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8:22AM

Stanford methodically, demonstratively stops the Quack Attack

By Art Spander

STANFORD, Calif. — Wait ‘til next year. That’s what Mark Helfrich implied, if he didn’t say directly. Mark Helfrich, the coach of previously unbeaten Oregon, was talking like this year was in the past, which after Thursday night, after the Ducks were beaten by Stanford in textbook style, rarely getting the ball and never getting the lead, very well may be the situation.

Everyone was so in awe of the Oregon offense, the Quack Attack. Blink and the Ducks have scored. And scored again. Forty points, 50 points against a school called Nichols — Nichols? — and against Washington State, more than 60 points.

The story was out that Stanford players were soft. What would Oregon do against the softies?

Get crushed, that’s what. Get held scoreless for three quarters, a presumed impossibility until a late burst that had the sellout crowd of 51,545 standing and nervous, and still get dominated the way a team must dominate Oregon, with ball control.

Stanford methodically, demonstratively built up a 26-0 lead and then had enough left when Oregon didn’t have enough time left to grab a 26-20 victory that surely knocked the Ducks from the No. 2 place in the rankings and just as surely knocked them out of the BCS Championship game.

“We don’t hold the cards anymore,” said Helfrich of his first loss in his first season as Oregon head coach. The Ducks, as Stanford, which came into the game No. 5 in the rankings, now both are 8-1, but Oregon is 5-1 in the Pac-12, Stanford 6-1.

What Stanford did, insisted Helfrich, is what other opponents tried. The difference was in the talent. “They’ve got a lot of veteran guys on defense,” Helfrich pointed out. “Guys that have graduated.”

Fifth-year seniors. And then, strangely, he added, “That will change a little bit.”

It will change because superb Stanford defenders such as Trent Murphy and Shane Skov, Ed Reynolds and David Parry are seniors. They’ll be gone in another season, as if that matters this season.

What Helfrich was saying in effect was, “Stanford stuffed us because its players are experienced, strong and wise, and it won’t the case in 2014.”

A year ago, up there, at Eugene, Stanford held Oregon to two touchdowns and won, 17-14, in overtime. An aberration, we were told, which would be corrected.

“I feel like this team,” Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas boasted a couple of days ago, “we should put up 40.” Should, but didn’t. Didn’t even put up 30. Barely put up 20.

One hesitates to put much value in possession time, but that caveat could be ignored Thursday night. Of the 60 minutes of football, Oregon was on offense only 17 minutes 26 seconds.

Stanford had the ball virtually three-quarters of the game, even though Oregon had it most (10:35) of the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t get off to a very good start offensively,” said Helfrich. Because Stanford wouldn’t let them. At the half, Oregon had four first downs – and Stanford 11.

In the first quarter Oregon had a fourth down on the Stanford four but threw an incompletion.  In the second quarter Oregon was at the Stanford 11 and lost a fumble.

“They did a great job keeping us inside,” said Helfrich, “but if we get those touchdowns we’d be in the game.” They didn’t get those touchdowns. Stanford kept them from getting those touchdowns.

Oregon, however, couldn’t keep Stanford from getting touchdowns or field goals. Or yards.

Tyler Gaffney rushed 45 times – a Stanford record – and gained 158 yards. He scored the first TD. Quarterback Kevin Hogan rushed eight times for 57 yards. He scored the second TD – and also completed seven passes of 13 attempted.

“Tyler Gaffney ran the ball tonight the way running backs are supposed to run the ball in this game of football,” said David Shaw, the Stanford coach.

“This is what football is about. You control the line of scrimmage, and you have a chance to win. We talked about it the last week and a half, keeping them balled up, keeping them inside, not letting (quarterback) Marcus Mariota get out. He still got us a couple of times, but they weren’t touchdowns.”

The reference to Stanford football being soft was an offshoot of the incidents with the Miami Dolphins, Richie Incognito saying teammate Jonathan Martin, a former Stanford lineman, wasn’t tough.

“And does Stanford have a problem?’’ Shaw asked rhetorically. “Funny thing is that question usually comes after, boy, your team is tough and physical and plays great on the offensive and defensive line. Tonight you see who we are, a big, physical team that plays extremely hard and plays very well together.”

And had the Oregon coach waiting for next year.

9:57PM

Pac-12 still belongs to Stanford

By Art Spander

STANFORD, Calif. — Nothing has changed. The Pac-12 still belongs to Stanford. They lost a week ago, certainly, but nobody wins them all in college football, other than Alabama.

And if Alabama played the schedule of Stanford or USC or most notably UCLA, which was outmuscled Saturday by the Cardinal, the Tide would lose one or two every year.

