Stanford must go on, knowing Oregon is better

November 13, 2011, 6:31 am
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Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl sounds a little anticlimactic, given the fantasies of those who worked so hard to contrive scenarii by which the Stanfords could play in the BCS championship game.

But based on what Oregon did to the Cardinal in its 53-30 kneecapping, the Fiesta Bowl is just and fair and . . . well, theres nobody to complain about it, anyway.

The Ducks did what they do, the way they do it, and in doing it just that way against the Cardinal in the verdant pasturelands of Stanford Stadium Saturday night, they showed the difference between aspirations and destinations.

Thats the thing about Oregon, head coach David Shaw said with the first sick smile of his head coaching career. You beat them when you make them do things they dont want to do, and to do that, you have to get up on them early, and you cant make mistakes.

They scored early, we made some mistakes tackling them on a couple of our long runs, and then after halftime, well, Chip (Kelly) is probably the best coach in the country at making a lot of subtle little halftime adjustments, and if youre behind, it just makes that much harder.

Put in more mathematical terms, Oregon won the first half, 22-16, and the second, 31-14. In short, the Ducks did what they do they got better. Their speed exposed Stanfords comparative deficiencies on the flanks, their power rush showed itself as Stanford was forced out of its running game, and Luck was belted and bounced as his receivers flailed against Oregons coverages.

This was, put simply, last years game. Oregon trailed, 31-24, at the half, made the Kelly adjustments, and scored four unanswered scores after the bands cleared to win by a strikingly similar score, 52-31. In short, Oregon was a point better this year, and Stanford was a point worse.

The damage to Lucks Heisman Trophy candidacy can not be measured, except by people who have no idea how much damage was actually done. It isnt like the field has raced up to meet him, and his inability to beat Oregon singlehanded should not be held unduly against him. True, he had only one tackle and no pass receptions, but theres only so many positions a man can play.

And thats the lesson that arches over this game. There is only so much anyone can do when someone else is faster, does better halftimes, and never trails. You sometimes have to take your beating with a grimace and dream of that parallel universe where those things are not necessarily true.

There were slight variables between the 2010 and 2011 games, of course, but the central theme was the same. Oregon may be the best second-half team in the country, and proved it against Jim Harbaugh a year ago and again against Shaw Saturday night.

Not even Luck, who threw for three scores but also threw two picks, one for Oregons last touchdown, could do what-ifs very convincingly. Or really, much of any remarks. Even when he said, It was obviously my worst game of the year, he was speaking accurately but also taking on a level of blame that wasnt his.

Luck was not going to beat Oregon by himself; for that, he would need running back Stepfan Taylor at his very best, but after 20 carries for 87 yards in the first half, he got the ball three times in the second because the game situations removed him from relevance. In the battle of tactical wills between the two teams, the Ducks had all the best of it, because they never trailed at any point, and forced Stanford to become the one-dimensional team Shaw was trying to make the Ducks.

Of such basic calculations are games won and lost, and with two full games of evidence in the books, we can say that this would be the outcome seven of 10 times, maybe even eight. Even with full health on both sides, Oregons gifts are more comprehensive, and it isnt just Kellys brain, but the arms, legs and torsos of his players.

So Stanfords season of dreams is now over. They cannot reasonably expect to win the Pac-12 North, are not likely to make the Rose Bowl, and will have find their bliss against California next week and Notre Dame the week after. Then maybe they get to play for, with all due deference to Brent Musburger, all the Tostitos.

Well, all the kind of old, crumbly, bottom-of-the-bag Tostitos. There will be no national championship game for the Cardinal, and that is the just result. Oregon proved it is better, twice, and under eerily similar circumstances. To be the king, you have to beat the king, and Stanford is not yet ready to be the king. The Cardinal can throw a hell of a party, but they will go from here to the end of their season knowing someone else will throw a better one.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for

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