Time of possession is overrated


Time of possession is overrated

Steve Berman

The final scores look similar, but the way Oregon went out their 53-30 victory over Stanford was quite different from their 52-31 win over the Cardinal in Eugene last year.

A year ago Stanford jumped out to a 21-3 lead before getting crushed over the last three quarters. This time Oregon showed early on that they were the superior team, jumping out to an early lead they'd never relinquish.

It was almost like Stanford head coach David Shaw saw his team's fate coming, at least based on what he said earlier in the week.

"We got to get drives in the end zone, because (Oregon) might have a 3-play, 78-yard drive," Shaw said. "And if you're kicking field goals and they're scoring touchdowns there's no chance, regardless of what the time of possession is."

Stanford's offense gained more yards than Oregon's (400-387) and led in time of possession (34:25-25:35). After the game was over and the Ducks flew out of California with a vise grip on the Pac-12, those numbers didn't matter in the slightest.

This game was mostly about Oregon destroying Stanford with the same speed the Cardinal and everyone looking forward to this game obsessed over all week, particularly the running ability routinely displayed by LaMichael James. James looked like the Heisman Trophy favorite in this game, rushing 20 times for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns.

However, this game was also about how each team reacted when good fortune (translation: the football) fell into their laps.

Former Heisman favorite Andrew Luck threw a first quarter interception that Dewitt Stuckey took to Stanford's 20, and Darron Thomas threw a TD pass to Lavasier Tuinei five plays later.

Stanford's Delano Howell used the cast on his right hand to knock the ball out of De'Anthony Thomas' arms a little while later, and the Cardinal squandered good field position with a drive that sputtered in the red zone before Eric Whitaker kicked a 37-yard field goal.

The Ducks started the third quarter by once again displaying in full abundance what they possess that Stanford doesn't. Ducks receiver Josh Huff caught pass in the flat from Thomas while Cardinal corner Terrence Brown was picking himself up off the sloppy Stanford Stadium turf. One juke later and Brown was back on the turf again. A split second later, Cardinal safety Michael Thomas was on the ground as well as Huff sped into the end zone past everyone for a 59-yard TD reception.

After Stanford went three and out on their next possession they finally experienced a little good luck, as James dropped David Green's punt and Stanford recovered the ball at Oregon's 34.

With Oregon holding a 29-16 lead after Huff's touchdown, the Cardinal couldn't settle for a field goal. And they didn't, as Whitaker's 48-yard attempt was wide to the right by almost the same distance.

Talk about a gut punch.

From there, it was an exhibition of pass rushing brilliance from Oregon. The Ducks sacked Luck three times on the night and hit him on several other occasions, proving speed can be a useful quality even when you don't have the ball.

Oregon also displayed the kind of rushing dominance that sucks the life out of teams, which heading into this game was supposed to be Stanford's identity. In the second half the Ducks broke off five runs of 10 yards or longer, compared to none for the Cardinal. For the game Oregon averaged 5.0 yards per carry compared to 3. 7 for Stanford.

Stanford won't enjoy looking back on numerous dropped passes and missed tackles, or the three turnovers they committed in less than 4 minutes at the end of the game. But just like last year, the Ducks proved again to be the superior team.

The Ducks took advantage of Cardinal turnovers, Stanford didn't take advantage of turnovers by Oregon, and at the end of the game the Cardinal couldn't stop turning the ball over. Different game than last year, same result: Oregon rules the Pac-12.
Steve Berman is the Bay Area Sports Guy and a contributor to CSNBayArea.com. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter @BASportsGuy

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

Stanford star McCaffrey boosts NFL Draft stock with special teams skills

INDIANAPOLIS -- More and more college coaches are putting their starters and even their stars on special teams as they seek to pile up every possible point in an era of pedal-to-the-metal shootouts and never-safe leads.

Fading fast are the days when superstars would catch their breath on the sideline when the kicker or punter trotted onto the field with the scrubs.

NFL teams love it.

Watching how players handle themselves as a blocker, gunner or returner provides a glimpse into a prospect's range, selflessness and versatility. It also delivers a sneak peek into how coachable he'll be, says Phil Savage, the SiriusXM NFL Radio host who spent two decades as an NFL coach, scout and executive and now oversees the Senior Bowl.

