Oregon: View from the Press Box

It was a simple game of pitch-and-catch for Oregon Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium, as they torched the Cardinal defense early and often. The Stanford offense did several nice things in the first half and scored three times, but field goals could not keep pace with the dizzying Ducks. Offense, defense and special teams all unraveled for the Card in the second half...

1:57pm - In the pregame warm-ups, wide receiver Justin McCullum and offensive tackle Ben Muth were both in street clothes, unavailable for action in today's game.  Neither practiced this week.

1:58 - Stanford for the third straight game in 2005 has won the coin toss and has deferred until the second half, opting to put their defense on the field first.  Game captains are Michael Okwo, Kevin Schimmelmann, Brandon Harrison and Jeff Edwards.  Nice to see Edwards on the field, after he left Stanford's last game injured.

2:00 - Michael Sgroi pounds the opening kickoff a good nine yards deep into the endzone - unreturnable.  Assuming wind does not come into play, we ought to see this vanilla yet effective kickoff strategy the remainder of the game.  Stanford got too cute against Davis going for directional kicks and twice put the ball out of bounds, giving the Aggies the ball on the 35-yard line.  Just blast the ball out the back of the endzone, boys.

2:01 - Oregon starts with four wideouts in their spread offense, and as expected, Stanford starts in their nickel defense.  We expect to see that most of today from the Cardinal, which makes redshirt sophomore Tim Sims a starter.  Note that this is not exactly like the third-down nickel you normally see from Stanford, which would take Babatunde Oshinowo off the field.  The fifth-year senior is manning the two-man down line in the nickel today.  Senior defensive end Julian Jenkins gets home with a big six-yard sack.  That is a whale of a way to start the game for the Stanford defense.  It sure would negate Oregon's weapons if Stanford can get that kind of pass rush with any consistency.

2:02 - The Ducks react on 2nd & 16 with more protection in the backfield, which returns Stanford to their base 3-4 defense.  Gustav Rydstedt comes onto the field as the third defensive lineman.

2:03 - Stanford's first defensive breakdown comes on the third play from scrimmage, allowing Demetrius Williams a big opening near the Oregon sideline and a 17-yard completion for the first down.  The very next play finds James Finley open crossing the middle of the field for a 30-yard catch and run.  Ouch.  Jenkins' sack is already a distant memory.

2:05 - 3rd & 1 for Oregon, and they are stuffed on the run just inches short of the first down, as measured by the chains.  Ball is just shy of the 20-yard line.  The Ducks are lining up like they will go for it...  Hand-off deep in the backfield to Jeremiah Johnson, and he looks like he has open green for the first down, but he curiously stutter-steps at the line of scrimmage and is immediately hog-tied by David Lofton.  The ball is spotted short of the marker, and Stanford takes over on downs.  Big play by Lofton and a big save for the defense.

2:07 - Stanford takes over at their own 20-yard line with the normal starting lineup... with the exception of Tim Mattran at center.  Fifth-year senior Brian Head did not practice this week but somewhat surprisingly he did dress out and warm up in the pre-game.  Head is available as an emergency reserve if needed.

2:09 - The first penalty of the game comes on a difficult 3rd & 7 for Stanford - and it is off-sides on the Ducks.  Well, for the record, the Cardinal offensive line did not flinch and let the vaunted Oregon defensive front make a mistake instead.  Could that be a microcosm of a bigger victory to be scored today between these two lines?

2:10 - Down and distance does not matter on a run like that.  Anthony Kimble has nowhere to run and is hit for a loss of two yards.  Time to punt...  Jay Ottovegio kicks it just just 29 yards, giving the Ducks great field position.

2:13 - Game captain and all-around fan favorite Michael Okwo reads the eyes of Kellen Clemens on a pass in the middle of the field, diving to snare an interception on the first play of the Ducks' second drive.  Stanford gets the ball on their 45-yard line, now their best field position of this young game.  That was the first career interception for the junior inside linebacker.

