Stanford Cardinal - Page 8

View From The Sideline

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A Saturday without Oregon football on our hands and a month into the 2011 season. The bye week is an opportune time for a quick survey around the new neighborhood. The addition of Utah and Colorado to the autumn sports calendar has brought a touch of new color to the scenery.

From the day conference expansion was announced, the expectation was that Colorado was going off the deep-end and would sink quickly. Ever since Oregon clocked them in the 2001 Fiesta Bowl, Colorado has steadily regressed and shows little sign of resuscitation. Head coach Jon Embree is a first year head man and the talent cupboard is bare.

The new affiliation with the Pac-12 may help with recruiting in the long run, but the key word here is ‘long’. It won’t happen overnight.

The Buffs have followed form so far, losing to Hawaii, California and Ohio State. This Saturday’s match-up with Washington State is more a measure of the Cougs than it is Colorado.

Should the Buffaloes prevail, it would be widely seen as WSU returning to their cellar dwelling ways of late. A Cougar win would be seen as validation head coach Paul Wulff finally has the program heading in the right direction.

Utah, on the other hand, has enjoyed recent success albeit in the lesser Mountain West Conference. First under Urban Meyer and now Kyle Whittingham, the Utes have been a frequent BCS buster and have made the most of those moments in the spotlight.

The question that will be answered by expansion is the age-old knock on the non-BCS leagues: would the best of their teams hold up against BCS programs week in and week out?

In their Pac-12 debut, Utah was a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown away from taking USC to overtime in Los Angeles. However, that result may be somewhat diminished by USC’s pedestrian showing last week against ASU.

Utah also impressed with a lopsided win over BYU. That’s why this Saturday’s match-up with Washington will be a good indicator of what impact the Utes will have on the Southern Division standings.

Arizona, Arizona State, USC and UCLA join the two newcomers in the sunnier side of the conference.

Arizona is in a death spiral, losing to seven consecutive FBS opponents. There is probably not a hotter coaching seat in the country than Rick Neuheisel’s at UCLA. Lane Kiffin and the USC Trojans appear to be heading that direction as well. That’s how it looks after last Saturday’s beat down at the hands of ASU and continued NCAA compliance reverberations from his tenure at Tennessee.

It’s a different story in Tempe. Although they failed to reach a bowl game last season, coming into the 2011 campaign ASU was seen to be the most likely candidate to emerge at the top of the division.

Some of that reasoning was predicated on the continued ineligibility of USC, but there is no denying the Sun Devils returned a very athletic core group of players.

Maturity and mental toughness are always open questions for Dennis Erickson’s squad. That caveat seemed well taken in light of the Sun Devils’ inexplicable loss to Illinois in week three.

But fast, physical defenses have been a trademark of Erickson’s best teams, and this group fills the bill to a “T”. ASU does not face Stanford, so back to back October road match-ups against Utah and then Oregon will determine whether the Sun Devils are new contenders or continuing pretenders.

In the northern half of the Pac-12, Oregon and Stanford continue to demonstrate they deserved to be in those preseason favorite conversations. Oregon’s loss to LSU didn’t do the Ducks many favors in terms of national respect, but it may well have won them 14 more ballgames this season.

That pairing three weeks into the season would have been a far better measure of the Ducks, but both Oregon and LSU have since played to their talents. But such is the way of college football: You play them when they are on the schedule, not when you might like.

Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck has been methodical in carving up every defense he has lined up against. Turning the coin on Arizona State’s scheduled miss, the future #1 pick won’t see what very well could be the best defensive unit in the conference. That’s a pity, because it would be a heck of a show.

Given that free pass, other than Oregon, there doesn’t appear to be a team in the northern half of the conference that can either beat Luck in a shoot out or slow him down enough to give your offense a chance.

Washington and Washington State are both making moves out of the cellar. However, defensive liabilities leave each without a realistic opportunity to move past either Stanford or Oregon in the standings.

California, as always, is something of an enigma under Jeff Tedford. The Golden Bears are handful on their home turf but have lost eight of the last nine they have played on the road. You don’t win conference championships that way. You don’t even win 8 games that way.

Panic is all that can be found in Corvallis, not all of it justified. Any rational survey of the Beavers coming out of last season, and considering the departure of Jacquizz Rodgers for the NFL, would make it clear this was going to be a long season at Reser.

Injuries have exposed a lack of depth on both sides of the ball and a clumsy early season quarterback switch torpedoed the 2011 campaign quickly. At this point, a winless season isn’t out of the question.

As the calendar turns to October other than the color of those changing leaves, the Pac-12 looks a lot like it did in early August. The games that will determine the Pac-12 conference championship remain Arizona State’s October 15th date with Ducks in Autzen and Oregon’s November 12th throw down in Palo Alto.

— Rick Morgan for EDN

Records Are Made To Be Broken

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What a performance, huh?  LaMichael James ran wild for 288 yards in Oregon’s 56-31 victory against Arizona.  More impressive is the fact that he also had 363 all-purpose yards, and both are new school records. It has also continued the chatter that this might the best back to ever wear a Duck uniform.

LaMichael James rewrote a couple records against Arizona. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

I bring this up, because I remember the last time both records were set in 2001.  The Ducks were playing at Washington State, and wound up beating the Cougars 24-17.  Well, actually some would argue that Onterrio Smith single-handedly won that game in Pullman, because he ran for 285 yards, as well as 342 all-purpose yards in the effort.

Funny thing is, even though Onterrio was outstanding during his two brief seasons, I haven’t heard many folks say he was one of the top five running backs in Oregon history.  (For the record, I would have him in my top ten, but I can name at least five that were better).  But for one day, Onterrio Smith set a couple records that weren’t touched until this past weekend.

