"Report Card-inal" Stanford 51, Oregon 42

In a week when it is admittedly hard to be a "tough" grader, given the impressive overall team victory against Oregon, Dave Fowkes breaks the Stanford squad's performance down on a unit-by-unit basis. There is plenty of room for continued improvement as the increasingly confident, but focused Cardinal heads down to LA to take on the revenge-seeking Trojans.



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.

Stanford beat the seventh-ranked team in the country 51-42. The grade seems pretty obvious on that one. Would anyone not award an A+ for that win, given the circumstances? It was certainly the biggest win for the Cardinal at Stanford Stadium in many years. But some of us do exist in this world to nit-pick, and that is where I come in.




Toby Gerhart rushed 38 times for a school record 223 yards. That seems "A"-worthy to me. His longest run was only 31 yards. This was not a cheap and easy 223 yards. This was a pound-it-out, gutsy performance. Gerhart was the difference-maker against a very underrated Oregon defense. Even when he would only gain three or four yards, Coach Jim Harbaugh would keep running him. They just kept pounding away and as the Ducks got tired, those three-yard efforts turned into eight and nine yards. I can only imagine how tired Toby must have been on Sunday.  Huge applause is also deserved by the offensive line. Chris Marinelli and David DeCastro were great on the right side of the line. Andrew Phillips had some amazing blocks as a pulling guard into the hole. Gerhart is a great running back, but he is getting a lot of support from an outstanding offensive line. Freshman Stepfan Taylor was held to 14 yards rushing off the bench and Andrew Luck only had but one significant run, gaining just 12 yards on the ground. This effort, and this win, belongs primarily to Gerhart and his offensive line.




When the season started everyone knew that Gerhart was the real deal, but would the passing game force defenses to play honestly and leave the field open for Gerhart? That was exactly what happened on Saturday. Andrew Luck made some incredible throws, and his receivers made all the catches. The Cardinal moved up and down the field nearly at will. Luck's statistics may not be eye-opening. He "only" completed 12 passes in a mere 20 attempts. He "only" threw for 251 yards. He "only" threw for two touchdowns. He "only" played one of his best games of the year! His passes went for more than 20 yards per completion! He played error-free football with no interceptions. When they needed a big play from the passing game, it was there. Lucks downfield strike to Chris Owusu for 40-yards was perfection. A well-covered Owusu turned just in time to see the ball arrive in his hands, chest-high. Owusu also made a great catch on the touchdown pass, turning his head from one side to the other to adjust to the ball. Ryan Whalen was solid again with four catches for 72 yards. Jim Dray and Coby Fleener both made important catches. The other key? The receivers made all the catches. The only real dropped ball was by Konrad Reuland in the end zone in the first quarter. But on a squad that has been plagued by frequent drops, it was a mighty fine performance. And another mention here of the offensive line, which did a great job of keeping Luck upright. Left tackle Jonathan Martin struggled a bit early, but he settled down as the game went along. If you are making a pass protection video, use Marinelli from this game. He appeared to be "text book" in his technique and his skill.




The run defense was pretty good overall. The unit did give up a couple of big runs. But as a whole they were able to contain a squad that ran right through USC. LaMichael James rushed for 125 yards on 18 carries. But if you take out his 60-yard touchdown run, that number is not too bad. QB Jason Masoli was unstoppable the week before. Yet Stanford was able to slow him down to 55 yards on 10 carries. The defensive line did a very nice job. When you hear coaches talk about "playing the gaps," Stanford did a very good job of that. Freshman Chase Thomas was often in the Oregon backfield standing up his blocker. Ekom Udofia was there to clean up the cut-back run to the tune of seven tackles in one of his best games. Freshman Shayne Skov had five tackles and made a few big plays, drawing one flag for excessive exuberance. Stanford forced Oregon to punt five times in the game - no one else has had success at doing that against the Ducks this season.




This is the unit that has struggled the most. Masoli threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns. Had it not been for some dropped passes these numbers would have been even higher. Thomas had a big sack but for the most part the pass rush was not there. The scheme though seemed built less on rushing the passer and more about staying in a gap to reduce the run risk on Masoli. When Oregon needed to turn up the volume, they were able to do so by throwing the ball all around the field. Delano Howell had a solid game at safety leading all tacklers with eight. Sophomore Johnson Bademosi made a few nice plays on defense. Richard Sherman returned to the starting lineup and had a couple of nice tackles. But too often, Oregon found receivers running wide open down the field. Too many times those receivers ended up getting beyond any Stanford defender. As a whole the unit played adequately in the first half and that helped Stanford build the much- needed lead. But there is still work to be done by the pass defense.




These units are the unsung heroes of the game. Nate Whitaker was named Pac-10 Special Teams player of the week. He was 3-for-4 on field goal kicks. He again missed an important fourth-quarter kick, but he more than made up for it by icing the game with his 48-yarder with 11-seconds left to play. Maybe more important were his kickoffs. Oregon's kickoff return team was one of the best in the country. Whitaker's kickoffs consistently landed between the goal line and the ten yard-line, and to one corner of the field, basically eliminating half the field from Oregon and making the coverage that much easier. The Ducks never returned a kickoff beyond the 40 and often times they were stuck inside the 20. The Cardinal kickoff return team fared much better, averaging over 30-yards per return including the big 77-yarder by Owusu to start the game.




The game plan was solid. The game plan was easy. Control the ball with Gerhart, plan to score a lot of points, and then make just enough defensive plays to win the game. It worked out perfectly. I know there are a lot of Stanford fans that questioned the decision to kick what turned into the game-icing field goal with seconds left, but the reality is the decision worked.




Stanford beat a very good Oregon Duck football team. It did it on a national stage. It did it convincingly. It will go down as one of the great victories for Stanford in this decade. (Granted there have not been many of them.) The victory is a "building-block" win that sets the stage for a potential big run here in November.




OFFENSE: When a team scores 51 points and has over 500 yards in offense, everybody gets a game ball. But a few who stood out: RB Toby Gerhart (the Pac-10 Player of the Week), QB Andrew Luck, the entire offensive line with bonus stars to senior OT Chris Marinelli, the attitudinal leader of the Tunnel Workers Union.


DEFENSE: The reverse is true, when a team gives up 42 points and 570 yards you would think it is hard to find many deserving, but a few stood out:  Chase Thomas, Ekom Udofia, Shayne Skov (I bet he never gets a taunting penalty the rest of his career).


SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Nate Whitaker (Pac-10 Player of the Week), KR Chris Owusu


Dave Fowkes is a longtime Stanford Cardinal fan. 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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