2:14 - Stanford comes out on their second possession rolling out Trent Edwards on first down.  That helps to alleviate some pressure from the Oregon pass rush.  The play ends with a short completion to Mark Bradford.  More important than the yardage gained, that gives Oregon's defensive coordinator something to think about.

2:15 - On second down, Edwards throws to fullback Nick Frank, who rumbles for a first down.  In the first half of the first quarter, Stanford has already matched its complete-game total number of completions (one) to backs from their last game.

2:16 - The second penalty of the game is again on the Oregon defensive line, with off-sides on the famed Haloti Ngata.  You wonder if Edwards is getting the Ducks jumpy with his cadence under center.  Every little bit helps.

2:17 - Stanford goes back to back to Kimble, for a six-yard run and then a seven-yard screen pass.  This is thus far nice, balanced playcalling that is keeping Oregon off-balance...  And then Kimble slips and falls untouched in the backfield on a 2nd & 3 to make it 3rd & 5.  That takes a little wind out of your sails.

2:19 - Sgroi might have butterflies after missing his last two field goal attempts two weeks ago against Davis, and this is the same opponent where he missed two critical field goals in a three-point loss last October... but he comes through with 4:48 to go in the first quarter today with a confidence-assuring 42-yard field goal.  Stanford 3, Oregon 0.

2:21 - A wrinkle in the kickoff game: the ball just twice blew off the tee.  By rule, Stanford has to bring a player onto the field to hold (T.J. Rushing).  Sgroi is unable to kick it as deep in the endzone with the hold, but the kick and coverage are good enough to tackle Oregon at their own 17.

2:23 - Stanford is on the field with their defense again in the nickel defense and two defensive linemen.  This may be indicative of today's D-line rotation: we have Oshinowo on the sideline while Rydstedt joins Jenkins up front.

2:24 - Whadda ya know?  The Ducks pick up another penalty at the line of scrimmage, this time a false start on their offensive line.

2:25 - Tim Sims blows his coverage on the Stanford sideline, giving up a 42-yard catch and run to Demetrius Williams.  That came on 2nd & Long after a nice job on first down by the Cardinal linebackers.  It is visually apparent that the defensive backfield is the lethal leak in the Stanford defensive dam.

2:26 - Speak of the devil - the Ducks throw deep and pick up 34 yards on a diving catch by Williams at the sideline.  Notice a pattern?

2:28 - On 3rd & 10 at the 11-yard line, Stanford comes on a blitz but is bitten by a backside screen pass to fab frosh Jonathan Stewart that goes untouched for a touchdown.  At 2:08 left in the first quarter, Oregon takes the lead, 7-3.  Unofficially, the Ducks have already thrown for 143 yards.  The Stanford defense at times is holding on with playmaking out of their front seven, but their coverage personnel are just getting torched.  The sad reality here, folks, is that middling (at best) offenses put up scary numbers passing the ball in the first two games, while Oregon is a prime time Grade A passing offense that could put up some record numbers this afternoon against this group.

2:32 - Oregon kicks high and short to dodge a big T.J. Rushing return, but he still brings the ball out to the 34-yard line...  Jason Evans is rotated in at tailback to start this series.

2:33 - The running game has not been overpowering thus far, but has been present enough for Stanford to pull off a tremendous play-action by Edwards that results in a 30-yard completion to Mark Bradford, moving Stanford to the Oregon 30-yard line.  HUGE play and a much-needed counterpunch after what Oregon has been doing offensively thus far.

2:34 - We knew he was available, but sooner than we expected junior tight end Patrick Danahy is in the game.  He has a pass thrown just long of him near the goalline, as he dives but comes up empty.  A lot of people are excited to have Danahy back with the offense.

2:35 - Nifty run by Kimble to dart through and around Oregon defenders for 16 yards.  That is the elusiveness and athleticism that earned him the starting job in August.  As a bonus, he is tackled by his facemask, tacking on an extra 10 yards on the personal foul.

