Editor's Note: The following commentary offers views of the on-field performances of some of our exceptional student-athletes. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our players' obvious desire and commitment.
"View from the Press Box": Oregon
Pregame: Stanford captains: Belch, Ostrander and Horn. Oregon brought a sizeable contingent (five pretty full corner sections) and their "Go Ducks" cheers drown out the Stanford fans'. All four Stanford student sections are full and the vibe is strong, but the rest of the stadium seems a bit sparser than for UCLA or SJSU, especially the end zone sections. Estimated actual attendance: 24,000. Estimated announced attendance: 37,000. (9:12pm: 35,019. Maybe Pravda would like to sponsor next week's count.) Not trying to be "Danny Downer", but it sure would be nice to have a full house for a Top 20 opponent. Stanford kicks at 7:03pm sharp, Oregon starts right to left from the press box.
7:04pm: My biggest fear is Oregon just running around Stanford on this opening drive with Dixon and Stewart. And it was the Stanford DC's too. The linebackers bite hard on an inside play-action draw fake to Stewart and Stewart floats a 20-yard pass to a wide-open #3 Cameron Colvin right up the middle. Bo McNally dives and misses and it's 7-0 Ducks, after a 15-second, one-play, 71-yard drive.
7:07pm: After holding (and a missed block in the back), Stanford starts from its 15, right by the Oregon section. Pressure breaks it up, but I like the first-down call of a bubble screen to Tyrone McGraw.
7:09pm: The line has to do a better job of blocking and Ostrander needs to do a better job of feeling the pressure on third down after Duck cornerback Jairus Byrd blindsides the QB for a loss of six. Stanford wraps up the punt returner before the ball arrives and, after a 41-yard punt from Ottovegio, less the 15-yard flag, Oregon starts from Stanford's 36.
7:13pm: Anyone else notice Oregon's receivers wear yellow shoes while their teammates all wear black? Doesn't that violate some NCAA regulation? Dixon runs right past Clinton Snyder and takes it in on a speed option from the 16 on a 2nd and 1, but holding negates the play. Next snap, play-fake left and Jonathon Stewart runs off-tackle right for nine. The speed differential between the two teams is obvious - and it's causing Stanford to miss a lot of tackles they were making the first two weeks. Next play, Pannel Egboh whiffs and Stewart's in for six. 36 yards, six plays, 1:45. 14-0 Ducks with 11:26 to go in the first. This has been the worst-case scenario start for Stanford. Will be interesting to gauge morale postgame and into next week if this holds up, because so far it looks like it's going to be tough to put a positive spin on it.
7:19pm: I wrote coming into this week that Oregon's weakness was their rush defense, and I think Cal and USC will make that clear in upcoming weeks. Here, Stanford gives to Anthony Kimble and exploits the Ducks' front for a first down, then Ostrander finds Sherman for 16 and another first down at the 42. Give the offense credit - another quick Oregon score and this game is over, so this is a hugely critical drive that they're putting together.
7:22pm: As I write that, Ostrander checks down to an open Kimble at the sticks on 3rd and 2 for a first down at the Duck 30. Freshman back Jeremy Stewart made a few really nice cuts on his one handoff thus far - it's obvious why he's seeing early playing time.
7:23pm: Teams trade costly penalties. Center Tim Mattran's chop block backs Stanford into a 1st and 25 at Oregon's 45, but on the next snap, Ostrander gets good protection and Bradford draws pass interference on a fade down the right sideline for a new set of downs at the Duck 30. Pass was out-of-bounds and a little long - generous flag. The ratio of Bradford's pass-interference yardage to receiving yardage is as high as I can recall seeing from a receiver.
7:25pm: Ostrander is high to an open Jim Dray on 2nd and 10 after the line cut blocks well to buy time. Would have been a 3rd and 2. Those are the plays Stanford needs to make to win ballgames.
7:28pm: Belch is true on a 39-yarder and the Cardinal is on the board. Oregon 14, Stanford 3 with 6:28 to go in the first. Drive: 11 plays, 52 yards, 4:58.
7:32pm: After a big Stewart kickoff return, Oregon gets away from its simple, effective gameplan of spreading out Stanford and running it up the middle. Talk about outthinking yourself - just stick with what works. Their drive stalls at the Card 39 and they punt it out of bounds at Stanford's 5.
7:34pm: Stanford goes 'three & out' after Ostrander has plenty of time to find receivers on a third & one from the Stanford 14, but no one comes open. Ottovegio booms a soaring punt that Andiel Brown retreats to field at his 35. The punt is almost too good (maybe it is low, hard to tell from the skybox). Brown gets a full head of steam, the running lanes are much too open and Brown takes it down the left sideline all the way to the Cardinal five. I think the difference in the teams' athleticism is most evident in the return game. Oregon's like lightning in a bottle, consistently breaking out healthy returns and always a threat to bust a huge one. Even when Stanford's executing solidly, the team's lower inventory of similar athleticism prevents them from breaking a big one.
