Defensive analysis: DBs vs Oregon

That's what I'm talking about! The good guys come out on top 51-42 against No. 8 Oregon in a huge win for the Stanford football team. Oregon comes off of a huge win against USC, only to get smacked in the mouth by a more physical Stanford team. We are now bowl eligible and still in the hunt for the Pac-10 title...

Oregon's spread option offense creates a unique problem for defenses which, coupled with the right personnel, is practically impossible to stop. Hats off to the Stanford defense for slowing down Oregon's explosive offense enough to allow us to hang on to this victory. Let me tell you, this is not an easy task. Oregon is one of only two schools that I never beat in my five years playing here at Stanford. As you can imagine, I was very happy to see our boys come out on top this week.

The key to slowing down this offense is discipline. The front seven must control their gaps and not allow all the option fakes and motion going on in the backfield to distract them from doing so. The back four must have great eyes and not give up the big play. Corners are responsible for containing the ball so Oregon's fast skill players can not get outside the defense and race to a long gain. The safeties might have the toughest job against a team like Oregon, because they have to deal with a lot of misdirection, play fakes, screens,and deep passes.

Oregon thrives on quick scores off big plays. To beat a team like this, a defense must eliminate the big play, force the offense to drive the field, and create turnovers. Stanford did not completely eliminate the big play, but was successful enough to get us the W. Now let's look at how our DBs faired in the game.

Stanford DBs: CB #9 Richard Sherman, CB #27 Johnson Bademosi, SS #26 Delano Howell, FS #22 Bo McNally, nickelback #3 Michael Thomas

First quarter

On the first play from scrimmage, cornerback Richard Sherman makes a nice play tackling #23 Jeff Maehl for no gain on a quick pass. This shows progress, our corners have had trouble this year reacting to the quick pass from "off" coverage. On this play, Sherman was off the line of scrimmage about eight yards and was still able to read the QB and close in on Maehl and make a sure tackle for no gain.

On the next play, the front seven do a fantastic job of holding their gaps and stringing the run to the outside. Senior FS Bo McNally read the play perfectly and is there to make the tackle on Oregon RB LaMichael James for a one yard gain.

Then, on third down, Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli fires incomplete and Oregon is forced to punt. Three and out! Stanford leads 3-0 and will keep good field position for the next drive.

After a Toby Gerhart score, Oregon starts their next series with a 20-yard gain from WR Jamere Holland on speed sweep around the outside. Stanford's strong safety Delano Howell, has got to keep contain and force this ball back to his teammates who are running hard to the ball. Howell is in his first year on the defensive side of the ball, and he will learn quickly that against a team like Oregon we cannot let the ball get outside of our defense.

A few plays later, Oregon's RB busts through the middle for a 60-yard touchdown run. On this particular play, it looks like Stanford LB/FB Owen Marecic and DT Sione Fua are both in the same gap. This leaves an open hole for James and a clear path to an untouched TD. In all fairness to Sione Fua, he was completely mugged by an Oregon offensive lineman, being held and pulled by the facemask while trying to fight back and close the open gap. Now where are the safeties? McNally and Howell were both occupied by bubble screen looks on the outside. This is what makes Oregon so hard to defend against. They spread the field so far, and take the safeties out of the middle so one missed tackle or blown assignment creates a 60 yard touchdown. Stanford still leads 10-7.

On Oregon's next possession they start the drive with another speed sweep around the outside. This time McNally is there to force the ball back inside, and Oregon picks up a modest six-yard gain. This is a prime example of a senior leader being disciplined and preventing a long run by doing his job, which is to contain the football. Oregon picks up one first down before being forced to punt after an incomplete pass on third and six. Stanford leads 17-7.

Second quarter

Oregon's first drive of the second quarter starts off with a short pass from Masoli to WR Lavasier Tuinei for five yards. Bo McNally is there to make the tackle. These short passes do not hurt us against a team like Oregon.

On the next play, Masoli scampers for a 25-yard gain off of the read option. These are the kind of big plays that Oregon thrives off and our defense must prevent.

Then, just as the Oregon offense seems to be hitting its stride, senior cornerback Kris Evans comes up with an outstanding tackle, strip, and fumble recovery! This is exactly what we needed. This is an incredible effort by Evans, as he flat out takes the ball from Oregon TE Ed Dickinson. If we can make Oregon drive the field, we can capitalize on their mistakes and create turnovers.

Sudden change! The Stanford defense is back on the field after RB Toby Gerhart fumbles the ball right back to the Oregon offense.

On the first play, Oregon goes up top for a 29-yard touchdown pass from Masoli to Maehl. This is exactly what a quick strike offense like Oregon's wants to do after a turnover. They want to go deep and take advantage of the momentum swing with a quick TD. These are things that the younger players will learn through more game experience. You learn, through film study and game experience, when teams like to take a shot. This was an excellent call by Oregon's offensive coordinator. It is hard to tell exactly what happened on this play because of the TV coverage. It looks like Oregon's play action pass, basically their version of the bootleg, got our safeties confused and allowed #23 Maehl to get behind the defense for an easy TD and another big play for the Oregon offense. Stanford leads 24-14.

After Stanford FB Owen Marecic scores another touchdown for the Card, Oregon starts its next series with a play action pass that is nearly picked off by #22 Bo McNally. On this play Bo shows his football instincts by cutting in front of Oregon WR Jeff Maehl and coming very close to an INT. I love the diving effort Bo makes here, attempting to make an incredible interception; however, he has to be careful because Maehl almost catches this pass after it glances off of Bo's diving hands. As the rule goes: if you take it, you make it, meaning if you take the chance you better make the play, or it's going to be a TD.

