Birds of War: Stanford Threatens To Clip High-Flying Ducks

Jason FigueiredoCorrespondent INovember 5, 2009

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Toby Gerhart #7 of the Stanford Cardinal runs against the Washington Huskies at Stanford Stadium on September 26, 2009 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Four, count them, four ranked teams stand in Stanford’s way of their first bowl appearance in almost a decade.  This weekend, the No. 8 Oregon Ducks march into the Farm, coming off of their biggest win of the year, but if they are not careful, they could be violently blindsided by a secretly explosive Stanford offense.

Stanford’s 31.9 points per game ranks third in the Pac-10, where they sit only 3.5 points behind than the Ducks.  But where Stanford lacks in the flash that Oregon offense brings to the field, they make it up in true grit.

Jim Harbaugh rarely strays from the plan of pounding the rock with Toby "White Thunder" Gerhart and by controlling the ground they are able to control the tempo of the game. 

Stanford is 5-1 when they have an edge in time of possession but when time isn’t on their side, they haven’t won.

Staying within striking distance as long as possible provides the Cardinal with the best chance of handing Oregon an unexpected upset this Saturday.  With the Ducks coming out of an emotional victory against USC, this very unassuming matchup could be Stanford’s for the taking.

Almost everyone in the nation is finally touting the amazing skills of Oregon and while the Ducks have a fairly easy schedule in front of them, losing focus now and believing the increasing hype would be unwise.  

Stanford, fresh off their bye week, has had two weeks to prepare for this juggernaut and depending on how things unfold in the early minutes, the extra time for the Cardinal and the extra exertion of emotional energy for the Ducks could work out extremely nice for fans in Palo Alto.

In order for Harbaugh to stick to his "Gerhart Plan," getting on the scoreboard first and coming up with huge defensive stops will be key. But containing Jeremiah Masoli and LeMichael James should not be a simple or even a moderately easy task.  

The Ducks annihilated a young but quite talented USC defense, who are frighteningly leaps and bounds better than the defensive product Stanford has seen for most of this season.  

Stanford’s rushing defense allows on average 126.4 yard per game and probably looks like a juicy steak to the Oregon offense.  The Cardinal will also have to focus on Masoli’s arm, which has the ability to torch them if they even hint at stacking eight or more in the box. 

Exploiting any mistakes that this possibly psychologically weary offense may provide could make a huge difference in the outcome of this game.  Unfortunately, turning the ball over hasn’t exactly been the Cardinal’s forte.

Through last week, they were tied for the bottom spot in the Pac-10 with USC, posting a miserable minus-three turnover margin.  Their secondary has only picked the ball off three times which is horrific compared to the 11 the Ducks’ secondary has pulled down.  

And while Stanford’s offense does have the ability to keep up or at least stay close to Oregon’s (and the rest of the teams on their schedule’s) numbers, relying on their shoddy defense could be the brick that breaks the turtle’s back.

Stanford’s defense will be put through the wringer from now through their final game and how they respond to this excruciating test should determine just what kind of light we look upon the 2009 Stanford Cardinal at the season’s end.