It took a decade before someone touched those records, and it may very well take another decade before they are surpassed.  But I have a feeling, while LaMichael probably will go down as the greatest ever, that these marks will not stand forever.  Records are, after all, made to be broken.  (Particularly if they are Lawrence Welk records…).

Now let’s switch to the other side of the ball.  I know there are some of you that cringed at the play of Oregon’s defense on Saturday.  Yes, the Ducks had a 35-9 lead at halftime, but then Nick Foles went off in the second half.  If you blinked, it was suddenly 35-24 after two Wildcat possessions, and suddenly (for a brief spell) it was a game again.

Well, I’m here to tell you not to panic just yet.  First off, Nick Foles is going to throw for 400 yards or more against a lot of teams this year.  He’s got a great arm and a great cast of receivers.  However, keep this in mind:  the Ducks pressured him on many occasions and even sacked him a few times.

Does that excuse the defense giving up 22 points in the second half?  No.  But this group has too much talent not to improve as the season goes along.  Moreover, defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has been pretty adept at making adjustments over the years.

Besides, will his defensive schemes ever be mistaken for the Steel Curtain defenses of the 1970’s?  Of course not.  It always has been (and I know Aliotti despises this term) “bend, but don’t break” with him.

Let’s put it this way:  The Oregon defense would not necessarily be ready for a game against Stanford this weekend.  But in November?  It could be an entirely different story.

Chip Kelly is still driving opposing coaches nuts with the pacing of his offense. (Photo Credit: Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

What won’t be a different story is the overall pacing of Chip Kelly’s offense.  They were in fine form in Tucson, scoring anywhere from 1-2 minutes at a time.  Honestly, regardless of how the defense is doing, if Oregon is averaging over 40 points a game, they’re going to be hard to stop (and that includes the Cardinals).  In fact, it’s enough to drive some coaches crazy.

Speaking of which, I usually don’t like to go on record on what I think about coaches from other schools, but Arizona’s top guy Mike Stoops needs a psychiatrist.  Did you see his antics on the sidelines against Oregon?  I know he’s always been a little over the top, and his going on the field to bark his head off at the referees is nothing new.

But it used to be every other play.  Now, it seems like he’s pulling this stunt after every single down.  Honestly, it’s kind of surprise someone from the conference hasn’t taken action against him by now.  Then again, it may be a moot point.  If he keeps losing games this season (a very good possibility), Mike Stoops will probably be out of a job when it’s all said and done.

Now then, there would usually be a game prediction in this column.  But since there is no game this weekend, I really can’t do that.

What I can do is use this week to expand my coverage and make this sports page even better.  I have said that I want to make this the “go-to” sports page in the Eugene area.  It isn’t there yet, but it will be in a matter of time.  If you’ve got a suggestion, send it to [email protected] – you just never know.

Until then, I’ll see you in the bleachers.

Sam Finley  – Sports Editor EDN

 

Oregon Opens Pac-12 With A Pair of Victories

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The Pac-12 era got off to a good start for the 16th ranked Oregon Ducks when the volleyball team defeated Arizona and Arizona State at Matthew Knight Arena over the weekend.

Oregon swept the Wildcats 3-0 (25-23, 25-10, 25-20) on Friday, improving their season mark to 8-1. Arizona had won the last five meetings.

Alaina Bergsma led the Oregon attack with 16 kills. As a team, the Ducks hit for .299 while holding the visiting Wildcats to a .143 mark.

On Sunday, the Ducks dropped their first set in seven matches against Arizona State.

Oregon did show a more balanced attack against the Sun Devils with four players reaching the double figure level in kills. Bergsma was at the head of the pack with 22. Lauren Plum and Katherine Fischer each added a dozen, and Ariana Williams knocked down 10.

Oregon out hit ASU .279 to .161 and held a 63-42 advantage in kills. Despite the lopsided advantage on the stat sheet, the Sun Devils weren’t willing to go quietly back to the desert after the Ducks handily won the first set 25-12.

ASU took an early lead in the second set and, although Oregon rallied late to tie the match at 19, the Sun Devils escaped with the set on a pair of Oregon attack errors.

“We came out well,” said head coach Jim Moore of Sunday’s first set. “We jumped on them in the beginning and you could just see us thinking, ‘oh, we’re fine’. But they (ASU) got hot, got all excited, started yelling and screaming, and they got in it. You let somebody in it and you’re going to have to fight.”

In the third session, Arizona State battled Oregon tough to a 13-13 tie. They wilted, however, under a barrage of Bergsma and Lauren Gross attacks. The Ducks claimed the set 25-20.

Oregon built a comfortable 20-15 margin in the fourth set and appeared to be set to close out the match.  Unfortunately, Oregon was again victimized by untimely attack errors, and ASU fought their way back to a tie at 23.

But Bergsma and Williams ended the suspense, as well as the match 25-23 with a pair of kills.

“That was the frustrating part,” said Moore. “We were on them so well in the beginning and then just kind of relax and think that it’s over,We haven’t done that in a while. So, although we were pretty nervous at one point, it was good come out and take care of Arizona State.”

The Ducks are the road for their next four matches. First on their travel itinerary, they’ll face conference newcomers Colorado (Sep 23) and Utah (Sep 24). Then, Oregon will cross the Columbia River to tangle with Washington (Sep 30) and Washington State (Oct 1).

The next homestand will be early next month, when the Ducks return to Matthew Knight Arena to host the Bay Area schools.  Cal will be the opponent on Friday, October 7th.  One day later, they’ll play the Stanford Cardinal on the 8th. Both matches are set to begin at 7:00 pm.

— Rick Morgan for EDN

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