After a questionable spot gives Oregon a first down, Masoli is sacked on consecutive plays and Oregon is forced to punt. DEs Thomas Keiser and Chase Thomas get the credit for the two sacks on Masoli, and the DBs hold up their end of the bargain, as there was nowhere to throw for Masoli. Stanford still leads 24-14.

Stanford's first punt sets up Oregon's last series of the first half. Masoli picks up a few yards on a first down before nearly being picked off by CB Richard Sherman on a slant intended for WR Jeff Maehl. Sherman provided tight press coverage and was all over the slant pattern to break the pass up. Then, on third and 11, Masoli throws deep for Jamere Holland. Stanford CB Johnson Bademosi matches Holland stride for stride down the field and breaks up the pass to set up another Oregon punt. Our corners are improving their coverage skills as they get more experience, now I want to see them get to the next level and start making some interceptions! Both of these passes could have been picked off. We are going to need to come up with turnovers in these situations to win close games down the road. I am excited about young Bademosi. He seems to be getting more and more comfortable as he receives more playing time.

The defense played an outstanding first half, with the exception of two big plays that accounted for Oregon's only two scores. That being said, holding Oregon to 14 first-half points is something to be proud of. On Oregon's five other first-half possessions, they punted four times and fumbled once. Stanford goes into the locker room ahead 31-14!

Third quarter

Oregon opens up the third quarter putting together a good drive. Masoli completes a pass to TE Ed Dickinson over the middle to pick up a first down and get into Stanford territory. Two plays later, on second and 10, Masoli connects with WR Jamere Holland for a 40-yard touchdown score. Again, with the TV coverage, it is very hard to see exactly what is going on in the defensive backfield. This is another play-action pass that seems to cause safety Bo McNally and corner Johnson Bademosi some confusion as to who was responsible for Holland. The result: another big play that puts Oregon back with in ten points of the Cardinal, 31-21.

On Oregon's next series, they pick up a first down on consecutive runs by James and Masoli. A few plays later, on third and 16, Masoli gets out of the pocket and finds Maehl down the sideline in what looks like a first down reception. But, the Card catch a break as Maehl is flagged for offensive pass interference. This is a great call by the officials. Sherman is in solid coverage looking back for the ball as Maehl grabs Sherman and swipes him by creating the separation needed for the catch. This is a call that we as DBs rarely get, so I would like to see Sherman play a little more physical and not allow Maehl to brush him by so easily. But I am glad to see Sherman looking back trying to make a play on the ball.

On the next play, Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli tries to connect with Holland down the sideline, but #27 Johnson Bademosi is there to break up the pass. Bademosi is reading the eyes and hands of Holland, and is able to knock the ball away just as Holland reaches up to make the catch. The Ducks are forced to punt, and Stanford is able to maintain its two-possession lead, 31-21.

Oregon finds itself at third and seven on their next series. Oregon's offensive coordinator catches Stanford in a blitz, and calls a very well-executed screen pass to RB LaMichael James that goes for 55 yards down to the Stanford three-yard line. The blitz put Stanford in a bad position, but Sherman and Howell both had chances to bring James down for about a 10 to 15-yard gain. Michael Thomas showed impressive effort and speed by running down James and giving Stanford a chance at a goaline stand. But Masoli runs in the next play for an Oregon TD. 38-28.

Oregon's next drive starts as Jamere Holland runs around the corner for an 18 yard gain. Richard Sherman loses contain and lets Holland get outside, where he is able to pick up good yardage. After a few short runs, Oregon sits at fourth and three. On a brilliant call by defensive coordinator Ron Lynn, Michael Thomas blitzes off the edge and stuffs Masoli and the read option in the backfield! Turnover on downs. What a play by the youngster, and what a call by the coach!

Fourth quarter

Oregon scores on its first drive of the fourth quarter after a long 12 plays and 81 yards, making the score 48-35. Masoli is very effective on this drive of getting out of the pocket and finding holes in our zone coverages. In order to disrupt a QB like Masoli, our defensive ends must keep him in the pocket and make him be a pocket passer. Masoli is much more effective outside of the pocket, where he can see better and use his athleticism to create plays. Also, the longer the play goes on, the easier it is for WRs to find soft spots in the zone as they are no longer running specific routes but just running to open spots in the defense. Oregon is running out of time and as long as Stanford doesn't give up scores on big plays, Oregon will not be able to score fast enough to win the ball game.

Oregon makes a valiant effort on its last series of the ball game, covering 74 yards in a lightning fast 54-second scoring drive. This is exactly the kind of drive Stanford cannot afford, giving up big chunks of yardage and a quick score.

Fortunately, this drive proved too little too late, as Stanford runs out the clock and caps off the victory with a 49-yard field goal by Nate Whitaker.

Stanford's defense was not as impressive in the second half, giving up four touchdowns to Oregon's explosive offense. But, playing with a lead, Stanford's defense made Oregon drive the field, and they did not have enough time to catch up at the end of the game. Overall, although there is plenty of room for improvement, I am proud of how our defense played against this Oregon offense. I am glad this game is over, because we will not see another offense like this for the rest of the season.

Saturday, we take on USC in the Coliseum, who is obviously no slouch, but they play a much more traditional offense. I am excited to see the improvements by our DBs in tighter coverage and much better reactions to short throws in our zone coverage. To improve next week, I would like to see us keep contain better and prevent USC's offense from scoring on big plays. And as always, we need to create more turnovers!

Go Card!

Before graduating with the Class of 2007, cornerback Nick Sanchez (#2) was one of Stanford's top cornerbacks in recent memory. In his final game on the Farm, his two interceptions sealed the Cardinal's first Big Game victory in far too long, 20-13 over Cal. Look for much more from Nick in the weeks to come!

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