Stanford Football: Darron Thomas

Pac-12's lunch links

February, 26, 2014
Yeah, but when was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a damn chemistry experiment?

Pac-12 lunch links: Cooks is top WR

December, 13, 2013
Happy Friday.
Taking a cue from the guys at the Big Ten blog, who recently looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers in that conference in 2012, I thought it would be worth a look at the Pac-12 group.

For the B1g boys, 3,000 yards might seem like a bench mark. In the Pac-12, it's more common, given the brand of football played in the league and seemingly never-ending parade of amazing throwers and catchers who grace the Pac-12 each year. Heck, the conference had two 4,000-yard passers on 2011 in Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler.

But those two are gone -- and so are their head coaches, coordinators and offensive schemes.

Here are the members of the 3K club last season:

  • Foles, Arizona, 4,329
  • Osweiler, Arizona State, 4,036
  • Matt Barkley, USC, 3,528 (returning)
  • Andrew Luck, Stanford, 3,517
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 3,328 (returning)
  • Keith Price, Washington, 3,063 (returning)
[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC's Matt Barkley seems like a sure bet to throw for 3,000-plus yards this coming season.
Now let's look at the conference quarterbacks in 2012 and see who has the best chance of cracking the 3K mark.

Matt Scott, Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's spread option is primarily run-first, and I couldn't find a 3,000-yard passer to his credit as a head coach. The closest anyone got was Denard Robinson, who hit 2,570 in 2010. History says probably not.

TBD, Arizona State: Another up-tempo, run-first offense -- though Todd Graham has had more success in the air. G.J. Kinne hit 3,650 passing yards for Tulsa in 2010, but that was also his second year in the system. With a workhorse running back like Cameron Marshall, a deep running back corps and a green quarterback, 3K seems unlikely.

Zach Maynard, Cal: Just 10 more yards. Just one more little swing pass or one broken tackle and Maynard would have joined the 3K club after throwing for 2,990 yards last season. All indications are that he had a good spring, and he looks more comfortable in the offense. Plus, he's got one of the best receivers in the country in Keenan Allen. Maynard should get there.

TBD, Colorado: Tyler Hansen ( who is now gone) almost got there last season, throwing for 2,883 yards even though his leading receiver in catches was running back Rodney Stewart (who is now gone). Toney Clemons (who is now gone) led in yards, and Paul Richardson (who is out for the season with a knee injury) was second. The odds are slim that Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman will improve off Hansen's numbers with so much turnover.

TBD, Oregon: Does it really matter? Darron Thomas knocked on the door last season with 2,761 yards. But establishing the pass isn't exactly priority No. 1 for the Ducks. Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of De'Anthony Thomas, who can turn 5-yard passes into 50-yard completions. But with the Ducks carrying a 62-38 run-pass percentage last season, it's unlikely they'll stray from that formula, which means it's unlikely a new quarterback will reach 3K.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: One of six quarterbacks in the conference last season to break 3K, Mannion threw for 3,328 yards in his debut campaign. Vows from coach Mike Riley to re-commit to the running game should actually enhance Mannion's numbers. And with receivers like Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks on the outside, there is no reason to think he won't top 3,000 again.

TBD, Stanford: Despite a run-first, pro-style attack, Luck still threw for 3,517 yards. The Cardinal were 55-45 in their run-pass ratio last season, and a lot of Luck's aerial success came from his ability to successfully sell play-action and distribute the ball among many position groups. But the top three receivers (Griff Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener) are gone, and you can't bank on the new quarterback being as efficient as Luck. Expect a healthy dose of running back Stepfan Taylor, meaning Luck's replacement probably won't break 3K.

TBD, UCLA: The Bruins joined Utah last season as the only teams that did not have a passer ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in the conference. That will change this season with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone -- the architect of Osweiler's 4K season. The ball will be in the air a lot more than it was in the pistol offense. But seeing as there is so much uncertainty still -- and we could see multiple quarterbacks this season -- it's too tough to call. If one guy starts the entire season, I could see it.

Matt Barkley, USC: Yes, yes, 3,000 times, yes.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: I'd say it's 50-50 for Wynn at this point. The Utes have a very good running back in John White, and coach Kyle Whittingham likes the control game. But Wynn did toss 2,334 yards in 2010 in 10 games. If DeVonte Christopher has the big season many are predicting, and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson dials up the aggressiveness, I could see it happening. As always, unfortunately, every conversation regarding Wynn has to be stipulated with an "if he stays healthy" until he proves otherwise.

