Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - November 16, 2012

Slowing the Ducks is crucial

Plenty is riding on outcome of Pac-12 showdown

by Rick Eymer

Stanford football coach David Shaw's eyes are blurry after watching hours of tape on Oregon. Even after all of that, he's still has more questions than answers. How do you stop the top-ranked Ducks powerful, lightening-fast offense?

"I have no idea," Shaw said. "We talk about slowing everybody down. There's no stopping them. You always know they will spring a couple on you. When the defense does slow them down, we have to score. You're not holding them down all the time."

It's an interesting matchup, with No. 14 Stanford (6-1, 8-2) entering the game with the NCAA's top rushing defensive (58.6) team going up against the nation's third-best rushing offensive (325.1) team.

The Ducks (7-0, 10-0) average 54.8 points a game while the Cardinal allows just 17.2 points a game.

There's a lot riding on the game, the least of which is the winner will likely represent the North Division and host the Pac-12 championship game against the South Division.

If Oregon wins, it clinches the berth. If Stanford wins, the Cardinal will still have to beat UCLA, on the road, in the regular-season finale.

Stanford doesn't have to win to reach the Rose Bowl should they go on to beat the Bruins. In all likelihood, an Oregon victory would launch the Ducks into the national championship game, pending the outcome of the Civil War — Oregon against Oregon State in their rivalry game.

The Cardinal would not necessarily be the automatic bid for the Rose Bowl, which traditionally has involved the Pac-12 champion against the Big 10 champion.

Oregon, Ohio State and Penn State aside, there's Notre Dame pawing its hooves in the dirt outside the Rose Bowl, which does not have to take a non-champion from the Pac-12.

"This is pretty much our Pac-12 championship game," Stanford senior Chase Thomas said of Saturday's 5 p.m. game at Oregon. "This is the best team in the conference."

Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, who will be making his second career start, and first on the road, spent last season running the scout team and was responsible for imitating opposition offenses.

"They run a fun offense," he said. "It's based on quarterback reads and getting the ball out fast. It's fast."

Shaw said Oregon's offense is deceptively simple.

"It's not complicated after the fact," he said. "It's just complicated during the game. They adjust so subtlety you don't realize it until they've scored three times. They spend time looking at you and then run simple plays, which is the brilliance of it."

Stanford hopes to counter with a plodding offense. Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson, Ryan Hewitt could become important players in keeping long drives going and keeping Oregon's offense on the sideline.

"We want to control the ball and clock," Hogan said. "We want 10-play drives that use up the clock."

Taylor, the first Stanford player to rush for at least 1,000 yards in three successive seasons, is 169 yards short of 4,000 and 202 from matching Darrin Nelson's career rushing record. Impressive enough and even more impressive considering he was sharing time with Toby Gerhart at one point.

"The offensive line usually doesn't get actual recognition," Stanford senior center Sam Schwartzstein said. "Allowing the least amount of sacks and high rushing totals has meant a lot. It's a great feeling and a sense of recognition. If we do our job, this guy can do unbelievable things."

Shaw said Schwartzstein has become an effective leader through the years, able to communicate even amid the loudest of atmospheres. Autzen Stadium in Eugene is considered one of the loudest stadiums in America.

"His ability to decipher things on the line is phenomenal," Shaw said. "And he can communicate that. It's a vital part of what we're doing."

How does he get the message across in Eugene?

"There's no talking," Schwartzstein said. "There's only screaming. Jonathan Martin told me that when you put your hands on the ground, you'll see pebbles bouncing."

Schwartzstein gets his vocal cords ready during the week with honey and tea, a method he learned from Andrew Luck.

Oregon is the only school on Stanford's schedule with more than a one-game winning streak against the Cardinal. An overwhelming offense can do that.

"I've become a believer," Shaw said. "It's a sound system and has components of every NFL offense. It just looks a little different. It's up to us to play to our capabilities."

Stanford senior nose tackle Terrence Stephens said the speed and efficiency of the Ducks' offense can disorient teams.

"They are an extraordinary team with great play-calling which can make adjustments," Stephens said. "It's going to take our best game. One of the keys of stopping them is to get penetration up the middle. You'll get gashed trying to play side to side. It's important to get penetration and disrupt the timing of their schemes. I want the game to be in the trenches."

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