Oregon, Stanford take care of business
November, 6, 2011
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
SEATTLE -- In the preseason, it was circled in red ink. And green ink. Oregon's Nov. 12 visit to Stanford. It looked like a potential doozy in August. A game almost certain to have Pac-12 North and Rose Bowl implications. Perhaps even national title implications. But the operative word was "potential." There was a lot of business in advance of it that needed to be taken care of -- nine games, in fact.
As you all are certainly aware, you only play one game at a time.
Well, those other games are over and THE ONE GAME is here, after Oregon made Washington's final game in Husky Stadium an unhappy memorial in a 34-17 victory.
"I'm just excited that now we can say something about them," Oregon QB Darron Thomas said of Stanford.
"The only game we've lost in conference play the last three years is at Stanford," Ducks coach Chip Kelly said. "Unfortunately, the same kid is playing quarterback. ... It should be a heck of a game."
Ah, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. And how Stanford and Oregon took care of business on Saturday is telling. Neither had its A-game. But both delivered whippings on the road, with Stanford winning at Oregon State 38-13.
Stanford was expected to roll. The Huskies were supposed to challenge the Ducks. They were supposed to do that because they had an offense that could -- perhaps -- go blow for blow with Kelly's ludicrous speed crew.
Turns out variables were left out of that equation: the defenses, particularly Oregon's.
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenOregon's Eddie Pleasant intercepted Washington twice during the first half.
The Ducks forced three turnovers, sacked Washington QB Keith Price six times and held the Huskies to less than half their season's scoring average (35.6 points). The Huskies' defense mostly played well, considering the Ducks average 526.9 yards and 47.5 points. They had just 381 yards against a Huskies unit that had been yielding 430.4.
But the Huskies' defense couldn't keep up with the Ducks' defense.
"Whether it was our best effort or not, it feels like it right now," defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
Washington running back Chris Polk gained only 80 yards on 24 carries (3.3 yards per run). Price threw two interceptions and passed for just 143 yards.
"I was not anticipating our inability to block them up front and some uncharacteristic throws from Keith," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Mind you, it wasn't a bad day for the Ducks' offense. After being out of sync in the first half -- though nonetheless building a 17-10 lead -- it asserted itself in the third quarter with TD drives of 90 and 70 yards. Kelly was particularly pleased with the 90-yard drive on the first possession of the third quarter, which served to quash the momentum the Huskies had built with a late first-half TD and a missed Ducks field goal on the last play of the second quarter.
Kelly said the drive was "huge," and it earned his players a special reward.
"I told those guys I was so proud of their performance I'm going to give them an extra hour of sleep tonight," he said.
What? You didn't know that Kelly is in charge of Daylight Saving's Time?
Further good offensive news for Oregon is the solid play of running back LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas. James rushed for 156 yards and a TD, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Thomas had a first-quarter turnover, suffered through some dropped passes, but seemed to get comfortable in the second half. He completed 13-of-25 for 169 yards and a score with no interceptions. Both had shown some rust last week against Washington State, particularly Thomas.
Thomas wants to have his best game for Stanford, and not just because the game likely decides the Pac-12 North champion. Thomas has history with Cardinal QB Andrew Luck, who also played high school ball in the Houston area.
"Big-time competition," Thomas said through a grin. "He beat me in high school two times. I got my victory last year. I'm just trying to tie it up."
Ah, last year. Stanford jumped to a 21-3 lead in Autzen Stadium before Oregon exploded for a 52-31 win. The last time the Ducks lost a conference game, it was at Stanford. And the game last year was the last time Stanford lost, period. Oregon has won 18 conference games in a row. Stanford has won 17 in a row, the nation's longest winning streak.
"If they thought they were challenged this week, then crank it up a couple of notches because we are going to get challenged next week," Kelly said.
When the schedule came out, Nov. 12 stood out. Now Oregon and Stanford have taken care of their business. The lone blemish between them is the Ducks' season-opening loss to top-ranked LSU, which hardly seems too embarrassing these days.
We have played one game at a time. We have honored the sports cliche.
Now we get to look ahead to THE GAME.
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