Keith Price, Washington: Had it not been for a career-high 438 passing yards against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, Price would have come up way short of the 3K club. But he's in. And without Chris Polk to lean on, we could see Price's passing numbers go up. Prior to the bowl game, he only had one 300-yard game. He has a good chance to repeat as a 3,000-yard passer, but it's not a lock.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Mike Leach hasn't named him the starter, but, come on. He lit it up in the spring, and showed to be a quick study in learning the new offense. With a deep and talented crop of wide receivers -- headlined by Marquess Wilson -- and an offense that throws three out of every four times, Tuel should easily clear 3K.
Quarterback competitions are going to be all the rage in the Pac-12 this spring and heading up until the start of the 2012 season opener. Stanford and Oregon will be losing tremendous productivity from outgoing signal-callers Andrew Luck and Darron Thomas.

Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders looked at which quarterback competition battles matter most nationally Insider -- and Stanford and Oregon were right there in the mix.

The article has some interesting stats about which quarterback-reliant teams had a harder time adjusting -- looking specifically at the 2009 and 2010 seasons -- and which ones had easier transitions because the offense didn't rely as heavily on the quarterback spot.

Baylor tops the list as having the most critical quarterback transition -- with Robert Griffin III accounting for 65.4 percent of the Bears' offense.

Here's Fremeau on Stanford and Luck, who accounted for 57.6 percent of the Cardinal offense last season.
[Luck's] contribution to Stanford's total offense falls between the heavy production and light production range, however, and the offense under David Shaw can still be successful, since it is powered by a strong ground game as much as it was by Luck's arm.

Oregon falls under the rating of "less critical QB transitions" with Thomas accounting for 40.5 percent of the Ducks' offense. Fremeau on Oregon:
The Ducks have had sustained success over the last few years, precisely because they distribute the ball to an arsenal of offensive weapons and don't lean too heavily on the quarterback. The Ducks ranked fourth nationally in total offense but didn't have a single individual player rank among the top 50 nationally in total offense last season.

Breakout RBs to watch in 2012

January, 27, 2012
Who are the potential breakout running backs in 2012? Glad you asked, because ESPN's KC Joyner tackled that very question and a pair of Pac-12 running backs landed on his top five list Insider.

USC running back Curtis McNeal checks in at No. 1 overall. With a moderate strength of schedule and four returning offensive linemen, here's what Joyner had to say about McNeal:
Losing first-round NFL draft pick Matt Kalil at left tackle is a negative, but getting the other four starting offensive linemen back means the quality portion of these numbers can be replicated. And since McNeal is likely to get a significant portion of the 125 carries Marc Tyler (lost to graduation) posted last season, it means McNeal's chances of getting an increased quantity of carries are also quite strong.

Not far behind McNeal in the No. 3 spot is Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, who is expected to have three of his big men back in front of him next season.

Here's Joyner's take:
The Ducks' run-blocking win rate was also quite impressive, so much so that Barner would likely have ranked higher than this were it not for Oregon losing two starting offensive linemen to graduation. Losing quarterback Darron Thomas also could cause some early transition issues, even though Bryan Bennett, Thomas' likely replacement, should be able to put together a strong season.

And even though he's not on Joyner's list, I'm going to throw Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor in there as well. Maybe I'm biased because I'm the Stanford blogger. Or maybe it's that the guy has rushed for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons while in a four-back rotating system and no one outside of Palo Alto seems to recognize the skills. (Actually, five backs when you consider Stanford's use of the fullback.)

Granted, this list is "breakout" backs. But Taylor's contributions continually seem to get overlooked. So much so that every year it feels like he has to have another "breakout" season just to get recognition. So keep an eye on that guy also in 2012.

Stanford mailbag

January, 24, 2012
TJ in San Francisco writes: (Regarding Darron Thomas is leaving early). I think most of us (including me) had chalked up next year's game at Oregon as a loss... what do you think our chances of beating them are now? Should we be more worried about Oregon or Washington in the Pac 12 North?

