Stanford at Oregon: The Cardinal Defense Must Avoid Second-Half Failings to Win

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Stanford at Oregon: The Cardinal Defense Must Avoid Second-Half Failings to Win
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chip Kelly's team is set up to play their toughest test of the season against a physical Stanford Cardinal squad in Eugene. The Ducks have outlasted the Cardinal in the past couple seasons, beating them by double digits and hanging a huge number on them late.

Stanford's football team can play with Oregon. They have a scheme and the personnel to run with the Ducks. At the start of the game. The Cardinal can get stops. They can slow down the offense. They can cause problems and be disruptive. 

Then halftime happens and the Cardinal come out and get boat raced. In the last three contests between these two teams the Cardinal have given up 87 combined points in the second halves. A 29 points given up per game average would put Stanford's defense 70th in scoring defense this season; they are allowing that many in the second half when they play Oregon.

It's not something Oregon is doing different. The Ducks are not hitting a switch and "turning it on" against the Cardinal. Chip Kelly's team is sticking to their game plan, applying pressure and ultimately Stanford's defense breaks down.

Here you can see the progression as a whole from the first Oregon drive through their final push:

As you'll notice, early in the game the Cardinal are active. They're chasing down ball carriers. They are making stops behind the line of scrimmage. They are blowing up Oregon's offensive linemen and making life hard for the backs hoping to find seams.

Then, something happens. Fatigue sets in, and folks, all fatigue isn't created equal. What we see happen to Stanford is not the hands-on-hips, beg-for-mercy, shy-from-contact-fatigue that we're used to with teams like LSU or Alabama. No, what Oregon induces in the Cardinal is a very different type of fatigue.

It is the type of tired where, sure, you feel fine, but you are a step slower. You don't take that half step to get your feet set and then someone who you're supposed to be stronger than is pinning you on your back or sealing you off from the ball carrier. Plays that you would have normally made in the first half come just out of reach.

Take a look here from the 9:17 mark of the above video:

Relatively traditional set by Oregon: shotgun, one-back, tight end and three receivers in the game. Stanford counters with a Nickel package look—five defensive backs, three linebackers and three defensive linemen. They have four down linemen because hybrid outside backer Chase Thomas (44) has his hand down on the ground. That's a move 3-4 teams work to position themselves.

Check the green run lane that's opening up for the running back. That's huge. It's huge because Oregon, has one Stanford lineman pinned already, they have a guard pulling to run power and they have the tight end sealing the edge against a defensive end. Chase Thomas sees the hand off and is giving chase, but he's nowhere near able to make a play.

The back is in the hole as you can see by the yellow star. He's got a lead blocker ready to collision that linebacker down field. Every player on the Stanford offensive line, including the tight end, is finishing off their blocks now.

Six guys on the ground and/or out of position to make a play. Chase Thomas, the unblocked backside defensive end, is in that wash of Stanford bodies that Oregon's offensive line just put on the ground. He's up but he's not in position to help, like he was in the first half.

Nine yards. That's how far the running back is down field before this Stanford defense can actually make a play. Nine yards. That's not just second-level deep, that's safety deep as two defensive backs try to make the tackle.

As we all know, once you're tired, tackling form disappears easily and so these guys are in for a little ride.

Finally, after about a 14-yard gain, they get the running back to the ground.

Stanford didn't do anything "wrong" on this play. They just were physically incapable of making the plays that helped them keep the game close in the first half. If Stanford wants to get over this Oregon hump, they have to remedy this issue come Saturday in Eugene.

These games really have been a tale of two halves and for Stanford's hopes of hosting a Pac-12 Championship Game to remain alive, this year's second half cannot be the 29-point affair it has been in recent years.

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