The mood was surprisingly relaxed at Stanford head coach David Shaw’s weekly press conference yesterday. Perhaps it was just the calm before the storm that is the Oregon Ducks’ offensive attack in Autzen Stadium. That’s right, the toughest test of the year is just days away, as Stanford prepares to attempt to knock off the undefeated Ducks.
It certainly seemed like more than that. In many ways, Shaw sounded like he had a team with nothing to lose on Saturday. When casually asked how he was doing as he sat down, he replied, “After the last 48 hours of watching Oregon film, how would you feel?”
One of the scariest characteristics of the Oregon attack is the tendency to go on big scoring runs. The runs don’t take 30 minutes, as when Oregon State scored 23 unanswered points against Stanford on Saturday, but take closer to three. Shaw knows this, and will have to weigh risks all game to try to prevent the Ducks from going on one of those death runs.
“You have to be aggressive enough, but not enough to leave yourself vulnerable…the moment that the offense gets out of character because it thinks it needs to do something special, the lead goes from 14 to 28 fast.”
It’s a tough balance for Shaw to deal with. On the one hand, if he takes a gamble by going for it on fourth down instead of punting, he takes the risk of giving an already deadly Oregon offense good field position. However, if Shaw punts, he takes the risk that Oregon will go down the field anyway and pull ahead. No one will know where Shaw leans until the first key fourth down near midfield on Saturday.
The entire 30-minute Shaw press conference was filled with praise for the Ducks, with many of his comments being borderline playful. The biggest laughs came from Shaw’s praise of Oregon redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who looked to have a serious injury against Cal before returning to the field later in the game. “I was hoping he’d take about 10 days to nurse that injury,” Shaw quipped.
Though Mariota looks to be fine, Oregon is dealing with serious injury issues, especially on the defensive side of the ball. All four of Oregon’s starting defensive linemen either missed the Cal game with an injury or were injured in the game. Additionally, starting junior safety Avery Patterson, who was filling in for senior John Boyett (out for the season), tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Oregon is so thin in the secondary that many Oregon insiders believe sophomore running back De’Anthony Thomas and sophomore quarterback Bryan Bennett could play in the defensive backfield against Stanford.
For the Cardinal, injuries don’t look to be a factor whatsoever. Freshman offensive tackle Andrus Peat and sophomore wide receiver Ty Montgomery, the only two notable players to suffer injuries recently, both are healthy, according to Shaw. Peat and Montgomery played against Oregon State, but neither started. That will be the same story on Saturday, as junior David Yankey will start at left tackle, as he has every game this season, and senior Jamal-Rashad Patterson will get another start at wide receiver.
Patterson has come on strong at the very end of his Stanford career. Shaw is very happy with his blocking and route running, which is a big reason why he’s continued to start, even with his modest statistics and Montgomery returning from the leg injury.
This game means a lot to Patterson and his fellow seniors. Captain Sam Schwartzstein, who has played in a lot of big games in his career, still gets excited for games like this.
“It’s one of the reasons you came to play big-time college football at one of these big-time schools…it’s one of the things you dream about growing up.”
Redshirt senior Chase Thomas, who, along with Schwartzstein, is a member of the exclusive fifth-year senior club, also understands Oregon’s role in the team’s season. Stanford’s goal this year is to win the Pac-12 championship. To do so, it has to take out Oregon, win at UCLA and then win a Pac-12 championship game against either USC or UCLA at Stanford Stadium.
As difficult as those tasks are after Oregon, the Ducks present a challenge far tougher. As Thomas put it, “This pretty much is our Pac-12 championship game,” and he’s right, because if Stanford can’t get it done in Eugene, Oregon will clinch the Pac-12 North Division title.