Stanford was defeated on the road, at Utah, and the dream of the unbeaten season, which these days is almost impossible in the Pac-12, collapsed.

So Stanford did what teams from successful programs virtually always do after a loss. It won.

More than that, in whipping previously undefeated UCLA, 24-10, on a glorious autumn afternoon at Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal dominated. It offered the mental and physical supremacy of a program that embellishes the school’s academic standing.

Stanford used its bevy of 300-pound offensive linemen to wear down UCLA. Stanford utilized its aggressive defenders to befuddle UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who when he wasn’t being sacked (four times) was being intercepted (twice). Yes, an exaggeration, but not by much.

“This is really a difficult loss for this football team,” said Bruins coach Jim Mora. As if any loss is easy. UCLA now is 5-1, 2-1 in conference, while Stanford is 5-1, 2-1.

“Stanford,” conceded Mora, “showed us the toughest defense we have seen all year.”

A defense that held UCLA to 266 yards total (Stanford had 419). A defense that Stanford coach David Shaw said was determined to make the mobile Hundley stay in the pocket. A defense that limited UCLA to 74 net yards rushing.

The Stanford offense was effective, efficient. It couldn’t get the ball across the goal line in the first half, which ended in a 3-3 tie, but it got a message across to UCLA: We’re going to pound away, and in the second and third quarters you’ll be unable to respond.

Often too much is made of possession time, but not this game. Stanford had the ball 37 minutes 11 seconds, UCLA 22:49. That’s almost an entire quarter differential.

“We were in the game until the last turnover,” said Mora, alluding to Hundley’s interception with around 2:45 to play, after which Stanford drove its way 32 yards for the ultimate touchdown. Psychologically, perhaps, but not in actuality.

A school once known for finesse football, Stanford obviously changed the pattern, athletes and culture. And the results.

“We recruit tough-minded people, people that bounce back,” insisted Shaw, the third-year head coach who played at Stanford.

Somebody then referred to “body blows,” the running game inflicted on a less-sizable UCLA.

“That’s been our staple for a long time,” Shaw reminded.

Along with having an excellent quarterback.

A huge mural on the stadium tunnel wall artistically calls attention to “Quarterback U.” You think of Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, of course. But Kevin Hogan, the man who took over last year and is handling the situation, along with the ball, deserves mention.

“I thought it was really solid,” Shaw said of Hogan’s performance, 18 of 25 passing for 227 yards and no sacks, plus 5 runs for 33 yards.

“We did a nice little no-huddle, which he orchestrated outstanding. Kevin knows if the middle opens up, he’s got the ball and takes off and runs . . .  We wanted to run the ball on third down. It was our game plan.”

Not in the plan, but gratefully accepted, was a leaping one-handed catch in the end zone of a Hogan pass by Kodi Whitfield, whose father Bob was both an outstanding offensive lineman at Stanford and a first-round pick in the 1982 NFL draft.

When asked about the catch, Shaw joked, “I would say genetics, but Bob is 6-foot-7, 335 pounds, so I don’t think it came from dad. It was just a phenomenal play. God bless Kodi.”

UCLA fans had been saying the same about Hundley, the sophomore quarterback, but Stanford had him flummoxed.

“Just trying gap integrity,” said Shaw, meaning defenders did not slough off assigned areas. “He still broke containment twice. He stepped out of two sacks, but he’s big, physically strong.”

Said Hundley, “Stanford did a really good job of bringing pressure. Not even blitzing but just using their front four defensive, Stanford’s a great defense. I give them credit . . .  Games like this you want to win so bad. That’s really all I can say.”

UCLA next plays Oregon, which, ranked second in the nation, has been able to beat every team in the conference of late — except Stanford.

“I’m not into statement games,” Mora insisted. “I don’t think any one game defines you.”

Maybe not, but this one proved Stanford still is the class of the Pac-12.

9:26AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Stanford gets fast start, shuts down Wisconsin in 2nd half to win Rose Bowl

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

PASADENA, Calif. -- The new year brought old-style football to the Rose Bowl, the pound 'em, ground 'em game of an earlier era. And Stanford -- contrary to its image as a school that relies on passing -- grounded and pounded relentlessly and effectively.

The Cardinal -- living up to the promise of coach David Shaw, who insisted in a pregame media session: "We're going go run the ball. That's what we do" -- ran it well enough.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2013 Newsday. All rights reserved.

6:05PM

In the Big Game, not just another loss for Cal

By Art Spander

BERKELEY, Calif. – Just another loss. The Cal safety Josh Hill said it. He was wrong.