Kevin Gemmell: If I can steal an old cliché that's pretty popular around The Farm, worry about yourselves, not the other guys. Worry about who is going to play the two safety spots and who will make the defensive calls against the Ducks, not who is under center or in their backfield. Oregon has plenty of firepower -- and will for the foreseeable future. Are they any more vulnerable without Thomas? Maybe. Just as Stanford is more vulnerable without Andrew Luck. And yes, I think Washington is also a big concern -- especially since that is a road game next year with a new starting quarterback for Stanford. If Keith Price continues to mature at the rate he's going, Washington will be a player in the North.

Tyler in "The District" writes: Hey Kevin. If the Heisman trophy voting happened today, would Robert Griffin III still win? To me, it seems that some voters may have previously voted erroneously; more in tune with a fad than sound judgment. Now that time has passed, would voters sober up from the intoxicating RG3 performance against the Longhorns? (By the way, Texas isn't what they used to be and no one seems to care.) Or would they vote for a guy like Luck who wasn't losing 49-3 against Okie State? PS: Don't try to say that RG3's bowl game performance means anything. The convoy of moving trucks in Seattle this past month aren't there because of RG3.

Kevin Gemmell: Tyler, I've long held the belief that Heisman voting should be done after the bowl season. Just a personal opinion. With that said, did anything change in the bowl season that would make you think people who were going to vote for Griffin are suddenly going to change their vote? The fact is, those who wanted to vote for Griffin did, and the people that wanted to vote for Luck did. RG3 didn't do anything to "lose" votes. Maybe Luck would have picked up a few more votes from those who voted for Montee Ball or Trent Richardson or Tyrann Mathieu based on his bowl performance. It was pretty darn good. But RG3's wasn't exactly horrific -- and his team won. I don't think anyone who voted for Griffin is suddenly feeling like they blew it. Time to let this one go.

Kory in Hillsborough, Calif., writes: Any word as to why Coby Fleener and Delano Howell declined their Senior Bowl invitations? I hope they weren't scared to compete because that completely goes against the Stanford football we've come to know.

Kevin Gemmell: No official word, so this is just me speculating. First, both were pretty banged up toward the end of the year. Howell, you'll remember, missed a lot of time due to that hand injury and Fleener's ankle looked like it had a softball sticking out of it after the Fiesta Bowl (he missed the fourth quarter). Both of them have enough of their resumes on film that I don't think one game would make a difference either way. That's my best guess.

Sean in Palo Alto, Calif., writes: You gave Stanford a B+ in the Pac-12 report card. Explain yourself.

Kevin Gemmell: Well, Sean, I'm assuming you think the grade should be higher. Let's look at the facts. They didn't win their conference, that right there drops them from an A to an A-. They didn't win their bowl game. That should drop them down as well. I gave the offense an A- and the defense a B. Average that together and you come out with a B+. Don't think that was too harsh of a grade.

STANFORD, Calif. -- Instant analysis from Oregon's 53-30 win over Stanford.
  • How the game was won: Oregon was just better. Better on offense. Better on defense. Stanford’s tight ends couldn’t hold on to the ball. Andrew Luck looked tight and never got into a rhythm. And Oregon capitalized on the big play -- scoring touchdowns of 58, 41 and 59 yards. The five Stanford turnovers didn't help either.

  • Turning point: Luck was sacked for the second time in the third quarter and fumbled deep in his own territory. LaMichael James scored on a fourth-and-2 a few plays later and the Ducks went up 36-16. It was too big of a deficit for the Cardinal to overcome.
  • Player of the game: James was the best player on the field -- on either side of the ball. Whether he was running inside the tackles our bouncing to the outside, he was too fast and elusive for Stanford's defenders. He finished with 146 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
  • Unsung hero of the game: Not often that we refer to Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas as an “unsung” hero, but he was quietly efficient with three touchdown passes. James stole the show, but Thomas quietly orchestrated an Oregon offense that Stanford could not stop.
  • What it means: Stanford’s national championship aspirations have expired. Oregon’s, however, seem to have been resuscitated. For Luck, his Heisman campaign suffers its first serious setback of the year. He threw two interceptions and fumbled. He looked sharp at times, average at others, and below average others. James, on the other hand, gave his Heisman hopes a nice shot in the arm.

