NCF Nation: Cardinal-Ducks-100210

EUGENE, Ore. -- He Who Shall Not Be Named can now be named. Jeremiah Masoli? Neh. The "oh, what might have been!" is gone. Oregon doesn't need him. Sure, the Ducks offense ran at ludicrous speed with him last year. But their 2010 spread-option offense is running at double-secret ludicrous speed.

Sophomore Darron Thomas, the quarterback replacement after Masoli got the boot, is doing just fine, thank you very much, see 626 yards of offense in the fourth-ranked Ducks 52-31 win over No. 9 Stanford. He's doing so well, in fact, that he might help running back LaMichael James win the Heisman Trophy.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesLaMichael James rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries against Stanford.
That Thomas completed 20 of 29 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns isn't the big news. He's always been a promising passer. It's that he rushed for a career-high 117 yards and score, too. He rushed for just 102 yards in the previous four games.

"We can put those rumors to bed that he can't run the football," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said. "He's everything you'd want in a quarterback."

Why is Thomas' success running important to James? Because when a defense can't entirely key on James in the spread-option, James is going to kill it. And by that we mean, say, rushing for 257 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries. Stanford's defense, by the way, was yielding just 256 yards per game. That number is headed north.

Know how many yards James lost with those 31 carries? Zero.

James entered the contest ranked fifth in the nation in rushing with 151.7 yards per game (the NCAA and Pac-10 got the numbers wrong this week, giving James 158.3 per game). A marquee performance on a big stage surely raised his Q-rating. Or H-rating.

"Tonight, I feel like I was running on all cylinders," he said. "I was running physically. I was really aggressive. I played with a lot more energy."

James said that he didn't feel like that was the case earlier in the season.

"I think he was trying to dance in some (early) games," Kelly said. "When he really trusts his speed -- that last touchdown run was a blur."

That last TD run went for 72 yards. It was his third run of 20 or more yards in the game. He has 30 of those over the past two years, more than any other back in the nation.

As for Thomas, he led the offensive onslaught -- the Ducks were down 21-3 before outscoring the Cardinal 49-10 the rest of the way -- after throwing two first-half interceptions. So far this season, he's displayed notable moxie, showing no ill-effects when he makes mistakes. This was the third time this season he's led the Ducks back from double-digit early deficits.

"He's definitely coming along," center Jordan Holmes said. "And I can't wait to see how far he can go because he gets better and better every week. He's just a kid. He's got a lot more football to play. I'm really looking forward to see what he becomes in the future."

Of course, the present looks pretty darn good. The Ducks, who visit Washington State next weekend, are 5-0 and figure to enter the national title discussion. It's possible, in fact, they'll get more than a few votes at No. 2 behind Alabama and ahead of Ohio State.

Such talk doesn't go very far with the Ducks, though, who seemed to have bought in to Kelly's whole "win the day" philosophy. And it's not surprising that James said he "didn't care" about Heisman Trophy buzz.

"I don't want to be sitting at the house with a Heisman Trophy and we're 5-5," he said. "I'd rather be 12-0, 13-0 with no Heisman Trophy."

It's then noted to James that those two events -- undefeated and stiff-arm trophy -- often are intertwined, see last year's winner, Alabama's Mark Ingram.

James relents: "If the Heisman Trophy comes with winning games, I'll take it."

If he keeps running like he did against Stanford, he might. And if Thomas continues his rapid evolution into ... wait for it... Dennis Dixon (ha!), the Ducks might be up to some big things, too.

Video: Breaking down Oregon's win

October, 3, 2010

Ivan Maisel and Ted Miller break down Oregon’s win and where the Ducks belong in the title chase.

Video: Oregon's LaMichael James

October, 3, 2010

Oregon running back LaMichael James talks about his dominating performance in the win over Stanford.

Instant analysis: Oregon 52, Stanford 31

October, 2, 2010
EUGENE, Ore. -- No. 4 Oregon announced itself as a national title contender with a 52-31 win over No. 9 Stanford

How the game was won: Oregon fell behind 21-3, then outscored Stanford 49-10. Two of the early Cardinal TDs came on short fields after turnovers. In other words, this was a dominant performance by a very good team over a pretty good team.

Turning point: After Oregon narrowed its early deficit to 21-10, coach Chip Kelly called for an onside kick. It worked, and the Ducks then drove for another TD. Stanford would score only 10 more points, while the Ducks offense never slowed down. And it stopped making big mistakes.

Stat of the game: Oregon had nearly 500 yards after three quarters and finished with 626. Stanford entered the game giving up just 256 yards per game.

Co-player of the game: Running back LaMichael James made himself a Heisman Trophy candidate, while QB Darron Thomas now will have Ducks fans going,"Jeremiah Who?" James rushed for 257 yards on 31 carries with three touchdowns, while Thomas completed 20-of-29 for 238 yards with three TDs. He also rushed for 117 yards and a score.

Unsung hero of the game: Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Sure, Stanford's offense had the upper hand early, but the Ducks defense seems to get stronger as a game goes along. How many points has Oregon yielded in the second half in five games? Seven. And none from Stanford.

