Wise Quacks: DAT to play solely at WR?
EUGENE – The sting of Oregon’s disappointing and shocking 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford last season stuck with Ducks center Hroniss Grasu all offseason.
More so because of how the Ducks performed than the fact that the defeat ultimately cost Oregon a berth into the Bowl Championship Series national title game.
“Obviously I remember that game very, very well,” Grasu said. “All offseason that’s all I was really thinking about. They outworked us. They wanted it more. That’s why I think it still sticks with me because it’s not a good feeling when you get outworked. I have a lot of respect for Stanford. They outplayed us.”
The defeat stands out like an aberration among the Ducks’ 20 victories over the past two seasons. UO has dominated everyone to some degree during its 20-1 record dating back to the start of the 2012 season.
Everyone, that is, except Stanford, which turned Oregon’s 50-point-per-night offense into a struggling ball of mush, mired in uncertainty on Nov. 17, 2012.
Next Thursday night, No. 2 Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) will get another crack at the No. 6 Cardinal (7-1, 5-1) when the two teams meet at 5 p.m. at Stanford Stadium with the same stakes in play.
Had Oregon defeated Stanford last year, the Ducks would have been two victories away from an assured berth into the BCS title game.
A win for the Ducks would put them four victories away from a likely berth into the BCS title game. UO should be favored by 20 points or more against all three remaining regular season opponents: Utah, at Arizona and against Oregon State. The Ducks would also be heavy favorites against whomever they face in the Pac-12 title game, likely UCLA or Arizona State.
But first things first.
To avoid a similar letdown, Grasu said the Ducks must be prepared to work just as hard as Stanford does.
In all other games against Stanford since Oregon adopted the spread-option in 2005, the Ducks averaged 47 points per game. In the two meetings prior to last season, Oregon scored 105 points.
But on that chilly November night last year, the Ducks managed to score just 14. To be sure, Stanford had one of the best defenses in the country, but not one expected to reduce Oregon to resembling just another team.
The difference could be pinpointed to Stanford’s play against Oregon’s offensive line.
“Their front seven is very good,” UO wide receiver Josh Huff said. “In order for us to win this game we’ve got to be mistake free. Our offensive line has to control the line of scrimmage. We have to get the ball into the playmakers’ hands and make plays.”
Oregon gained 405 yards last season but couldn’t finish drives and failed to produce a glut of big plays that typically overwhelm opponents.
While most praise skill players for their exploits, most big plays start with the offensive line. Against Stanford, UO’s play upfront went south and the rest of the offense followed.
Stanford penetrated into the backfield to create negative plays and disrupted quarterback Marcus Mariota who was 21 of 37 for 207 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
The most telling statistic was his anemic 5.6 yards per pass attempt.
On Oregon’s final six drives, including overtime, the Ducks punted four times and missed two field goals.
“Our offense wasn’t able to work like it normally works,” Huff said.
Grasu said Oregon has to emphasize finishing blocks.
“They work really hard and they never give up on a play,” Grasu said of Stanford’s defensive front seven. “Even if you’ve got them beat they’ll do whatever it takes to get off a block and make the tackle.”
UO’s defense is not off the hook for last season’s loss. Oregon led 14-7 entering the fourth quarter but allowed Stanford to force overtime with an 11-play, 78-yard drive.
Oregon safety Brian Jackson said the extra days of preparation during the bye week this year should help Oregon get a better read on the Cardinal offense.
He said Stanford appears to offer more spread looks this season, giving UO’s defense more to study.
“With not as much practice I can sit home after studying and just watch these guys,” Jackson said.
The opponent is the same. The stakes are the same. The pressure to succeed will be the same.
A victory and the Ducks would have cleared their biggest hurdle between them and the national title game.
Jackson said he doesn’t dwell on last season’s loss, but he certainly wants to make amends.
“I felt like I did everything I could do within my power to help my team win the game,” Jackson said. “If I did my best then I’m okay with that. But of course I’m not okay with the result. But we have a chance to make things right. And honestly, it’s kind of like the same situation.”