Halftime: Oregon 22, Stanford 16

November, 12, 2011

STANFORD, Calif. -- First-half thoughts from The Farm.

Stat of the half (or quarter): -1, total yards for the Oregon Ducks after the first quarter – though the Ducks held an 8-0 lead. The score came on Andrew Luck’s sixth interception of the season. Oregon turned it into a 4-yard touchdown pass from Darron Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei. The pass from David Paulson to Mike Garrity on the conversion surprised the Cardinal and the Ducks went up 8-0.

Best player: Even though Oregon is leading, Stanford wide receiver Griff Whalen has really established himself as the No. 1 receiver for the Cardinal over the past few games. He’s got six catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. Coming up big on the few third downs Stanford has completed.

Best call: Has to be the 2-point conversion. Gutty call on the road by Oregon coach Chip Kelly. If it failed, we’d all be hammering him for the bad decision. But it didn’t. And the fact that Stanford missed a PAT makes it look even more impressive. A very close second was the screen pass to De’Anthony Thomas on fourth-and-7. Stanford sold out on the blitz. Perfect call, and 41 yards later, the Ducks were up 22-9.

Did you know: Stanford vs. Oregon

November, 11, 2011
Some fun facts about Saturday's matchup between Stanford and Oregon.
  • Revenge will be on the minds of Stanford this week. The Ducks gave the Cardinal their only loss last season, a 52-31 walloping in Eugene. But since then, Stanford hasn't lost, winning 17 consecutive games, the longest active streak in FBS. The Ducks come in with an impressive eight-game win streak of their own since their only loss of the season to current top-ranked LSU in the opener.
  • Stanford can clinch the Pac-12 North with a victory in this game. The Cardinal have only one conference game remaining after this week (Nov. 19 against Cal) and finish the season Nov. 26 at home against Notre Dame. Stanford hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999.
  • With a victory, Oregon puts itself in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 North and a third consecutive outright Pac-12 title is well within reach. How impressive would that be? USC (three times) is the only other school since the conference formed in 1959 to win three outright conference crowns in a row.
  • After a steady but unspectacular game against Oregon State last week, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck has a chance to shine in the national spotlight Saturday night. Last year, Luck threw for a season-high 341 yards against Oregon, but was also picked off twice (tying his season high). Since that game, he has 45 touchdowns and only nine interceptions, and hasn't been picked off more than once in any game.
  • David Shaw is not a household name yet, but if the Stanford coach keeps winning, he will be. Shaw has started his college coaching career winning nine straight games.
  • Stanford will be without wide receiver Chris Owusu, second on the team in receptions with 35, due to a concussion suffered last week at Oregon State. Freshman Ty Montgomery will start in place of Owusu. He has seven career receptions, five of them coming against USC two weeks ago.
  • Oregon has owned the series of late, winning eight of the past nine meetings, but Stanford won the last meeting at home (51-42 in 2009).
  • Oregon has won 18 consecutive conference games, the second-longest active streak in the nation to TCU's 21. Stanford owns the third-longest streak at 14 games. The Ducks are 6-0 in conference play this year, the second year in a row they’ve done so and the third time since 2000. Prior to 2000, the Ducks hadn't been 6-0 to start a conference season since 1948 (7-0).
  • Unlike last week's LSU-Alabama defensive struggle, this game could be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Both teams rank in the top five in scoring offense and top 10 in total offense.
  • No team has been better than Stanford in the red zone this season. The Cardinal are a perfect 52-of-52 in the red zone, and 41 of those scores have been touchdowns. LSU has the second-best red zone percentage (41-of-42, 97.6 percent).
  • Stanford has been solid on the defensive side of the red zone issue as well. In fact, something will have to give in this game between Oregon’s fast-paced offense and Stanford’s stingy defense.
  • Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 21 consecutive games.
  • With a win, Stanford will have the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history. Entering last season, Stanford had only three 10-win seasons ever. Stanford is 21-1 since the start of last season.
  • Stanford has scored at least 37 points in every game this season, while Oregon has scored at least 34 in every game except the loss to LSU (27).
  • Luck has 71 career touchdown passes and continues to move up the school charts. He’s currently six behind John Elway’s record and one behind Steve Stenstrom for second.

Video: Luck vs. Thomas, high school film

November, 11, 2011

Andrew Luck and Stanford take on Darron Thomas and Oregon this weekend. The pair have faced off before -- back to their high school days. For a look back, click here.

