With BCS title in sight, Ducks turn focus from style points to winning
It's pop quiz time. Ready?
Without performing a Google search, name the quarterback who leads the nation in passing efficiency. Judging by my Twitter feed, where a spat broke out Thursday between Kansas State and Texas A&M fans touting their own guy for the Heisman Trophy, it's the Wildcats' Collin Klein or the Aggies' Johnny Manziel. Well, it's neither. Klein ranks No. 8 (167.4), while Manziel ranks No. 25 (151.2).
The correct answer is Oregon redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota (177), who completes 71.7 percent of his passes and has thrown 28 touchdown passes against five interceptions. Meanwhile, Oregon tailback Kenjon Barner ranks second in the nation in per-carry average among players with at least 100 carries. Barner has carried 199 times for 1,360 yards (7.25 yards a carry). Only Tulsa's Ja'Terian Douglas, who has gained 808 yards on 106 carries (7.62 a carry), has averaged more.
So why are Klein, Manziel and USC receiver Marqise Lee getting all the Heisman run when these two Ducks have been every bit as dominant? For the same reason we can watch Oregon score 50 points and think the Ducks had an off game. Chip Kelly's offense has been too good this season for our tiny brains to comprehend. (The exception to this is Smart Football's Chris Brown, who wrote
That's why Kelly seemed so incredulous Thursday when a reporter asked him what Cal did to slow the Ducks' running game so effectively. "We still ran for 180 yards," Kelly said. "I think sometimes we've maybe been spoiled here. People expect us to run for 400 yards every game, expect us to score 60 points in the first half of every game. And if we don't, there's something wrong with
The Ducks have set an impossibly high standard for themselves. Because we've been conditioned to expect offensive explosions, Oregon probably couldn't score any style points unless it cracked 100 scoreboard points. But the next three games aren't about style points for the Ducks. They're about winning.
The offensive numbers may drop a little, but if Oregon can survive the next three weeks unscathed, it will earn more respect from the BCS computers and solidify its hold on No. 1 in the human polls that help determine which two teams play for the national title. Among the top 10 teams in
Oregon has grown accustomed to getting every team's best shot, but with the exception of USC, the teams on Oregon's schedule to this point haven't had a best shot capable of testing the Ducks. That changes Saturday. Stanford has lost to Oregon by an average of 22 points each of the past two seasons, but Oregon's defensive injuries -- safety Avery Patterson was lost for the year last week, and the Ducks' top five defensive linemen are dealing with various degrees of injuries -- should allow the Cardinal to hog the ball and limit the touches of Mariota, Barner and company. The game could turn on whether Stanford's aggressive front seven can sack Mariota, force him to throw interceptions or force Oregon's ballcarriers to put the ball on the ground. Stanford defenders know this is the only way to beat the Ducks, and they also know they can't fall into the same traps others have fallen into when trying to stop Oregon's offense. "A lot of people will attempt to play side-to-side, and that's where you'll get gassed because it's not a horizontal game," Stanford defensive tackle Terrence Stephens told the Cardinal's official website. "They want to hit you vertically and score points. It's important for us to get penetration and disrupt that timing. Defensively, that's what it'll come down to."
Stanford coach David Shaw knows that's easier said than done. "The thing is, it's not complicated," Shaw told Stanford's website. "It's just complicated during the game. The adjustments they make are so subtle that you don't realize it until they've scored three touchdowns on you. You change to try to cover what they're doing, and they make another change. They spend a lot of time looking at you. They run simple plays and however you're stopping their simple plays, Chip takes advantage of what you're doing, which is the brilliance of the simplicity."
The calculus of men in the box versus men in coverage may be complicated for Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason, but the BCS math for the Ducks is absurdly simple. Win three, and they play for the national title.
When Vanderbilt started 2-4, we wrote off the Commodores' first-year improvement under coach James Franklin as anomaly. That was a mistake. Three of those four losses came to teams that could finish the season in the top 10. Since losing to Florida, Vanderbilt has ripped off four consecutive wins. And with extremely winnable games against Tennessee and at Wake Forest, it's quite possible the Commodores could win an unthinkable eight games this season.
Such a feat probably would make Franklin so attractive that another school will break the bank to try to hire him, but for now, the Commodores should enjoy the ride. Franklin certainly is. After Vandy rallied from a 17-point third-quarter deficit to squeak out a one-point win at Ole Miss last week, Franklin carried the mascot into the locker room (5:30 mark of the video below).
Why is Alabama the most demanding coaching job in America? Because when you lose, even the governor will criticize your playcalling. After the Crimson Tide called three passes on four plays inside the six-yard line in their loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, Alabama governor Robert Bentley was asked if he would have run the ball on fourth-and-goal from the two instead of calling a pass -- as Alabama did. The Paul Finebaum Radio Network
The downfall of Cal's Tedford is stunning considering just how hot he was back in 2004. Let's take a look at the "it" coaches of that year (as they would have been ranked at the end of that season) and see what has happened since.
Those headed to Eugene to see Stanford face Oregon should have a pre- or postgame beverage at