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Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Oregon keeps on track on offense

By Ted Miller

Oregon has looked ragged on offense this year. Running back LaMichael James got hurt and missed a couple of games. Quarterback Darron Thomas got hurt and missed a game, then came back and was benched at halftime.

So things haven't been perfect this fall, at least not like 2010, when the Ducks were darn near perfect on offense.

Or is that actually just bunk?

It's mostly bunk.

Kenjon Barber
Serving as the No. 2 back in Oregon's offense, Kenjon Barber has amassed 601 yards on 89 carries with 8 touchdowns.
Oregon averaged 530.7 yards and 47 points per game last year. It's averaging 510.7 yards and 46 points this year. So the numbers are only slightly down. But the Ducks also are averaging more rushing yards (298.4 yards per game versus 286.2 in 2010) and have a better passing efficiency rating (158 versus 151.7).

The difference in total yards comes from passing: The Ducks averaged 244.5 yards passing in 2010. They are averaging 212 this year. That, obviously, can be attributed to losing the top two receivers from 2010, Jeff Maehl and D.J. Davis.

When Stanford coach David Shaw looks at the Ducks, he sees an offense that is a little different from 2010's edition. But still scary.

"Every year they tweak it," he said. "Every year they add something. They didn't use to pull a lot of linemen. Now they have a few plays where they pull the center, pull the guards. They give you enough to keep you off balance."

James said he thought the offense was faster. And the Ducks have packages when they get James on the field at the same time with Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff, players who are as dangerous in space as any in the Pac-12. Miss a tackle, and they are celebrating in the endzone.

"It's a tough matchup," Shaw said. "They've got a lot of team speed. They've got the best back in the nation. When he's not in there, they've got a guy [Barner] who is just as fast and runs just as hard... If you are out of position, they will find you."

Much is made of the Ducks storming back from a 21-3 deficit last year, as it should be. That was impressive. What many forget is the Ducks' 52-31 win was a 7-point game heading into the fourth quarter. But that's when the Stanford defense cracked, yielding a 25-yard touchdown pass and 76-yard touchdown run from James.

A first key to slowing the Ducks is not yielding big plays. A second key is not letting the big plays that almost certainly are going to happen have a negative emotional/psychological effect. A defense that starts to play paranoid is one that is ripe to be exploited by misdirection.

"It can be frustrating," Shaw said. "I've talked to my guys about composure. [The Ducks] are going to make some plays."

Oregon has won eight of the past nine against Stanford. The lone Ducks defeat in that span came in 2009, a 51-42 upset win for the Cardinal in Palo Alto, Calif. The key element in that game was the Cardinal building a 31-14 halftime lead and then not buckling when the Ducks made a couple of second-half runs. The Stanford defense yielded 570 yards, but it also held the Ducks to 71 plays. The Ducks had 80 last year and finished with 626 yards.

One thing that doesn't matter to Ducks coach Chip Kelly is playing on grass instead of the artificial turf at Autzen Stadium. He doesn't see a connection between the 2010 win and the 2009 loss.

"A lot is made when you lose on grass," Kelly said. "Then obviously it's the grass's fault. But if you win, no one talks about, 'Ah, you played on grass.' If they want to play in the parking lot, we'll play in the parking lot."

Stanford wouldn't want that. Asphalt is a faster surface.