Video: Luck vs. Thomas, high school edition

November, 10, 2011
Andrew Luck and Stanford take on Darron Thomas and Oregon this weekend. The pair have faced off before — back to their high school days. For a look back, click here.

Stanford notebook

November, 9, 2011
Jarek Lancaster’s safety dance proved premature. He came running out of the Oregon State end zone, hands united above his head, looking for anyone to high five. Then came the whistle and the ball was placed at the OSU 1-yard line.

Lancaster, among others, was stunned. And there still has been no explanation as to why Lancaster (and Trent Murphy) were denied the two points.

“We watched the film. I don’t know how it wasn’t,” said Lancaster. “But I’m not going to question it. He [the official] was very certain they were down on the [1] yard-line. It was a sack, I’ll take it. Anytime we can start a game with a sack is nice. But I was hoping for two points. I was running around with my signal up.”

The play in question came on the first offensive drive of the game for Oregon State – too early for a red flag.

“You never know what’s going to happen later on,” Lancaster said. “It wasn’t challenge-worthy.”

Keeping perspective

The Stanford campus can be humbling. Even though ESPN’s College GameDay is coming to town and there is a palpable buzz on the Farm, there are bigger things at work, said head coach David Shaw.

“There are spots on campus where businesses are being created,” Shaw said. “I talked to a doctor on campus working toward curing cancer. Stanford vs. Oregon is not high on his list. He’s going to be at the game. But he’s got a lot to do between now and then.”

Drawing on experience

Shaw said he’s digging deep into his bag of coaching experience in order to prep for this week’s game against the Ducks.

“I spent four years at Baltimore playing against a Mike Nolan defense and a Rex Ryan defense. I’m talking about the off season and you are trying to get through a spring practice against Rex. Every single play is a blitz. He called that a base defense. You learned how to diagnose your own offense against the worst possible looks.”

Not his game

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was asked if he's ever wanted to run the type of offense that Oregon puts on the field instead of the pro-style offense.

“Not really,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve been sort of happy with being in this offense. I don’t think my skill set would be too suited for what Darron [Thomas] is doing up there.”

Grass vs. turf?

It doesn’t matter what surface Oregon is playing on, the Ducks are fast, according to Shaw.

“They are fast everywhere,” he said. “We can play on sand and they are fast. I’m not trying to do the thing where you hype up the competition. Grass, turf, it doesn’t matter. You are all playing on the same surface ... it’s not like we’re on turf and they are on grass. It’s about playing good team defense and corralling them.”

BCS … blah, blah, blah

Shaw got the requisite weekly question about what he thinks about his team’s place (No. 4) in the latest BCS standings. And Shaw gave his requisite we-don’t-care answer.

“It’s a TV show,” he said. “It’s an entertaining TV show. I had it on … at the same time, it has no bearing on what we do on Saturday. They could put us at three, they could put us at two, they could put us at 10. We still have to play Oregon. It doesn’t matter.”

Try decaf?

Injured linebacker Shayne Skov continues to mentor the young linebackers who replaced him following a season-ending knee injury against Arizona. This week, his advice to players is to let the excitement build and not get too amped up midweek.

Easier said than done. During his meeting with reporters, Lancaster looked like a 13-year-old boy on a post-Halloween sugar high.

“I’m ready to go right now,” Lancaster said. “I’m trying to stay even-keeled, but it’s impossible. It’s a pretty special game.”

Oregon offense never out of options

November, 9, 2011
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- We know Oregon has speed. Chip Kelly might as well have it printed on his business card:

Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon. “I recruit speed.”

Speed at the skill positions, speed in which they get off plays and speed in which they execute those plays.

In the time it took you to read this, Oregon has run four plays and gained 72 yards.

But it’s what they do with that speed that makes them so dangerous.

Let’s take a look at what Oregon does on offense that makes them so potent.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks quarterback Darron Thomas
Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIREThe speed of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas and the rest of the Ducks will be a challenge for Stanford.
Setting up in the shotgun, a standard run play starts with the double-option. Quarterback Darron Thomas reads the defensive end and then decides whether to hand off to one of his blistering backs if the defensive end dives or he keeps it himself.

