on the helpless Ducks.
Oregon entered the game averaging over 81 plays per game. Play count by the end of the night: Stanford 79, Oregon 50. Time of possession: Stanford 42:34, Oregon 17:26.
Relocate the Line of Scrimmage
"We need to do what we did last year and knock those guys back," Henry Anderson told me before the game. "You see a lot of teams play Oregon and just kind of catch their offensive linemen, try to play lateral with them. We're trying to knock them backwards, cut off their running lanes behind the line of scrimmage, and stop them before they get started."
Stanford's horses on the defensive front certainly got this job done. Anderson, David Parry, and Josh Mauro were all fantastic for the Cardinal, as was the entirety of the defensive unit. At one point in the second half, Anderson (five tackles) was leading the team in stops during his first action since September 14. He told The Bootleg that his left knee felt a little rusty, but that certainly didn't show. The bull rush was there, and Stanford again became Oregon's kryptonite: They owned the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal had more rushing attempts (66) than the Ducks had rushing yards (62).
Bring Physical Nastiness Everywhere - Especially the Edges
Stanford literally made Oregon cry on the sidelines before the third quarter was over. Mission accomplished. The play on both sides of the ball was simply too brutal for the Ducks' blur-speed attack to handle. Shayne Skov and Alex Carter, in particular, brought sideline-to-sideline physical nastiness. Skov forced two fumbles with his violent play, while Carter's work on the edge might have saved an early touchdown while reminding Oregon that running to the outside was not a sustainable formula anymore against Stanford.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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