7:37pm: Stanford's defense showed some heart, stonewalling Oregon runs on first and second down. But on third, Stewart does a truly incredible job of selling the handoff - neither I nor the Stanford defense realizes Dixon had kept it until he threw up his hands in the Stanford end zone.
7:43pm: Ostrander throws away a 'second & six' flea flicker because his receivers are again blanketed. This Oregon secondary is really good, but the lack of separation recalls shades of last year. That's discouraging for a unit that's supposed to be Stanford's best.
7:46pm: After a Stanford punt, Oregon starts from their 27 - their worst field position of the day. They've advanced it to Stanford's 42 by the end of the first quarter, mostly by running out of a spread look off left-tackle. End of first: Oregon 21, Stanford 3. Total yards: Ducks 169, Stanford 64.
7:51pm: Dixon's pitch is behind Stewart on 'fourth & one' from the Card 33, Pannel Egboh falls on it (but on fourth down, scoop it and run, big guy!), and Stanford starts from its own 40. And where the hell did that come from? No one lays a hand on Kimble as he takes a draw right, bounces it back left and bolts free for a score. One play, 60 yards, and nine seconds later, it is 21-10 Oregon. Looks like Oregon's front seven crashed way too hard to its left on Kimble's initial motion. Stanford's line, especially Ben Muth, threw down great seal blocks to open up the huge cutback lane. Longest run since three years ago when J.R. Lemon was running out the half, but suddenly sprung free for an 80-yard score. USC 31, Stanford 28 was the final - first game here on the Farm for us seniors.
7:57pm: I still don't think we win and think this is likely a 3-9 type of season, but I'm 100 percent on the Harbaugh bandwagon right now. I see Richard Sherman pumping his arms to get the crowd into it in the first quarter, I see the defense absolutely enthused after the fourth-down stop, I see logical, creative playcalls, and I don't see anyone shellshocked or quitting after a 21-3 start. "Captain Comeback" and his crew are doing a great job to have it at 21-10 midway through the second.
8:02pm: Passing game miscues kill the Stanford drive. A third-down out eludes Evan Moore after Ostrander's first-down pass is behind Dray on a crossing route.
8:04pm: Oregon is shooting themselves in the webbed feet. The fourth-down pitch behind Stewart was turnover number one, and here, Brown fumbles a punt for turnover number two. Clinton Snyder gets credit for both the force and the recovery, and Stanford starts from the Duck 34 - they need to capitalize with six here.
8:08pm: Biggest play of the season to date on 'third & 10', as Ostrander finds Jim Dray on the left sideline, who jukes his way down to the Duck 3 for a 16-yard gain. Press box PA announcer Steve Frost: "That's not a flag on the field, that's an Oregon shoe." Next comes a pitch to Kimble, also left (guess the staff sees something) and he goes in untouched for six. Five plays, 34 yards, 2:12. 7:01 to go. Oregon 21, Stanford 17.
8:11pm: Really Stanford's first mistake of the day, as an offsides on the kickoff negates Stanford downing the Ducks at the 14. Then, Belch's re-kick from the 25 is out-of-bounds, moving the kickoff back another five yards (I guess Oregon declined starting from the 35? I would have too.) Stanford's kicking now from its 20. Uh oh, two flags on this return. Another offsides, and then a holding on Oregon. Gunners have to be mighty tired after three sprints. Here comes kickoff number four... I've never seen this before. Stanford uses its final timeout of the half, presumably to let the gunners catch their breath. It's now 8:19pm. The kickoff is going to take 10 minutes. Okay, while I wait, a minor beef: We have seven flat-screen plasma televisions in the press box - do they really all need to be turned to the Stanford game right in front of us? At other stadiums, reporters would be catching glimpse of Washington-UCLA or USC-Washington State. Our folks should follow suit, because right now they're wasting a lot of money.
8:21pm: Initial offsides penalty costs Stanford about 35 yards, as Stewart brings back the kick to midfield. Second Oregon play, defensive tackle Levirt Griffin knocks it away from receiver Jaison Williams and freshman linebacker Chike Amajoyi pounces on it at Oregon's 38. Oregon really can't get out of its own way right now.