Simple enough. But then…

Oregon starts bringing slot backs across in a fly motion or arc motion which adds a pitch element -- turning the double option into the triple option. They’ll also do this out of a triple-I formation or split backs -- which is what you would see from traditional wishbone teams, only the Ducks do it out of the shotgun.

Getting tougher. But then…

Thomas starts reading the man inside of the defensive end -- be it an inside linebacker or nose guard in the 3-4 scheme -- and it becomes a mid-line option.

Getting a lot tougher. But then…

Oregon pulls one of its athletic guards on a trap block and Thomas fakes the dive and follows the trap.

Getting really hard now. But then…

Eight or nine defenders have been sucked in and are committed to the run and Thomas pulls off the play-action -- or simply spreads out his receivers to create crater-sized pockets in the secondary.

By the way, they will do all of the above out of multiple formations, from the hurry-up and with the nation’s leading rusher LaMichael James -- or the equally fast Kenjon Barner or De'Anthony Thomas -- standing next to or behind Thomas. Starting to the get the picture?

“It’s pretty tough,” said linebacker Jarek Lancaster, who then corrected himself. “Actually, it’s really tough. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. They do a lot of different things. But we’ve put in some really good calls that have made it as simple as possible for us … The type of defense we have is built-in to stop those runs. Just play your man and don’t be a hero out there. That’s how you do your job.

“No freelancing on these guys because they will burn you if you freelance.”

A defensive coach whom I admire greatly once told me there is no way to stop the triple-option on a chalkboard because the defense is always outnumbered.

Some pretty doom-and-gloom stuff if you happen to play defense for the boys in red. But there are ways around it – option rules that players can adhere to in order to minimize the impact of what Oregon can do offensively.

“What Chip and the guys do, they do a great job picking different formations every week,” said Stanford co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. “What he’s shown, he’ll run the same play out of different formations. He uses all of that speed he has to cross your vision.”

And then you start thinking. Too much.

“If you think about all of those things when you are on the field, that’s when you get into trouble,” said safety Michael Thomas. “ … Coaches are coming up with a game plan that is very simple for us and allows us to go out and play fast. They are going to have motions and move guys around. You can’t get caught up in all of that. You just have to line up and play fast.”

An important key for Stanford is to stay multiple on defense. Keep changing up the looks. Keep changing up the formations and the blitz patterns so that Thomas’ reads are increasingly difficult. Teams that become stagnant in their alignments make it easier for Thomas to make his reads as the game progresses. The more multiple Stanford can be, the tougher it will be Thomas to make a clean read.

“That’s their pace,” Tarver said. “Their pace goes so fast that they want the simple looks so they read you in the same spot all of the time. The biggest thing you have to do is be ready and play sound. We’re a multiple-look team anyway.”

Stanford head coach David Shaw said there is no way to simulate Oregon’s players in practice. But he can simulate the pace. He’s running two scout teams -- right when one gets done, the other is on the line ready to go. The safeties have to react quickly and make the calls in a short amount of time so they can get a feel for how quickly Oregon moves.

And there is always the trap of getting away from what you do well to try to stop a certain play.

“You gotta remember, this game is being played by 18-22 year olds,” Shaw said. “And you asked them to do a lot against an offense that does a lot. There is a lot of variance in there where one guy just has to be out of position to give up a big play. You want to give multiple looks, but you have to trust your base defense to a certain degree because the guys know it and they know where to line up.”

Every play is a chess match. A 2-yard Oregon run might be setting up another play two drives later. Likewise a Stanford blitz might be setting up a different coverage later in the drive.

“This is the kind of game where you better be on your best behavior schematically,” Shaw said.

Stanford-Oregon: Common opponents

November, 7, 2011
As we start looking ahead to Saturday's showdown between Stanford and Oregon, it's worth taking a look at how they have matched up against common opponents this season. None of the four common opponents really challenged either team, though it's interesting to compare head-to-head how injuries and/or circumstances impacted the end result.

