Photo: USA Today Sports
College football, man.
Who knows how much time we’ve spent in the last month wondering what kind of mess we’d be in if three, four, or (gasp!) five teams finished the season undefeated. That’ll show the BCS! Let’s start the playoff now! I tried to tell everyone to pump the brakes, because if we know anything about college football, it’s that it never turns out the way we think it will.
It’s time to start pumping.
Oregon took it on the chin last night against Stanford, becoming the first of the true contenders to have its national title hopes erased. We should have seen it coming too.
This is what Oregon does.
Since 2010, the Ducks are 37-0 against unranked teams. In that span, they are 7-5 against ranked opponents. Oregon is built to destroy inferior teams, but they are not built for a dogfight.
Stanford employed the perfect game plan to beating Oregon on Thursday night. I mean that was just textbook. Line up with two (or three) tight ends and run it straight into the teeth of the line on offense; then blitz the hell out of your linebackers and blow up the Ducks’ offense in the backfield. There aren’t many teams out there with the personnel to beat Oregon. Stanford is one of them.
Oregon’s kryptonite always has been and always will be tremendous size on both sides of the ball. If the Ducks can’t get the ball to the second level of the defense, they are borderline inept offensively. Once they break through the first line of defense, no one is catching them. Stanford (and other teams like LSU, USC and Auburn in the past) has the size and strength on the line to disrupt Oregon in the backfield.
Talk all you want about Marcus Mariota’s injury, it didn’t change the game that much.
Marcus Mariota wasn’t playing defense when Stanford marched 96 yards not once, but twice in the first half alone for scores.
Marcus Mariota didn’t fumble on the goal line when the Ducks were trying to cut a 14-0 deficit in half in the second quarter, swinging momentum back to Stanford’s side. That was De’Anthony Thomas.
Mariota clearly wasn’t himself on Thursday night, but Stanford won this game in just about every area it could, many of which were out of the former Heisman favorite’s control.
So what next for Oregon? Have the Ducks peaked? They clearly have a model for the program and they’ve stuck to it. That model begins and ends with speed. That works great when you’re playing average-to-mediocre teams, but when you step up against the big boys, you’ve got to be able to stick your hand in the dirt and be a man.
But Oregon cannot do that, because Oregon is soft.
I don’t mean to take the attention away from Stanford, though. The Cardinal proved they are just as good as they’ve been in recent years, thanks to a workhorse running back in Tyler Gaffney, and a hard-nosed, veteran defense led by Shane Skov.
If only the Cardinal had not face planted against Utah, they would have a legitimate case to be ranked No. 1 next Monday. They now have four wins over ranked teams (three are currently ranked), and played arguably the most impressive 55 minutes of football that anyone’s played all season Thursday night. The Utah loss is too scathing, though, and the Cardinal will need more a few more dominoes to fall to have a shot at the national championship.
The great part about that, though, is that it’s not impossible. As much as we try to ignore it, college football always has a few tricks up its sleeve this time of year. Wait and see.