2:36 - Stanford has the ball on the 10-yard line and puts two tight ends into the game with two backs and Bradford out wide.  With nothing open on first down, Edwards scrambles up the Stanford sideline and ducks out at the three, though he is hit late by a couple of Oregon defenders.  No flag.  Boos coarse from the home crowd.

2:37 - Same formation from the three-yard line, and this time Edwards quickly airs out a corner fade to Bradford on the right side.  The ball drops over his shoulder for an impressive catch with his defender right on his back.  This is exactly the type of pass and reception that Stanford has worked so many, many times since Walt Harris came to The Farm.  That gives Stanford their first offensive touchdown since the third quarter in Annapolis.  But the bottom line, and happily so, right now is that the Cardinal have regained the lead, 10-7.  That was an important answer by the offense, not only setting the tone that they can strike dangerously in this game, but it also lets the defense catch their breath on the sideline.

2:44 - Same song, different verse.  The defense manages to put Oregon in 3rd & 9 in their first set of downs after the Stanford score, but then give up a 19-yard completion open in the secondary.

2:45 - Clemens throws deep against Sims again, and the young cornerback stumbles as he runs down the sideline, leaving Cameron Colvin wide open for an easy reception of an underthrown ball (38 yards).  Boom - Oregon is already down to the 18-yard line.

2:45 - Very next play puts the ball in the air and in the endzone.  This is brutal pass defense.  Clemens does not need much time to throw with the speed his receivers possess, which does not give much chance for the Cardinal pass rush to get to him.

2:49 - Perhaps emboldened by their unstoppable passing offense, Oregon kicks deep to Rushing to give him a chance for a normal return.  He is just one tackler away from a touchdown, but does bring the ball out to the 39-yard line.

2:50 - We have a substitution on the offensive line, with Ismail Simpson rotating at left guard for Josiah Vinson.  Simpson has played significant snaps rotating at both guard positions in each of Stanford's games thus far this year...  Jeff Edwards picks up Stanford's first holding penalty of the day.  Glaring and unnecessary.

2:53 - Trent Edwards gets a long time in the pocket with good protection, ultimately finding Bradford on the Oregon sideline.  A 15-penalty at the end of the play combines to move the ball down to the Oregon 21-yard line.  Could it be that Stanford can keep pace in this game?  They do not have the ability to strike for ungodly chunks of yardage quite like Oregon is obtaining today, but we will see.

2:55 - First & Goal at the seven-yard line.  This will be interesting playcalling to watch...  First down is a run by Evans out of a split backfield, running behind Frank.  He gets back only to the line of scrimmage...  Second down is a pass play, but with nobody open, Edwards scrambles backward and tries for Bradford at the two, but it is broken up...  Third down tries to catch Oregon off guard with a draw play via Nick Frank, but he picks up just one yard.  Three strikes and out.  I did not like that third down call from Harris at all...  Sure do miss Evan Moore.

2:56 - Sgroi comes on for a short field goal which will close the game to one point, but he kicks it low and has it blocked.  You cannot have that.  At that short a distance, the ball should be easily chipped high and unblockable at the line of scrimmage.  With the way Oregon is moving on offense, I don't think you can afford to miss any points if you are Stanford - especially when you get down inside the 10-yard line.

3:01 - Tricky playcall by Oregon, which I have to admire.  They have Stanford's defense spread, as by design, and that left a nice open space for a shovel pass to Finley.  Picks up a quick nine yards.  Stanford is on their heels.

3:02 - Stanford calls their first timeout of the half, on defense.  One thing that Oregon is doing on offense is not just moving the ball effectively, but doing it with quick huddles.  The pace at which their plays on offense are proceeding is noticeable and has to be difficult for the Stanford defense to digest.  No TV timeouts this afternoon accelerates the effect, at least in how I'm experiencing this game.

3:05 - Clemens takes off on what I think is the first designed quarterback keeper of the game.  It picks up nothing and in fact nets a holding penalty that moves the Ducks back 10 yards.  But the call still plants the seed in the Stanford defense's mind that they have yet another weapon to worry about.  Clemens came into today's game as the number two rusher for Oregon.