What it means: This game shouldn't change anyone's mind that Stanford is good. This was more about showing the country how good Oregon is. The Ducks now enter the national title hunt, and it will be interesting to see how much of a bounce in they get in national polls.


Oregon is asserting itself on both sides

October, 2, 2010
EUGENE, Org. -- Stanford had 256 yards at halftime. It had 63 yards -- and no points -- in the third quarter.

The Ducks defense made some nice adjustments at halftime, eh?

Moreover, in the duel of potential Heisman Trophy candidates, LaMichael James is winning: He's got 144 yards rushing and two TDs.

But the bigger revelation is Darron Thomas outplaying Andrew Luck.

Sure, he threw a bad pick in the first half. But that just makes it even more impressive that he has been so good in the second half. For the game, he's completed 20-of-29 for 238 yards and three TDs. Oh, and he's rushed for 117 yards a score.

Halftime: Stanford 31, Oregon 24

October, 2, 2010
EUGENE, Ore. -- Ladies and gentlemen, we have a barnburner with Stanford up 31-24 at the half.

First one to 60 wins?

Or did that little bit of defense we saw from both teams at the end signal things to come?

Stat of the half: 623. That's the combined number of total yards. Oregon had 367. Cardinal entered ranked 11th in nation in total defense, giving up just 256 yards per game.

Best players in the half: Both offensive stars -- Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James -- showed up. Luck is 12-of-16 for 145 yards with two TDs. He also has rushed three times for 17 yards and a TD. James has rushed for 84 yards on 12 carries with a TD.

Best call: After Oregon narrowed its deficit to 21-10, coach Chip Kelly called for an onside kick. It worked, and the Ducks then drove for another TD.

What Stanford needs to do; What Oregon needs to do: Stanford needs to keep its balance, but perhaps lean more on the power running game. First, it helps with keep away and eating the clock. Second, even though the Ducks play a lot of guys and are a well-conditioned team, there is always a wear-down factor against a physical O-line. As for Oregon, it should be fine if it avoids turnvovers and penalties. Fourteen of the Cardinal's points came on short fields after Ducks turnovers.

EUGENE, Ore. -- Everything is going Stanford's way and it leads 21-3 after one quarter.

Of course, Oregon can bounce back and score. But can it get stops?

And how will Darron Thomas react to that terrible interception on a middle screen?

This feels a lot like last year's game. Stanford jumped ahead in that one 24-7 before the Ducks rallied (and lost 51-42).

QBs come out firing

October, 2, 2010
EUGENE, Ore. -- We've had nine passes and no incompletions.

Both Oregon's Darron Thomas and Stanford's Andrew Luck were sharp on opening drives, though the Cardinal is probably happier with a TD than the Ducks are with their field goal.

And the Ducks provided the first big mistake -- a Cliff Harris fumble on the kickoff at the Ducks 12.

Field goals instead of TDs will matter in this one, which should be high-scoring. And mistakes deep in your territory will kill you.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Stanford was without leading receiver Ryan Whalen last weekend at Notre Dame due to an elbow injury. Perhaps that was a factor in why the Cardinal's passing wasn't sharp.

Whalen is warming up with his teammates, sporting a bulky black sleeve on his left arm. Word is that he will play, which will give QB Andrew Luck one of his favorite weapons back.

That said: The sleeve could be a distraction. It certainly won't help him catch the ball. And you'd think he might be a little shy leading with his left arm while blocking.

Having Whalen is better than no Whalen. But it remains to be seen if he will play a big role or operate as more of a decoy.
EUGENE, Ore. -- It's a beautiful day here for a top-10 matchup.

The last time that happened with Stanford-Oregon? Never. In 74 previous meetings, both teams have never been ranked at game time.

How big is the No. 9 Cardinal's visit to No. 4 Oregon? The winner not only becomes the Pac-10 front-runner, it also enters the national title discussion.

Last year, Oregon went to Stanford as the nation's hottest team but left a 51-42 loser. That ended a seven-game Ducks winning streak against Stanford. In fact, the Ducks, winners of 12 in a row at home, have won four consecutive meetings in Autzen Stadium by a combined count of 159-52.

But this is a much different Stanford team.

The Cardinal are physical on both sides of the ball. The question is are they physical enough overcome the Ducks' speed advantage?

Stanford, which hasn't posted a 5-0 start since 1951, is healthy. Both safety Michael Thomas (ankle) and receiver Ryan Whalen (elbow) are expected to play. Early in the week, it didn't seem that would be the case.

Not only are there national stakes for the teams, there also are for individual players.

If Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck puts up big numbers in a marquee road game, it's likely he immediately becomes a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. On the other sideline, Ducks running back LaMichael James, the nation's second-leading rusher, also could put his name in the mix. He's the nation's best home run threat: Will he be a slugger tonight?

The Ducks have been in this position before. In fact, the previous three top-10 Pac-10 matchups involved the Ducks, who triumphed each time: Oct. 27, 2007 -- No. 5 Oregon defeated No. 9 USC, 24-17; Nov. 3, 2007 -- No. 4 Oregon defeated No. 6 Arizona State, 35-23; Oct. 31, 2009 -- No. 10 Oregon defeated No. 4 USC, 47-20.

All were in Autzen Stadium, which is the best home-field advantage in the Pac-10.