8:23pm: Kimble and Stewart gash the Ducks for 16 and 11 respectively to advance to the Ducks' 31, then wow. Wow, wow, wow. The play call is brilliant -- play-action left plays off our recent successful runs to the left, and Oregon bites hard. Ostrander bootlegs right and finds tight end Ben Ladner wide open on the left sideline (like Dray on the last drive). Touchdown Stanford! Five plays, 62 yards, 3:09. Stanford 24-21. Unsung heroes: the left side of the line. We are running left, left, left and it's working. The line is the most improved unit from last year.
8:28pm: This is fun. Loud as I've heard it here, fans chanting "Our House" as Oregon's in a "third & 18". Dixon's dump-off is short of the sticks, and Stanford's going to have the ball from their 33-yard line with 2:43 left.
8:33pm: Lot of smiles, lot of open jaws in the press box as Bradford catches a 12-yard out for unanswered touchdown number four. Strong-armed throw from T.C. is absolutely money! 31-21 Stanford. Even the alums are getting into "All Right Now." This reminds me almost perfectly of the 2004 USC game. Same time of year, first game in front of the new students. 10- or 11-point halftime lead against a much more highly-rated, much more explosive team. Hopefully this game turns out better than that one. Hopefully we don't go into an offensive shell in the second half.
8:36pm: Stewart takes yet another kickoff to Stanford's 33. Maybe I'm being too charitable to attribute Oregon's kickoff success purely to speed differential, because this is getting ridiculous. After gains of eight and 12 through the air, looks like Oregon's going to punch it in before the half. Why is Stanford calling off the dogs and only rushing three? Especially given that Oregon started the drive with three timeouts at Stanford's 33 - more than enough time to do anything. Prevent defense is "preventing" us from getting a stop.
8:41pm: No prevent defense, how about 'Pamo defense? Textbook breakup of a 'third & six' fade sends on the kicker (good on a 26-yarder) and keeps momentum squarely in Stanford's corner heading into halftime. Six plays, 24 yards, 44 seconds.
8:43pm: Freshman Jeremy Stewart gives Oregon a taste of their own medicine, busting a return down the left sideline to the Ducks' 25 to close out the first half. Stanford 31, Oregon 24 after the best half I have seen this program play. Just about everything went right for Stanford - and yet, they only lead by seven. Good news and scary news too.
8:45pm: Stanford band comes out, spells ROTC at halftime and starts playing Green Day's "American Idiot." I don't get it, but this can't be good. Wait, master key…this can't be an Azia Kim halftime show, can it? No way, I think it is. "Imposter." Yup. "Jim Europe.. I get it." Really surprised and pleased the AD has relaxed enough to allow this. Two solid shows in a row.
9:07pm: Stanford starts the second half with a conservative 'three & out'. Running on 'third & seven'? Do we want this to be 2004 USC all over again?
9:10pm: Great punt coverage, but now Oregon's using their athleticism to move the ball - Dixon and Stewart are basically juking their way down the field with big gains. Senior defensive end Udeme Udofia finishes off Dixon on a second-down sack (Snyder was there first, but couldn't quite bring him down), but then Oregon responds with its biggest play of the game - a 'third & 17' conversion on a slant by the right hashmark.
9:13pm: That's "six" as the second half starts much like the first ended. 6'5 tight end Ed Dickson is wide open down the left sideline (I think Osaisai had responsibility, not sure), Dixon's ball is thrown too hard and with not enough air, but Dickson makes a great adjustment and catches it with both hands over his head. 31-all. 11:17 left in the third.
9:16pm: Huge spark by Anthony Kimble and the Stanford return team (Jeremy Stewart absolutely lays out his guy), busting it out to the Duck 43 to start the drive. Looks like the officials missed a facemask as kicker Matt Evensen corralled Kimble down. Ostrander's high and behind Bradford on 3rd and 5 from the Ducks' 38. Personally, I would have run, figuring this is four-down territory. We're on to punt? I can't believe this. Oregon starts from their 14 after an Ottovegio pooch. Too early for definitive judgment, but after two straight 'three & outs' to start the half, we appear to be playing far too conservatively. The offense needs to keep scoring like the first half if we hope to win this game, because I think the Ducks could put up another three touchdowns if need be. Got to wonder also about our defense wearing down against such a fast team, a la 2005 UCLA, this half.
9:21pm: Can't tell if we're playing vanilla coverage or if we're blitzing and playing aggressively but Oregon's just playing better. Or if we're tired. Either way, Oregon's nickel-and-diming it this drive and we don't appear to be doing much. After a 11-yard completion to Dickson, it is first down Ducks at the Stanford 30. Another run for four, and then a completion for 15 - this is Walt Harris defense here. Blitz somebody, try something, because otherwise Oregon's just going to rush in. Where is Harbaugh's gutsy risk-taking?
