Prepared, focused Ducks take charge
EUGENE So much for Stanford's defense possessing the scheme and size and tenacious players to stop the Oregon Ducks and quarterback Marcus Mariota again.
It didn't happen Saturday at Autzen Stadium, and it was pretty special how the Ducks executed against the Pac-12's top-ranked defense in their 45-16 rout, especially to take an early lead and control the game the rest of the way.
The Ducks (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) drove 75 yards on each of their first three drives, on 34 plays and using 9:56 of clock time. The third TD, the first of two Thomas Tyner touchdowns with 11:50 left in the second quarter, put Oregon ahead 21-6 yes, 21 points on three possessions, or more than the Ducks scored in entire Stanford games in 2012 and 2013.
Were plays scripted? Did the Ducks know what was coming from the Stanford defense? Coach Mark Helfrich wouldn't be specific, only to say that the Ducks entered the game very prepared, played with a lead, kept the lead and ended up blowing out their nemesis.
"It's huge to get a couple possessions (up) on Stanford," says Mariota, who went 19 of 30 for 258 yards and two TDs and ran for 85 yards on nine carries and two more scores, a year after being hobbled against Stanford. "When you're able to go up quickly, they might deviate from what they're able to do. Hat's off to our guys in the locker room. We were really focused and tuned into what they were going to do to us."
Said Helfrich, who moved to 19-3 as a head coach with a significant Pac-12 win: "I like to be ahead, I'm for that. We were just trying to put the pressure on them. ... We had a great week of preparation. It was a matter of going out and believing. We've really had a great seven weeks of preparation. ... We were excellent in every phase."
The Cardinal had to settle for two early field goals and later rallied, but mistakes cost the two-time defending Pac-12 champs. The Ducks stopped Stanford on fourth down in the first half. Then, with Stanford trailing only 24-13, QB Kevin Hogan, who couldn't rely much on a ground game like the past two years (39 carries, 132 yards, 3.4 per carry), threw an interception when free safety Erick Dargan swooped in to help Ifo Ekpre-Olomu cover a pass against tight end Austin Hooper near the end zone. Dargan caught it and stayed inbounds at the UO 1. Huge play.
"Anytime I can make a play it feels special," says Dargan, who had his team-leading fifth interception to go with a team-leading 12 tackles he's the team's leading tackler this season.
"I had help underneath and I knew Ifo would be there. But (Hogan) overthrew it and I went to go get it. I can track the ball pretty good, and it showed tonight."
The Ducks gave the ball right back as Mariota tossed his second interception and Stanford drove to draw within 24-16 on Jordan Williamson's third field goal. Stanford had some momentum, but Mariota, Royce Freeman and Tyner helped extinguish it.
On third-and-8, Freeman caught a screen pass that went for 15 yards. Then, after a false start penalty, it was the same play that went for 30 yards. Tyner finished the drive in classic fashion, bursting up the middle, spinning past Stanford safety Jordan Richards and into the end zone for a 21-yard TD run. Highlight play. It was 31-16. "That was a huge drive," Helfrich said.
Stanford had a couple big plays to move into UO territory early in the fourth quarter, but Hogan messed up again. He had a nice run, but after he spun to avoid a tackler, Dargan knocked the ball out of his hands and Tony Washington recovered. Mariota threw 16 yards to Dwayne Stanford, a Cardinal holding penalty put the ball at the 7-yard-line and Mariota scored on a 7-yard TD run to officially make it a rout.
Later, Mariota threw a 25-yard TD pass to Darren Carrington for the final score and the UO defense held on fourth down inside the UO 5 as Stanford tried to put more points on the board.
The Ducks finished with 525 yards offense, including 267 rushing on 46 carries (5.8 per). They were 8 of 13 on third downs and 1 of 1 on a fourth-down try (Mariota 21-yard run) on the first scoring drive. Charles Nelson (6-yard pass) and Mariota (22-yard run) were Oregon's first two TDs.
"We had to be efficient. Name of the game," Helfrich said.
Said offensive coordinator Scott Frost, on the offense: "Everything's really starting to come together."
"It's big win for all of us," offensive tackle Jake Fisher said. "We put a lot of effort into this game. The coaches did a great job with our game plan and we executed."
Freeman finished with 98 yards on 19 carries and Tyner, returning from an injury, had 63 yards on 10 carries. "We were trying to match the physicality that Stanford brings," Freeman said. "A physical task." (Tyner declined to show up for postgame interviews).
Hogan went 21 of 29 for 237 yards, but his turnovers were pivotal as he and the Cardinal continued to make mistakes as they fell to 5-4 and 3-3 in Pac-12 play two games behind the Ducks in the North Division. He had some success through the air Devon Cajuste, a tough matchup, had five catches for 116 yards – but it was interesting how the Cardinal ran the ball often even in the face of being stuffed virtually every time. Stanford's running game worked the past two years, but it had proven to be ineffective throughout 2014.
"It's hard to assess what their offense game plan was," said Don Pellum, UO defensive coordinator. "Everyone comes with a plan. I'm not sure why they didn't throw it more. We were on the sideline trying to diagram what-ifs (scenarios). It worked out for us.
"We're always worried about the run game till the end, when it becomes a throwing contest. The kids took the challenge. Our pad level was good, our gap control was good. Overall, (Duck defenders) accepted the challenge and performed well."
Added linebacker Derrick Malone: "We basically tried to match personnel. We were really dialed in. We made some really good adjustments. We had great schemes and we executed pretty well." But wasn't he surprised at Stanford sticking to the run? "They're going to stay true to what they believe in. They've had success beating us with the run. I wouldn't imagine they would change anything. They came in with a game plan and they were going to execute it no matter how it goes."
As Oregon was scoring three touchdowns in the early going, the Cardinal were being held to two field goals and then stopped on fourth down.
"We felt good about our stops early in the game," Pellum added. "Early in the game, you don't know what you're going to get; they were running some different things. It was good to get our footing. We could adjust the game plan and stop them farther away from the goal line."
The Ducks avenged their past two losses to Stanford, and the fifth-year players actually won the tiebreaker Oregon had won in 2010 and '11. Now they leave 3-2 against the Cardinal.
"All we had to do was play our game and play to our standard," center Hroniss Grasu, one of the fifth-year guys, said. "Last year, we made it a bigger game than it had to be. Played tentative, didn't play a good game at all (trailing 26-0, losing 26-20). Totally different from this year. I'm happy how it turned out."
"It builds a lot of momentum going into the rest of the year."
Helfrich and the Ducks were pretty happy about finally toppling Stanford, but he said they quickly needed to get prepared for Utah in Salt Lake City. "It's a very, very complete team. Fantastic place to play. Their crowd is crazy," he said.
Said Ekpre-Olomu: "It feels good (to beat Stanford). Two years they beat us and we got them back. Now it's time to prepare for a team that's even better (Utah). We'll have to practice hard. Practices translates to game day (to avoid a letdown). It's a lot easier said than done."
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