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November 13, 2012

Stopping Oregon

Stanford football coach David Shaw won't get much sleep this week, but that won't prevent him from having nightmares. Watching Oregon film will take care of that, no problem.

Asked how he was doing Tuesday, Shaw didn't directly answer the question. Instead, he posed one in response: "After the last 48 hours of watching Oregon film, how would you feel?"

What he saw was a team that ranks No. 1 in the country in scoring (54.8 ppg), No. 3 in total offense (562.6), No. 3 in rushing offense (325.1) and No. 3 in passing efficiency. Oregon's starting running back, Kenjon Barner, is fourth in the country in rushing and arguably isn't even the best back on the team -- some may point to sophomore De'Anthony Thomas.

The Ducks are replacing LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, both of whom left early for the NFL, but they've gotten better with Barner and redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Barner and James might be a wash, but Mariota has proven to be a significant improvement over Thomas.

"I think that question has been answered, repeatedly," said Shaw in regards to the improvement at quarterback. "I don't want to say anything bad about Thomas, he crushed us two times, but at the same time this guy. For him being a redshirt freshman, it's mind boggling how good he is right now and how comfortable he is and how accurate he throws the ball in addition to how well he runs.

"I'm not giving news flashes here, they've been saying up at Oregon that this is the best quarterback that they've had. Ever. (In coach Chip Kelly's tenure)."

Stanford has been recruiting with the purpose of preparing for the tempo that Oregon plays at. Its inside linebacking corps of Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley, Jarek Lancaster and James Vaughters will rotate frequently in an effort to keep the Cardinal as fresh as possible.

In practice, Stanford will use two huddles in on offense in an attempt to mimic the break-neck speed that Oregon employs. Even then, it'll be hard-pressed to do enough to prepare for an offense that Shaw has grown to respect more with each passing year.

"We don't talk about stopping anybody," Shaw said. "We talk about slowing everybody down. There's no stopping these guys. We can hold them down for awhile, but eventually they're going to crack a couple. That' s fine. That's part of the game."

When it appeared Kelly was headed to the NFL to coach Tampa Bay, Shaw has a simple description for his reaction: "I was not sad."

His departure might have been the only thing that could have slowed down the Ducks, but the flirtation ended quickly when it was announced he would return to Eugene.

Would Kelly's system work in the NFL?

"I think it's to the point now where -- not that I'm trying to talk him into it, and not that I'm not -- honestly, I've become a believer," Shaw said. "It's a very sound system. It's not a hokey college system. "They run inside zone, they run outside zone, they run traps, there's quarterback reads, there's play-action pass. It has the components of every good NFL offense, it just looks a little different."

And Stanford has yet to solve how to stop it.

Over the past four years, Oregon has increased its point total each season against Stanford (35 to 42 to 52 to 53). Considering the Cardinal is the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the country, it figures to have a fighting chance at slowing down Oregon, but it was ranked similarly the past two seasons and had little success.

What'll it take for a Stanford win?

Shaw: "It's going to take our best game and not their best game to pull this thing off."


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