3:07 - Oregon has gone on a couple plays in a row to the shovel pass.  Should not be so effective, but they grabbed 16 yards on the second instance, after Stanford whiffed on two tackles.  Folks, there are enough problems on defense today without blown tackles.  Those little mistakes can really hurt.

3:08 - On 3rd & 1, Stanford forces Clemens out of the pocket and looks like they have pursuit that could stop this drive.  But a breakdown in coverage in the endzone leaves a receiver open for an easy touchdown toss.  Brandon Harrison immediately barks at T.J. Rushing, who counters back.  Clear confusion in the Cardinal defensive backfield.  21-10, Oregon, with 4:41 to go in the second quarter.  Stanford is perhaps one drive away from letting this game get away.  Something has to change.

3:11 - Oregon smartly kicks away from Rushing (who has passed the 1,000 career return yardage mark in this game), and Marcus McCutcheon brings the ball out instead to just the 14-yard line.  A long field is not what Stanford needs right now, with a short clock left in the half and a big mountain to climb in this game.

3:12 - Walt Harris apparently is patient enough with four-plus minutes to go to run the ball, handing it off the first two plays to Evans.  The result is 11 yards and a first down.  You know this is setting up play-action.  You just know it.

3:13 - Well, Oregon probably knew it as well, but it didn't matter.  Play-action from Edwards leaves Bradford in single coverage deep down the Stanford side of the field.  A huge 45-yard completion (to the Oregon 30) that quickly puts Stanford in scoring range.

3:14 - Very next play is again play-action, and Edwards throws for Bradford at the goalline.  His defender, Jackie Bates, tomahawks over Bradford's right shoulder before the ball arrives, but there is no flag despite two officials right at the play.  Tough break.

3:15 - What a terrible time for a holding penalty - moves Stanford back to the 40 and out of field goal range (I would think).

3:18 - Trent Edwards took a timeout, and it pays off.  He once again throws deep to Bradford, and this time pass interference is called on Bates.  Edwards is putting quite a bit of confidence in his junior receiver, putting air under the ball and just letting Bradford make a play in the air.  Looks like there is a formula here: if single coverage vs. Bradford, then throw.

3:22 - These are the plays Stanford could not make on offense last year.  3rd & 3 when you have to pick up short yards on the ground, and Evans gets it done.  1:02 to go, and the ball is now just inside the 15-yard line.

3:23 - Oregon comes with a safety blitz, and an untouched Anthony Trucks hits Edwards from the backside for a killer nine-yard sack.  He didn't even see it coming.  Stanford has to burn their third and final timeout.  40 seconds to go in the half.

3:25 - Edwards finds Bradford for five yards, but the play ends in bounds and costly seconds roll off the clock.  Edwards goes to the opposite side to Crochet in the endzone, and the ball drops into his hands but his knocked loose by the defender.  The fifth-year senior has to make that play.  That brings Sgroi on to the field.  He hits the 31-yard field goal, closing the gap to 21-13.  It was important for Stanford to answer with points on that drive, and to also eat clock keeping their defense off the field.  But unless deep, dark black magic is found in the locker room, the Stanford defense is going to get scorched for more in the second half.  In light of that, it is more than a little deflating to score just three points on this drive.  Stanford threw deep and aggressively on Oregon, and they moved the ball by doing so.  That's the good news, but it is a shallow victory when they don't reach the endzone.  And for the record, both teams have three scores in this game - the difference is that Stanford has a pair of field goals while all three Oregon scores struck paydirt.

3:29 - 0:06 remain in the half, so Stanford just wants to get into the locker room without any big kickoff return here.  Sgroi kicks a line drive right at one of the front line for Oregon, which deflects back.  Sgroi grabs the ball and starts running.  What the hell just happened?  The official blows the play dead and gives Stanford the ball at their own 45-yard line.  You cannot advance the ball on that play.  Was Sgroi just going for a normal squib kick and it accidentally struck the Duck?  I assume so.  If that ball had been recovered by Oregon, they would have had lip-smacking field position to throw for the endzone.