"I think because of the landscape of college football where scoring is at a premium, you've got to figure out a way to put points on the board not only on offense but through your special teams and defensively, as well," Savage says. "These coaches want to get these young players on the field as soon as possible, and a way to do that is utilize them on special teams."

These tapes provide a bonus to pro scouts.

"Now you have a vision of what that player might forecast to in the NFL as a young player and, specifically, as a rookie," Savage said.

Offensive and defensive coaches have a better idea of the types of players they're integrating into their schemes, and special teams coaches no longer get blank stares and blank canvases from the rookie class.

"Not only do you like the fact that they come in and have experience doing it, but you love the mentality if you're a coach and a decision maker that this guy isn't a diva, he's got no ego about it, he understands the team and puts team before self," says ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay.

"And he comes in with the mindset of 'What can I do to help the team and how can I contribute?' Those are the guys that seem to make it and last longer in the league because they're just willing to do different things and whatever it takes."

The prime example in this year's draft class is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey , a "dynamic player than can do it all," according to Broncos GM John Elway.

McCaffrey gained more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and added almost 2,000 more as a returner.

"There's just a lot of big plays open in the return game," McCaffrey says. "You see special teams have such an impact on the game today. Any time I can have the ball in my hands, I feel like I can do something dangerous, and that's really why I love the return game."

Other highly touted draft prospects who polished their resumes on special teams include Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Washington wide receiver John Ross, and USC cornerback Adroee' Jackson, all of whom are projected as high selections.

McShay says "we're seeing more and more programs put an emphasis on special teams and having their key players contribute in one or more areas on special teams."

He pointed to Ohio State, where Urban Myers coaches special teams himself.

"It's a major emphasis there, and so you'll see some more guys typically lined up and contributing that are starters and stars," McShay says. "It's an honor to be on special teams."

Not a burden.

"It is not uncommon now to see people that are going to be picked in the first round having 100-plus special teams plays," suggests NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt.

He pointed to the University of Florida, where Gators defensive backs cover kickoffs as well as they do receivers.

"Everyone's always trying to get their best guys on the field," Brandt says.

That's a change from years past when coaches feared exposing their star players to the extra hits.

The added value benefits the players, whose multiple talents allow NFL general managers to address many needs.

"We're seeing more emphasis on it in college, and I think NFL teams love to see it because if just means you're getting a bit more for your buck," McShay says.

Top talents who bolstered their value by playing special teams:

CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY , RB, STANFORD: He shined at the combine working out with the running backs and was as impressive running routes. Asked if there was anything he couldn't do, the son of former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey said then: "I can't sing."

JABRILL PEPPERS , S, MICHIGAN: He worked out with safeties and linebackers at the combine, where teams talked of him playing RB and WR in addition to returning kicks. "The bottom line is I'm a ballplayer and I'm a hell of a ballplayer," Peppers said.

JOHN ROSS , WR, WASHINGTON: He caught 81 passes with 17 TDs last season but actually posted more return yards (2,069) than scrimmage yards (1,924) in his college career.

ADOREE' JACKSON , CB, USC: One of the best special teams coverage players in the NCAA, Jackson also scored eight TDs on punt and kick returns in college. His punt return averages rose from 6.0 yards to 10.5 and 15.8.

JAMAL ADAMS , S, LSU: Another star in coverage, Adams' defensive mentality extends to special teams. "I love being on the field and just playing football," said Adams, whose father, George, was a first-round pick by the Giants in 1985.

ALVIN KAMARA , RB, TENNESSEE: In a deep running back group, Kamara separates himself with his special teams acumen. "A lot of teams have been bringing up special teams," Kamara said.

DESMOND KING , CB, IOWA: He had eight interceptions as a junior and three as a senior. "I had a really good special teams season," King said. "Not being targeted as much, I still went out there and competed the best I could and was still making plays."

CHRIS WORMLEY , DE, MICHIGAN: Wormley touts playing for Jim Harbaugh as one of his attributes. "Coach Harbaugh came in and ran our program like an NFL program, like he had with the 49ers," said Wormley, who blocked three kicks his senior season.

ZAY JONES , WR, EAST CAROLINA: Like McCaffrey, he has good NFL bloodlines (son of Robert Jones, brother of Cayleb Jones). He caught 158 passes as a senior, but spent his first two seasons in college also making his mark as a returner.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft


Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.