Stanford wary of speeding Ducks

Stanford wary of speeding Ducks
November 12, 2011, 5:42 pm
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Steve Berman
CSNBayArea.com

Stanford students have a lot of reasons to feel great going into this weekend. First of all, they go to Stanford, where the autumns are temperate and everyone seems too busy changing the world to let a little thing like a football game with National Championship implications dominate their thoughts.

"This campus does a great job of keeping your perspective," Cardinal head coach David Shaw said.

"I talked to a doctor on campus who's working toward steps to curing cancer. Stanford vs. Oregon is not high on his list. He's going to be at the game, but he's got a lot of stuff to do between now and then."

Shaw was laughing as he said it, and he also knows that interest in what happens within the confines of Stanford Stadium has never been higher. For instance, Chris Fowler, ringmaster of the ESPN Gameday circus set to descend upon The Farm, was chatting with Shaw after practice yesterday in a t-shirt and shorts.
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Fowler had just completed a workout at one of the facilities on campus. Because when you're at Stanford, that's what you do.

Even though the Bay Area is decidedly more interested in its professional teams, and despite Stanford's smallish undergrad population compared to the rest of the Pac-12 (less than 7,000), there should be enough rowdy, tree-cheering students to keep Lee Corso company even though the festivities start at 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

But even though they wouldn't admit it, those fans who populate No. 3 Stanford's rowdy student section -- and the doctors on campus who work on curing cancer during the week -- are just a little bit concerned. In order to experience the rarity of a perfect season, they need to exact revenge on the No. 6-ranked Oregon Ducks.

And whenever anyone around Palo Alto brings up the Ducks, one word's always close behind.

Speed.

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Last year in Eugene, the Cardinal jumped out to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter and looked like one of the most advanced college offenses ever. Then Oregon outscored Stanford 49-10 over the last three quarters. Outran was more like it.

So you can't blame Stanford fans for having nightmares starring LaMichael James and Darron Thomas rushing for hundreds of yards and countless touchdowns, perpetually just out of the reach of Cardinal defenders. After all, that's pretty much what happened last year.

That's not to say Stanford fans aren't confident. They're riding the nation's longest winning streak and have a distinct style that seems built for the long haul: brute force mixed with creativity, both of which the Cardinal feature in abundance.

They also have the nation's preeminent quarterback. That's where pressure really comes into the mix. Forget the national television sideshow, the inequities of the BCS process and everything else. Andrew Luck won't be playing quarterback for Stanford much longer, and Saturday provides the chance for Luck to do even more than simply keep the nation's longest active winning streak alive. It's also a chance to nail down the school's first Heisman Trophy since Jim Plunkett won the award over 40 years ago.

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Even though Stanford is by nature a running team, it's tough for many to shake the feeling that for the Cardinal to beat the Ducks they'll need an enshrine-him-in-Canton-immediately performance from Luck. Or that the game will be a 53-52 shootout, with Luck trading scoring blows with Oregon's band of track stars without WR Chris Owusu or TE Zach Ertz.

Many of the questions earlier this week directed at Shaw and Stanford's players were in regards to the surface of play. Will Stanford have an advantage on natural grass? Not at all says Stanford's head coach.

"They're fast everywhere. They can be playing on sand," Shaw said of Oregon. "We're all playing on the same surface. LaMichael James is fast. Kenjon Barner is fast. Darron Thomas is fast."

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However, the prevailing wisdom in these parts is that while Stanford can put points on the board against anyone the Pac-12 -- or even the SEC -- has to offer, the road to victory requires a speed limit.

Steve Berman is the Bay Area Sports Guy and a contributor to CSNBayArea.com. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter @BASportsGuy