3:30 - Only one second ticked off the clock, so Stanford gets a chance to throw a Hail Mary.  Edwards dodges Ngata long enough to throw to the goalline, but it is intercepted in a pile to end the half.  Ngata came back and leveled Edwards after the throw.  Interior offensive line coach Tom Freeman chewed out center Tim Mattran afterward for leaving the play and not protecting his quarterback.

3:49 - Only three of Stanford's captains come out to start the second half - Okwo is missing.  Mike Silva was playing in his stead late in the first half...  Okwo is on the cover of today's game program.  Cover jinx?

3:51 - Oregon kicks to Rushing and he brings it out to the 33-yard line.  Whether he breaks it long or not, you feel like Rushing could whenever he fields a kickoff.

3:52 - Stanford starts off their second half on offense by throwing to Frank for a three-yard pickup.  After throwing deep to Bradford so many times to close the second quarter, that is a nice call to keep Oregon guessing...  But a false start on second down wipes that positive right out.  The way these two teams are stacking up, there is no margin for error for Stanford with 1) penalties or 2) turnovers in the second half.

3:55 - Back to back quarterback hurry and sack is a buzzkill.  It's going to be hard to catch Oregon while punting the ball, at least as I understand the modern rules of college football.

3:56 - Oregon ran for 25 yards in the first half but comes out here for their first play of the second half with a nine-yard run.  After proving that they can pass, completely at will, on Stanford, are the Ducks looking to run the ball in the final 30 minutes - for pure sport?

3:59 - The shovel pass has appeared again, and now we see an Oregon reverse.  And another reverse.  Looks like Oregon is ready to change up their offensive attack, in anticipation of any halftime adjustments Tom Hayes may have made on Stanford's defense.  Umm, why?  That first half passing (292 yards) had to be a record, or close to one, for an Oregon first half in a Pac-10 game.  Don't shift gears when you are on cruise control... Unless Gary Crowton's old college buddy called him at halftime and made some sort of wager.

4:03 - Oregon scores, taking a 28-13 lead.  Maybe Crowton will win that bet.

4:07 - Bailout by the Duck defense when they hit Edwards late, moving Stanford out to the 26-yard line.  They need the breathing room after starting deep in their own territory, due to a Nick Frank holding penalty on the kickoff return.

4:08 - I was thinking while we were at the half that Stanford, by scheme as much as protection, was doing a better than expected job in keeping Trent Edwards off his backside.  But Oregon looks like they are getting more pressure early in this third quarter.  They are sacking, hitting, or pressuring him on nearly every pass play.  There might be an adjustment that Oregon made at halftime, but Stanford is having to go more away from the running game as the Ducks put more points on the board.  The one salvation of the first half for Stanford was that the offense respectively moved the ball and had some finite chance of staying in the game.  But if this pass rush proves to be the pattern the rest of this game, then it is lights out, folks.  Oregon could blow this wide open in the next 10 or 15 minutes.

4:13 - Oregon starts with the ball on their 43 and immediately goes to the Stanford 12 on one play, Clemens to Williams.  The pass is completed against Rushing.  It's like an amusement park shooting gallery for Oregon and Clemens today - just a matter of which target you feel like dropping, whenever you feel like it.

4:15 - That was Oregon's second rushing touchdown of this half, after three passing scores in the first half.  The Ducks are purely massaging the stat sheet right now, in an effort to recruit running backs.  Fun times for Mike Belotti.  He's had a whale of a time playing Stanford four years straight now.  The 2001 game in Eugene is like a distant memory.  A very distant memory.

4:19 - From bad to worse, the Stanford offense does not even touch the ball after Rushing fumbles during his kickoff return.  Oregon starts on the Stanford 23-yard line... Jeremiah Johnson runs right through the defense for Oregon's third rushing score of the quarter... But it is called back on a pair of penalties, all the way to the Oregon 47-yard line.  One personal foul during the play and another unsportsmanlike after the "score."  All this means is that Oregon has more green to pad their offensive yardage.

