Today’s game is easily the Pac-12 game of the year, with huge BCS implications. Stanford is undefeated; Oregon hasn’t lost a conference game since 2009, and its only loss this year was to now-No. 1 LSU. The winner of this game will win the Pac-12 North and host the Pac-12 Championship Game, with an opportunity to play for the Rose Bowl at worst. The loser will be left hoping to get into the BCS with an at-large berth. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is here in the press box to unveil the Pac-12 Championship Game trophy, which will likely end up going to the winner of today’s game when all is said and done.
As in our previous games, I’ll be tracking three players as chosen by you, our readers. Reply to this thread before kickoff with any players you want to get updates on, and I’ll do my best to follow those players throughout the game and report on their play.
There have been a couple of injury updates here with about 45 minutes left to go before kickoff. It appears that for the third straight week, Eric Whitaker will handle the kicking duties in place of starter Jordan Williamson. I had heard some rumors that starting center Sam Schwartzstein would be out with a knee injury, but he’s on the field snapping balls to Andrew Luck right now. Starting right tackle Cameron Fleming is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but I’ve been scanning the field for his number during warmups and I haven’t seen him yet—earlier in the week, Stanford coaches said that he would be a game-time decision with a knee injury.
End of first quarter: Oregon 8, Stanford 0
Defying everyone’s expectations, the first quarter was a defensive struggle, complete with three-and-outs. Summarizing the weirdness was the fact that after scoring its first touchdown, Oregon still had negative offensive yards (minus-1 total, with minus-5 rushing yards), since its first couple of drives went for a grand total of minus-21 yards. On the other side, Stanford can’t get its passing game going, relying heavily on the run to pound Oregon and try to move the ball.
Play of the quarter: With about six minutes left in the quarter, Stanford had the ball on offense and had been driving forward with good runs from Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. However, Luck made his second poor decision of the drive and attempted a pass wide to the right side of the field. Luck was picked off by Dewitt Stuckey, who looked to be gone for a pick-six but was brought down by Luck himself at the Stanford 20. The turnover was a huge momentum swing and allowed the Ducks to draw first blood.
Crowd noise a minor factor: I can’t say I’m surprised, but barring the occasional outburst, Stanford fans just haven’t been all that loud. The student section has been trying, but the rest of the stadium seems to be sitting on its hands. It seems that the Card won’t enjoy an advantage similar to Oregon’s at Autzen.
Injury updates: Cameron Fleming didn’t start at right tackle, but I’ve seen him in the game a couple of times. It seems as though he and Tyler Mabry are rotating. Also, Eric Whitaker is in fact handling the kicking duties for the Cardinal.
Weather playing a role: Though it hasn’t really rained all day, the field remains wet and slippery from yesterday’s downpours. Several players on both sides have slipped and struggled to maintain their footing, with some pretty significant consequences, such as Ty Montgomery’s first kickoff return, which only went to the Stanford 17-yard line. One particularly memorable play saw Griff Whalen running a route across the center of the field and falling on his face before getting up and continuing on the route.
Halftime: Oregon 22, Stanford 16
I have to be honest and say this game isn’t anywhere close to what I expected as both defenses have shown surprisingly stiff spines. Oregon’s defense has been doing a good job of bending but not breaking in the face of Stanford’s steady diet of power running, while the Stanford defense has made a couple of big plays and limited the Ducks significantly, barring one big touchdown run from LaMichael James.
Play of the quarter: With about three minutes left in the quarter, it appeared that the Stanford defense had come up with another crucial stop. Oregon had a fourth and seven on the Stanford 41-yard line and a 15-9 lead; punting the ball back to Stanford would give the Card a chance to score and take the lead into the locker room at halftime. Instead, Chip Kelly chose to go for it, and on the ensuing play Darron Thomas hit De’Anthony Thomas on a touchdown pass to put the Ducks up 22-9. De’Anthony Thomas caught the ball only about five yards from the line of scrimmage, but had practically nothing but green field between him and the end zone.
Run’s the word: Both teams seem to have forgotten that throwing is an important part of playing football. We’ve seen very few deep throws in this game from either quarterback, with both offensive coordinators opting for runs and shorter pass plays. The discrepancy is more pronounced for the Ducks; the majority of Darron Thomas’ 58 passing yards came on the 41-yard fourth-down touchdown, and the gain was mostly De’Anthony Thomas running after the catch. Prior to its final two-minute drive, Stanford also tilted heavily toward the run, but as that drive was almost exclusively passing, Stanford’s stats approached balance.
Taylor redefines workhorse: In the first half alone, Stepfan Taylor has run the ball 20 times for 87 yards. David Shaw seems to have forgotten that the Cardinal has three other talented backs in Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, not to mention a pretty decent passing game. Stanford will need Taylor in the late stages of this game if it gets close, which is why the coaching staff’s insistence on using him so much is so puzzling to me (especially when alternatives are available).
Second-half prediction: Oregon has looked like the better team for most of the first half, though the Cardinal showed flashes of brilliance on its final drive of the quarter to pull within six points heading into the locker room. It looks like Stanford is having a lot more success in the passing game and being somewhat inflexible in sticking to its run-first philosophy. So far, Oregon has looked like the better team, and will win this game if Stanford can’t adapt its game plan and execute perfectly. Still, don’t count out the Cardinal. If Andrew Luck and the Stanford offense can start clicking, the Cardinal should be able to pull out the win.
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