I had the great displeasure of visiting The Farm on Saturday, and from the opening kickoff, it was very clear that Stanford was the much more physical team. Where the Ducks have been using speed, quickness and finesse to overcome matchup issues, Stanford countered with a tough-nosed, slow-grind power style of play that exposed the Ducks' biggest weaknesses: their lack of size and power.
Of course, the poster child for Stanford's style is none other than senior running back Toby Gerhart.
Gerhart looked like the college football equivalent of Chuck Norris on Saturday:
Toby Gerhart doesn't have a chin. There is only another fist.
Toby Gerhart doesn't read books. He stares them down until he gets the information he wants.
Toby Gerhart is currently suing NBC, claiming Law and Order are trademarked names for his left and right legs.
When Toby Gerhart does a pushup, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.
Toby Gerhart can slam a revolving door.
And on Saturday, that revolving door was Oregon's defense. And slam it he did. Again and again and again.
But it wasn't just Oregon's defense that struggled to match Stanford's physical play. Oregon failed to convert on 3rd down seven of 13 times. And although that's still above their season average, the Ducks have been converting fewer third downs this year than last, and even fewer than in 2007.
It's clear the only weak link for an offense that has few weaknesses is a big, physical back, in the same vain as Gerhart, who can be relied on to move the chains in short yardage situations.
LeGarrette Blount is that back. And, well, he's back.
Yesterday, the Ducks reinstated Blount, their own version of Chuck Norris (as he showed with a vicious right cross just 10 weeks ago), and believe it or not, Blount is the missing piece for an offense that seemingly didn't miss him at all since his suspension following the infamous post-game punch of Boise State defensive end Byron Hout on Sept. 3.
And with games against Arizona State, Arizona and Oregon State left on the schedule and a Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth hanging in the balance, the timing for Blount's return is as good as any. Why? Because all three of Oregon's remaining opponents rank in the nation's top 15 in rushing defense (No. 6, No. 10, and No. 15, respectively). And all three are far more physical than most of the defense's we've faced this season. And all three will likely have watched the game against Stanford.
Sure, the Ducks racked up 42 points on the Cardinal. But 14 of those points came in catch-up mode. Oregon also possessed the ball for five fewer minutes than its season average (time of possession average for the season is 27 minutes per game, including the loss to Stanford), which would indicate the Ducks' defense might have been able to hold the Cardinal on a few key possessions had it not been on the field for nearly 40 minutes.
Had Oregon had a big physical back to counter Stanford's style, the outcome might have been very different.
Case in point: At the end of the third quarter with the Ducks trailing 45-28, Oregon faced a 4th-and-3 at Stanford's 39-yard-line. In what appeared to be a blown play, Masoli was tackled for a one-yard loss, and Stanford took over on their own 40. Seven plays later, Cardinal kicker Nate Whitaker kicked a 41-yard field goal that turned out to be the difference for Stanford.
Blount might have made a difference in the same scenario. In fact, considering Oregon was trying to control the clock on that drive (that 4th-and-three was the seventh straight rushing play) to give its defense a break, Blount is likely the perfect back for that scenario. The power back that Oregon's missed at certain points in the season.
With Blount back, he will likely be the go-to back on 3rd down. I don't suspect he'll get a ton of carries outside of those situations, but he's the guy the Ducks will call on for short yardage.
Many said the Ducks were up a creek without a paddle after the debacle in Boise. LaMichael James proved everyone wrong by showing how great a fit he is for Oregon's offense. But every great offense needs a change-of-pace back.
And the Ducks just got theirs back. Let's hope he doesn't back us into a corner like he did in Boise.