Oregon's supreme patience pays off in comeback rout of No. 9 Stanford
Oregon showed no fear or panic after falling behind 21-3 in the first quarter
The Ducks defense has allowed only seven second-half points all season
Oregon may have the nation's attention, after stomping Stanford and Tennessee
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EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon center Jordan Holmes explained the methodology behind the Ducks' offense to an outsider Saturday night with same matter-of-factness of a mechanic describing how a fuel-injection system works.
"We'll run the same play seven times in a row," Holmes said. "It'll go for two, then two again, then two again. Then we'll pop one for 20. We'll just keep running the play, running the play. We'll just keep chipping away. That's how we roll."
To hear Oregon players tell it, they never experienced one iota of fear, not even when Stanford took an 18-point lead in the first quarter. That the Ducks turned the deficit into a 52-31 win didn't surprise anyone in green and yellow. At Oregon, players speak of the offense with a sense of inevitability. The tide will erode the beach sooner or later. Sooner or later, the Ducks will bust a huge play.
"That's what we are, in a nutshell," Holmes said. "We're explosive. It only takes one tiny hole to pop one and go for six."
Tailback LaMichael James, who rushed for a career-high 257 yards on 31 carries, swore he didn't even know the size of the deficit.
"You just can't worry about the score," said James. "You've just got to play your game. This team right here is really buying into this system. We're down, but we know eventually something is going to break because of our tempo and our endurance."
So when Stanford capitalized on a fumbled kickoff return and a Chase Thomas interception to take a 21-3 lead, Oregon's sideline didn't collectively pucker. "You can't panic," receiver D.J. Davis said. "You can't press the panic button."
Instead of panicking, the Ducks chipped. As the second quarter began, Oregon's repetition finally began to wear on the Cardinal. The Ducks ran a play. They sprinted to the line of scrimmage. They ran a play. They sprinted to the line of scrimmage. They ran a play. All that sprinting and play-running eventually discombobulates even the best-coached defenses. By the time quarterback Darron Thomas found Jeff Maehl for a 29-yard touchdown across the middle, Maehl seemed shocked to find himself so open. None of the other eight plays in the drive went for more than 13 yards. Most went for fewer than six. Chip, chip, chip, chip. BOOM!
Speaking of Chips, Oregon coach Chip Kelly made his boldest call after the Maehl touchdown catch. Kelly called for an onside kick that required kicker Rob Beard to collect the football himself. "That's what we practiced, for him to recover it," Kelly said. "Everybody was going to go block, and the kicker was going to recover the ball."
A few more chip, chip, chips and Oregon was in the end zone again. The Cardinal added another touchdown and a field goal to go into the half up 31-24, but by the time the teams hit the locker room, momentum had swung. The Ducks would keep chipping. Eventually, the Cardinal would crumble.
In the locker room, Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Allotti didn't channel Knute Rockne to inspire his unit to forget about allowing 31 points. Allotti didn't recall any major schematic adjustments that helped his unit reduce that total to zero in the second half. "To be honest with you," Allotti said, "we played better."
The Ducks held the Cardinal to 66 rushing yards in the second half after allowing 111 in the first. That forced Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck to try to beat Oregon with his arm. Three-step drops became five- and seven-step drops. The Ducks finally began hitting Luck, who threw a pair of second-half interceptions to Cliff Harris. The half began with a defensive stop, and the offense blazed 68 yards in 2:33 to tie the score.
On Stanford's next possession, Oregon safety Javes Lewis hit receiver Chris Owusu, who fumbled and crumpled to the turf. Ducks linebacker Eddie Pleasant picked up the ball and returned it 51 yards to the Stanford 3, setting up the second of James' three touchdowns. The Ducks led for the first time since 3-0, and showed no signs of stopping. The offense moved as fast as it had in the first quarter, and the defense continued to shuffle players the way an NHL team shuffles its lines.
By the time James blasted through a gap for a 76-yard exclamation point and Oregon's mascot fell in a quivering heap after banging out the final 52 of his 220 pushups, the party was in full swing.
So what happens now for the Ducks? With a national audience watching in prime time, they fell behind and then proceeded to demolish a top-10 team. But will they be regarded as national title contenders? It would be hard to walk into a bar in Birmingham and explain that a team that has allowed 1,115 yards in the past two weeks can hang with an Alabama club that crushed Florida on Saturday.
But things are different out here. Alabama, Ohio State and Boise State won't face a murderer's row of quarterbacks like Luck, Washington's Jake Locker, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles. Yards are going to be surrendered. Allotti said he understands the yardage total might seem alarming, but it doesn't vex him. Here's a more important stat: This season, the Ducks have allowed only seven second-half points. "We've given up a lot of yards," Allotti said. "That kind stuff doesn't bother me. If you win the game, it would be nice to play a little bit better, but that doesn't bother me. We want to lead the NCAA in effort."
As good as the Pac-10 is, the Ducks' national title hopes should sort themselves out. Kelly is more concerned with how his players respond next week for a trip to Washington State. After Oregon lost to Boise State in Week 1 last year and was left for dead, Kelly didn't change his practice one bit. The Ducks reeled off seven consecutive wins, started feeling pretty good about themselves and then got popped for a 51-42 loss at Stanford. Kelly hopes he has instilled the correct attitude in his team, but he can't be sure.
"That's still a work in progress," he said. "These kids believe right now. But will they believe on Monday?"
Down 21-3 on Saturday, they believed. "Every team is going to have adversity," James said. "I think what matters is how you overcome adversity."
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