Luck, Gerhart & Stanford aren't afraid of the Ducks

November, 5, 2009
11/05/09
12:21
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Neither Toby Gerhart nor Andrew Luck went trick-or-treating last Saturday night. No, Stanford's star running back and up-and-coming redshirt freshman quarterback stayed home and watched a horror movie on Halloween night.

 
 Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE
 Redshirt freshman QB Andrew Luck has thrown nine TD passes and just three interceptions.
It was called: "Oregon 47, USC 20."

(Cue shower scene music from "Psycho.")

The Ducks, flying like a flock of Jason Voorhees -- only faster -- visit Stanford on Saturday.

"Oregon is good," Gerhart said. "They looked really good. Their offense looked practically unstoppable. And their defense held USC down."

Said Luck, "It was interesting, a very good game. I don't think anybody saw it coming, including myself. I was very impressed with Oregon's defense, the manner in which they played, how fast they played, their intensity, their attitude."

Stanford folks, from Gerhart, to Luck, to coach Jim Harbaugh, said nice things about No. 8-ranked Oregon (7-1, 5-0) all week.

But, while respectful, there was just a hint of their words flowing through confident grins.

This is a team that, as 41-point underdogs, two years ago stunned No. 2 USC in the Coliseum.The Ducks needed a desperate, last-second drive to beat the Cardinal last season in Autzen Stadium.

In three seasons, Harbaugh has created a physical, confident team that believes it can beat anyone. And it's won eight of its last nine home games.

"I don't think we'll be intimidated," Luck said.

The twin pillars of Stanford's upset hopes are Gerhart and Luck. The Ducks are going to score against the Cardinal defense, which is solid but lacks across-the-board speed. The Cardinal's best chance on that side of the ball is for Oregon's offense to come out flat -- perhaps still dwelling on the dominant performance against USC -- which could lead to a handful of drive-killing mistakes.

Luck and Gerhart give Stanford (5-3, 4-2) a balanced, ball-control, first-down churning attack that could cause the Ducks' fast, swarming defense some problems.

"The big difference with them between last year and this year is the play of Andy Luck," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "I think he's one of the top quarterbacks around. He allows them to be balanced and doesn't allow you to gang up on the run game."

 
Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE 
Toby Gerhart ranks seventh in the nation with 124.3 yards rushing per game. 
Luck, just a redshirt freshman, ranks 16th in the nation in passing efficiency. He's thrown nine touchdown passes with just three interceptions.

But his main quality is forcing defenses to respect the downfield passing game and play the Cardinal straight, instead of ganging up on Gerhart, the 237-pound workhorse who ranks seventh in the nation with 124.3 yards rushing per game.

"I think people's main focus is still to stop the run when they play us, but it's definitely been a more balanced attack for us," Harbaugh said.

Both Luck and Gerhart benefit from playing behind a physical offensive line that features just one senior and two redshirt freshmen. That line has given up just five sacks, while leading an offense that is No. 1 in the Pac-10 in first downs per game (21.5) and time of possession.

In other words, Stanford might try to play keep-away from Oregon, burn the clock and shorten the game with long drives.

Oregon's defense ranks among the national leaders in total, scoring and pass defense, but it has been gashed at times against the run, surrendering 122 yards per game, which ranks sixth in the Pac-10.

Stanford seems confident it can pull off the upset. A sixth victory would make them bowl-eligible for the first time since 2001.

But that's not all the Cardinal want. They are thinking bigger.

"We want (to beat Oregon) a lot, but that being said, it's not our only goal," Luck said. "There's not a bunch of talk in the locker room, 'We just need one more! We just need one more!' It's more, 'Let's try to win all of these.'"

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