This was a loss to Stanford, a loss when Cal couldn’t cross the goal line, a loss when Jeff Tedford’s future again was called into question, although much like the Golden Bears offense Saturday he isn’t going anywhere.

The Big Game came at the wrong time, smacked off its traditional late-November date to mid-October because of disdainful planning by the Pac-12 Conference.

We don’t care how it’s been done for 114 years, was the unwritten word from the Pac-12; you’ll hold it when we tell you. Even when the baseball season hasn’t ended.
   
For Cal, maybe, anytime would be the wrong time.
  
Stanford beat the Bears, 21-3. It could have been worse. The Cardinal threw only three passes in the fourth quarter, had no completions. Stanford coach David Shaw was kind and satisfied.
   
“Dominating, suffocating defense,’’ advised Shaw.
    
His school kept the trophy, The Axe, earned for a third straight year. His players gleefully marched The Axe to the south end zone of rebuilt Memorial Stadium where the Stanford partisans from the crowd of 61,024, including that intentionally ditsy pep band, cheered and chanted and rocked.

There they were, the enemy, symbolically speaking, the conquerors, lording it up while the Cal players walked slowly to their quarters, whipped. Just another loss? Hardly.
 
“Offensively, that was just a poor performance,” Tedford said, reaffirming what everyone had seen, what everyone already knew.
  
Offensively, Cal had a pathetic 217 yards – Stepfan Taylor of Stanford had run for 189 by his ownself – and, of course, for the first time in 15 years in a Big Game, and only the second in 36 years, no touchdowns.
   
“We couldn’t block them,” said Tedford. “There was too much pressure on the passer, and we couldn’t convert on third downs. Give them credit. They played hard and were better than we were today.”
   
Much better. The Cardinal, 5-2, are headed toward a bowl. Cal, 3-5, with Washington, Oregon and Oregon State among the teams left on its schedule, is headed for a losing season. And Tedford, in his 11th year, is headed for more criticism.
  
“We need to do a better job as coaches putting (Cal players) into places to be successful,’’ conceded Tedford.
   
The Old Blues and some newer Blues wonder if Tedford has stayed too long at the fair. Sure, Cal has tough academic standards. It was recently judged America’s No. 1 public institution of higher learning, with UCLA, another part of the great university, coming in second.

Not everybody is admitted, no matter how fast they run or far they throw. Cal isn’t LSU or Alabama.
   
But Cal people admit, gritting their teeth, neither is Stanford, and the Cardinal play physical, beat-your-face-in football.
   
Those smarties are toughies. Those toughies are smarties. And they took it to Cal in Cal’s new house.
  
It’s unlikely Tedford will be dismissed. He raised Cal from the depths of 1-11, and made the Bears successful and respectable. His players graduate.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour is not one to make rash decisions. On Saturday afternoon, along with members of the media, she took a seat and listened to Tedford explain but never try to justify.
  
In the previous two weeks, the Bears had crushed UCLA, crushed Washington State, improved an awful 1-4 record to a mediocre 3-4. There was optimism before Stanford. There is depression after Stanford.
 
“Those were the last two weeks,” said Tedford when asked for comparison. “This team (Stanford) is a different team. They are very stout to run the ball against. We need to get better to play a group like that.”

They need to have more than three net yards on the ground. They need to have the ball in their possession more than 23 minutes and 2 seconds out of the 60 (Stanford had it 36:58). They need to be more efficient near the end zone, the Bears throwing a fourth-down interception from the Stanford 12 after they had a first down at the Stanford 10.

“It’s always frustrating when you don’t score,” said Tedford. He sat behind a microphone in his familiar white coaching jacket, sunglasses pushed up on his cap. He spoke clearly and honestly. But he spoke as a defeated coach.

"We had the opportunity down deep and couldn’t score.” 

Then repeating himself, understandable because there wasn’t much else to say, he added, “It was a very frustrating day offensively, without a doubt. We have to go back to the drawing board . . . Their defense is as good as any defense we have played. We knew going in it was going to be a dogfight. You know they are going to get theirs. We didn’t have enough on our side to keep it going.”

Keep it going? They couldn’t even get it going.

 

9:53AM

RealClearSports: Playoffs? Nah, Bowl Games Are Just Fine

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


PASADENA, Calif. — Playoffs? Not to sound like Jim Mora, so let’s paraphrase him. In college football, who needs playoffs?

We have bowl games. We have the BCS. We had an overload of overtime. An abundance of suspense. What else do we need?

You think LSU-Alabama will be any better than Oregon-Wisconsin...

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2012