4:24 - Actually, the Ducks have to kick a field goal.  Oregon 38, Stanford 13.  Right about now, the offense, defense and special teams for Stanford need to rally and make plays to stabilize their confidence for the remainder of the season.  The stink of this deteriorating performance is unwelcome after the Davis debacle.

4:25 - Oregon is off-sides on their kickoff (deep for a touchback), which Stanford takes at the 25-yard line.  You know, the Ducks are just undisciplined enough with penalties that it could be the difference in a tight ballgame, but of course the Cardinal are not at all competitive enough for that to come into play today.

4:29 - Change "undisciplined" to "dirty."  Trucks just leveled Edwards after he pitched the ball on a running play.  The 15 yards on top of a nice run by Evans moves the ball down to the Oregon 31.

4:30 - Another penalty as Bates again interferes with Bradford.  15 yards moves the ball to the 16.  Stanford needs to make a touchdown, for respectability in the final score and some offensive confidence.

4:31 - Edwards looks to the endzone and makes his first mental error of the game, and it is a costly one.  Justin Phinisee intercepts his pass and runs it back 86 (!!) yards.  Evans saves the touchdown with a tackle from behind.  Check that - Evans delays the touchdown...  Bradford is down on the ground after the play, maybe a cramp.  Lovely.

4:33 - Oregon puts backup quarterback Dennis Dixon into the game.  That interception sealed the fate of this game, if there had been any doubt.

4:37 - The Ducks come up empty on third down, and then Paul Martinez misses the chip 24-yard field goal.  We just started the fourth quarter.

4:39 - Three and out for the Stanford offense.  C'mon - a little meaningless scoring action from the offense would be nice to see in the fourth quarter.  Not asking for much.

4:45 - Stanford has their first team defense still in the game, for the most part, though fifth-year senior cornerback Calvin Armstrong is in for Tim Sims at the nickel back position.  Sims may or may not be hurt.  This could be Tom Hayes experimenting in search of something better for his secondary, with eight games still left in 2005.

4:49 - Oregon runs it in from three yards.  44-13.  This is getting dizzy.  A blocked PAT is but a blip in Stanford's flatline for this afternoon.

4:54 - On 3rd & 11, Edwards is hopping and clapping his hands in the huddle.  You can see the competitor in him, badly wanting to get something positive achieved before this game concludes.  But he needs help on offense.

4:55 - No dice.  Three and out...  Stanford punts, but Oregon muffs the catch, recovered by Kris Bonifas for the Cardinal.  T.C. Ostrander comes into the game with 7:05 to go.  His interception aside, Edwards is not the problem in this game, so it is a good call to get Ostrander some work.  Edwards does not need to prove anything to us, and Ostrander can benefit from some time.

4:56 - As soon as Ostrander comes into the game, Stanford picks up back-to-back false starts.  Probably the changed cadence with a new quarterback in the game, but you still should know your snap count.

4:58 - All of a sudden, Ostrander and Stanford are facing 3rd & 29, with the last play a big sack.  This is not exactly an environment conducive to learning for the Cardinal's second string signal caller.  Some other positions are being rotated now from the bench, including Bonifas at fullback and Allen Smith at offensive tackle.

5:03 - Hey, here is something new to shake up the funeral.  T.J. Rushing is back on punt return.  Can you believe that this is the first punt for Oregon all day?...  But the ball never gets near Rushing as a diving Jon Alston blocks the kick, which he recovers diving across the goalline for a touchdown.  Oregon 44, Stanford 20.  Doesn't make a dent in the final score, but it's a standout individual moment for the fifth-year senior.  Oregon had a strange three-man deep protection in front of the punter, which Alston blasted through.  That looks familiar - isn't that what BYU used when Stanford played them?  Didn't Stanford also rocket through for a big block?...  Did Crowton bring this with him to Eugene?

5:06 - Stanford now has a defense full of reserve players on the field.

5:07 - Stanford calls a timeout on defense, and with 3:33 left to go in regulation, this is as good a time as any to scoot down to the field for post-game interviews.  Sayonara.

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