9:23pm: Snyder's back in, but off goes Ekom Udofia. After a two-yard run to set up a huge 'third & two' at the Stanford 12, Snyder is down again holding his head. Sims is also down. Looks like the defense is literally breaking down out of fatigue here. If we can hold here though, the punt decision last drive looks brilliant and we're right in the thick of it still - huge, huge play. The fans need to recognize this and be louder.
9:26pm: Well, it was fun while it lasted. Jeremiah Johnson up the middle for 12 and the Oregon score. 38-31 Ducks after an 11-play, 86-yard, 3:06 drive. 7:06 left in the third, so we're fine scoreboard-wise, but our defense looks absolutely dead right now. Offense needs to come through with a big drive.
9:28pm: Kimble returns to the 30, but I think he had a bigger crease if he had cut outside to his left, instead of back into the fray. Maybe Oregon's defense is tiring too - gotta hope.
9:29pm: An Ostrander pass is again high to Dray on first down - we don't have that margin for error. Great find of Moore on a second-down out though. Third down and a short one. QB sneak doesn't get it. Huge fourth down call here. I would go for it because the defense isn't stopping Oregon. Harbaugh is thinking the same thing - right call no matter what happens. I would run left - Kimble runs left. There's nothing though, and Kimble tries to cutback right, but is swallowed up. Jesses and Joes, simple as that.
9:33pm: Kimble has 314 all-purpose yards, nearing the school record of 379 by Glen Milburn in the 1990 Big Game. He'll probably break it with another couple of kick returns in the remainder of the game. Nick Sanchez has to come off for injury - looks like cramps.
9:34pm: Bad series for #14. On first down, he can't get off his block (a problem from last season as well) as Oregon runs a screen his way to move the sticks. Next play, same look, and he can't tackle his man as Oregon again moves the chains. Next play, 15-yard touchdown pass over the top. 45-31 Oregon with 5:37 left in the third. Teams are exploiting our corner's problems tackling in space, but it's not just a single cornerback right now. The whole defense is just wiped.
9:37pm: Stanford starts from its nine, and Stewart runs into a pile for three. He's got great moves (spinning out of a tackle-for-loss on his next carry), but this was not the first time I saw him run into a cloud of defenders when he could have bounced outside. Hopefully, the vision will come with experience at the college level.
9:42pm: I like what we're doing this drive - getting it to our receivers in space with short throws. West Coast offense, baby. Stanford's out to the 46 with a 'Second & Three', and then Ostrander finds Sherman for another 14.
9:47pm: Drive stalls at midfield after a Bradford block in the back on an Ostrander bootleg (another good playcall) put Stanford in a 1st and 20 bind. Oregon starts from their 24 after Ottovegio pooches it too short.
9:50pm: 55-yard run from Stewart - the front seven looks dead - but great wheels by redshirt sophomore Kris Evans to chase across the field and shove Stewart out-of-bounds. That's why Stewart's not an NFL first-rounder though - a top back doesn't get caught there.
9:58pm: Stanford's defense holds the Ducks to a field goal. Vegas has to be sweating - that pushes the margin exactly to 17, which is the line last I saw. Everyone gets their money back, house wins nothing. Jason Evans fumbles the kickoff return and, after a lengthy review, it is indeed Oregon's ball.
10:02pm: Oregon misses a 21-yard field goal - Vegas is really steamed now. Next play is the catch of the season for a Stanford receiver - Ostrander's high and wide to Bradford, who responds with a simply beautiful one-armed grab, and gets the foot down just in bounds. Soon after though, Moore's blanketed and Ostrander is forced to eat it for a sack, which kills the drive.
10:08pm: Both teams trade punts. Stanford hasn't been able to put anything on the board since halftime. With 9:32 left in this one, the Cardinal are not going to win this one, but it sure would be nice to punch it in one more time. Credit to the students for staying. The section's still packed.
10:11pm: Might just get that score after all, as Ostrander finds Sherman on third down for 22 yards to keep the drive alive. Oregon seems to have called off the dogs and doesn't look to be rushing as hard though. Doesn't matter as Patrick Chung, All-Pac-10 safety, just earned his spot on that list for another year with an insane pick on a good Ostrander pass to Dray. From my vantage point, play wasn't telegraphed and the ball was on the money, Chung is just a playmaker.
10:17pm: I'm off to flirt with Oregon's cheerleaders, umm, I mean be escorted to the field for post-game interviews. Give Stanford credit. Oregon's too good - and they showed it in the second half - but Stanford played with heart tonight. The recruits in the stands had to be impressed, the players had to be proud, and I was certainly proud of my school. For the first time in years, there's a real reason to think this program is heading in the right direction.
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