Time To Stop The Oregon Hype Machine
By John Baker
It’s time to stop.
Stop the Heisman talk for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Stop the genius label being affixed to the high-octane offense Oregon runs.
Stop the talk of this being Oregon’s best defensive line ever.
And certainly stop the talk of the Ducks being a worthy national championship contender for a team like Alabama.
It’s all madness.
On a Thursday night when Oregon couldn’t get out of its own way and in no way deserved to be as close as the 26-20 loss, we all got a nice lesson on what good, old-fashioned offensive line domination looks like.
The Cardinal ran the ball — the same basic play, in fact — at will against the Ducks, almost disdainfully implying that “if you can’t stop it, you’re going to be fed it all night long.”
Oregon loves to point out that it doesn’t concern itself with time of possession, but that stat was telling in the aftermath of Thursday’s game. Stanford controlled the ball for more than 42 of 60 minutes, leaving Oregon’s offense, which was dysfunctional for most of the game, sitting on its hands as the Cardinal battered away, daring Oregon to stop the run. The Ducks couldn’t. Stanford converted 14-of-21 third downs in the game, virtually all of them via the run.
It was as vivid an example of Hank Stram’s classic comment during the Chief’s Super Bowl win decades ago: “Matriculating down the field.”
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was rattled and unnerved for the first time this season. He repeatedly overthrew and shockingly underthrew. The Ducks probably left three touchdowns on the field after the team got inside the 10-yard-line twice and Mariota missed Huff for a sure score, all in the first half.
No, Virginia, while there may be a Santa Claus, there is still something missing from this Oregon Ducks football team. Call it toughness, aggressiveness, anger or just a lack of big-guy talent on the defensive front, but the Ducks have now badly lost the head-to-head dual between its defensive line and Stanford’s offensive line two years running.
A year ago, Stanford rushed for 200 yards with Stepfan Taylor having a big day. Thursday, Stanford went for 274 on the ground, led by Tyler Gaffney’s 157 yards on a whopping 45 carries. Stanford used Gaffney as its workhorse and time-eater, watching the clock run down as they ran the same play over and over at the Oregon defense.
The same play over and over. Stanford knew it, the TV announcers knew it and surely Oregon’s players and coaches knew it. It was almost arrogant in its simplicity, beautiful in its brutal and absolute effectiveness.
When it was over, Stanford had out-Oregoned Oregon, running 79 plays to the Ducks' 58.
Oregon will fall in the BCS polls and doesn't have much room to make up ground barring a string of upsets. They’ll get a nice BCS bowl gig if they win out because they are a fun team and Ducks fans travel well. But the real question is whether the Ducks are legitimate when they get off the track and onto the football field across from an opponent with less talent, perhaps, but a physical nature.
On Thursday night, before a national TV audience, the answer seemed to be no. Oregon still is a ways away from a national championship quality defense up front, a physical, hard-nosed defense. Mariota can be rattled and look pedestrian on the big stage, looking like a guy who, despite being pegged as the potential No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft, needs more seasoning. David Shaw and his staff again outcoached Oregon — old school over innovation.
It’s time to stop the talk and look at the field. Oregon proved it still has a ways to go.