So, Oregon's offense has been pretty stellar over the past few years. But in the games where it has been most successful, as opposing defenses keyed on the Oregon rushing attack, Oregon went to the air to take other teams off balance. This was seen most markedly in last years Civil War beatdown. And, it was seen yesterday. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist, this strategy undid the Ducks defense yesterday against Stanford.
In the first couple drives of the game, the Oregon defense held Gerhart in check, forcing Stanford into a number of 3rd and long situations. On Gerhart's first 7 carries, he managed a mere 18 yards (one was a one yard touchdown run).
During that same stretch, Andrew Luck went back to pass 9 times, was 4/7 for 65 yards, and there were two penalties on Javes Lewis during that stretch (though one of which was just an atrocious, horrible call that was a big momentum swing in the game).
From this point on, in the middle of Stanford's 3rd drive, Toby Gerhart and the rest of the Stanford offense had their way with the Ducks defense. Luck had only 20 pass attempts on the day, but 8 of those attempts were in the first quarter.
Much like we have seen Oregon do over and over again with Kelly at the helm, Stanford used the pass to set up the run, and when they proved that they could move the ball through the air, the Oregon defenders had no answer. Luck had all day to throw, and he was hitting his receivers that were getting open much too quickly.
And that was pretty much that. The defense didn't get any breaks, and Stanford had it's way. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth about getting outcoached and all this, but these things happen. An offense that is on, and is executing in all phases of the game is almost unstoppable.
Stanford's execution put the Ducks into react mode early, and if your defense is reacting rather than going out there and playing their own game, your will not often be very successful. Oregon was taken off their gameplan early, was forced to respect the pass, and could not generate pressure with their front 4. A defense that has to deal with a diverse offense that can throw or run will typically not be able to stop either.
So where does this leave us moving forward? Is this like the 2002 loss to ASU, or the 2001 loss to Stanford? Was this a fluke, or did Stanford expose something that other teams will be able to?
I'm still very optimistic about how this season will turn out. This game seemed to be a perfect storm on the defensive side of the ball. Stanford made few mistakes and has an offense that it set up to pound the Ducks speedy but undersized front 7. I think that the Ducks match up very well with the teams left on their schedule, though Arizona is looking mighty scary, and if Oregon wants to win the conference, it's margin of error just dropped significantly.
We still have a great offense, and I still feel that our defense is very good, though not world beating as we had originally hoped. The race for the roses still runs through Eugene, and with 3 games to play, that's about all we could have hoped for.