Arizona (both games were on the road)
  • Oregon Score: 56-31
  • Stanford Score: 37-10
  • Oregon Summary: Arizona quarterback Nick Foles tossed three touchdowns and threw for 398 yards, but it was LaMichael James who stole the show, rushing for a school record 288 yards.
  • What this told us about Oregon: Pretty much what we already knew. James is the marquee running back in the conference and was moving at a Heisman pace before he was injured two games later. Given his performance last week against Washington, he looks to be back on track.
  • Stanford Summary: Stanford lost linebacker Shayne Skov for the season and was without tight end Coby Fleener most of the game. The defense kept Foles from really breaking out on the long ball while the pass rush went crazy with five sacks. Big day for tight end Levine Toilolo -- four catches 102 yards and a touchdown.
  • What this told us about Stanford: This was Stanford’s first taste of adversity with Skov going down. They responded well and Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley have been very good this season in Skov’s absence. The three-tight-end formations stupefied the Arizona defense.
Colorado (Oregon was on the road, Stanford was at home)
  • Oregon Score: 45-2
  • Stanford Score: 48-7
  • Oregon Summary: Even with Darron Thomas and LaMichael James out because of injury, the Ducks cruised. Quarterback Bryan Bennett and tailback Kenjon Barner paced the Ducks to the blowout win while the defense shut down a staggering Colorado offense.
  • What this told us about Oregon: Like Stanford, the Ducks have tremendous depth. The loss of one or two players will not slow down what they want to do on either side of the ball. Oregon is the only team that can match Stanford’s depth at running back (or is it the other way around). Neither team will yield its offensive philosophies in spite of injury.
  • Stanford summary: This was perhaps Stanford’s most physical game on both sides of the ball. The defense picked up three sacks, the offensive line looked powerful on a couple of fourth-down conversions and fullback Ryan Hewitt looked sharp with two touchdown catches. Andrew Luck was brilliant in the no-huddle play-calling.
  • What this told us about Stanford: We really saw Luck shine in this game -- specifically putting Stanford into the proper formations with the play-calling. He was a crisp 26-of-33 with three touchdowns for 370 yards. When he plays like this, he is without a doubt, head-and-shoulders above any other player in college football.
Washington State (Oregon was at home, Stanford was on the road)
  • Oregon Score: 43-28
  • Stanford score: 44-14
  • Oregon Summary: After a fairly sluggish first half, where the Ducks held a 15-10 advantage after the first 30 minutes, Bryan Bennett replaced Darron Thomas in the second half. Thomas was returning from a knee injury and coach Chip Kelly said he thought Bennett gave them the best chance to win. Notable that Washington State wide receiver Jared Karstetter had his biggest game of the season: seven catches, 114 yards and a touchdown against the Ducks.
  • What this told us about Oregon: Bennett can be a suitable proxy for Thomas if needed. And that also opens up the possibility of gadget plays with both on the field at the same time. Also, Oregon can be just as explosive in the second half after a slow first -- where they have scored the bulk of their points this season.
  • Stanford summary: Like Oregon, it was a tale of two halves -- as is typical with Stanford on the road this year. Offense never really clicked in the first half, but the tight ends exploded in the second half and carried the Cardinal to a big win.
  • What this told us about Stanford: When the three tight ends are healthy and on the field at the same time, there is almost no way to stop them. However, this point might prove to be irrelevant depending on the health of Zach Ertz – who is doubtful for Saturday's game with a knee injury. Head coach David Shaw hinted that Levine Toilolo will probably play Saturday.
Washington (Oregon was on the road, Stanford was at home)
  • Oregon Score: 34-17
  • Stanford Score: 65-21
  • Oregon Summary: The Ducks’ offense rolled and Thomas looked sharper than he did coming back from injury against Washington State. James also looked solid, gaining 156 yards on the ground. But it was the defense, which forced three turnovers and sacked Keith Price six times -- that took center stage.
  • What this told us about Oregon: They aren’t just about offense. While their hurry-up, spread-triple gets a ton of attention, they are an athletic bunch up front that can get after the quarterback.
  • Stanford summary: Best rushing performance in school history. That’s really all that needs to be said about the offense. However, the defense gave up some big runs to Washington’s Chris Polk in the first half.
  • What this told us about Stanford: The Cardinal can dominate -- in a major way -- on the ground. As a team, they rushed for 446 yards and Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney both went for more than 100 yards. It also showed us that Stanford’s secondary misses Delano Howell.


Pac-12 Weekend Wrap: Jan. 27
Recruiting reporter Erik McKinney discusses top recruiting news from the Pac-12.