There was Nick Aliotti on the field during pregame warmups, looking for Stanford offensive tackle James McGillicuddy. A 24-year-old graduate student known to his teammates as the Old Man, McGillicuddy was of special interest to Aliotti, Oregon's high-energy, upbeat defensive coordinator.
"He's worn a different number every game," Aliotti says. "He's been 80. He's been 70-something. Last I saw him he was 41. I've gotta figure out his number before the game." When Aliotti finally spotted McGillicuddy on the field, he was wearing number 74. Emerging from the tunnel after warmups, he had changed into number 80.
Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh is fond of moving the 6'3", 307-pound McGillicuddy around: tackle one series, tight end the next, fullback the one after that. "He even lines up outside as a wide receiver," says Aliotti, "then comes back in and tries to hammer you."
That minidrama was but one of the problems presented by Stanford's power-based offense. In the defensive meeting room two days before the game, Aliotti did his best to explain for a visitor the columns of numbers and figures on the grease board behind him.
On the left side of the board were columns under the heading 11—plays Stanford runs out of a formation with one tight end and one back. Beside it was 12 (one back, two tight ends). There were many more plays on the right side of the board, under the columns 22 and 23.
The Ducks are quick, relentless and opportunistic—they forced seven turnovers against the Sun Devils—but they are also a bit undersized up front. Harbaugh, who played quarterback for Bo Schembechler at Michigan, has designed an offense that doubles as an homage to his deceased coach. Stanford goes into each game intending to mash and tenderize opposing defenders, then to go over their heads with quarterback Andrew Luck's play-action passes.
On Stanford's first drive, the Cardinal mashed and tenderized the Ducks, then Luck threw over their heads for an 18-yard touchdown. A fumble on a kickoff return, followed by an interception on a screen pass, gave Stanford two consecutive short fields, which the team converted into 14 more points.
While Stanford's 21--3 lead temporarily turned down the volume at Autzen, it failed to dent the confidence of the home team. Kelly did not raise his voice at halftime, he insists. All the Ducks had to do, he told them, was be themselves. "What an exciting game to be a part of," he told the team. "Now let's go out and finish!"
"I have to give credit to our defensive coaches," said Kelly. "They made some great adjustments." Asked to tick off some of those tweaks, Aliotti could not tell a lie. "The bottom line is," he said, "we just played better."
It's not easy playing defense for a team with an offense that scores as quickly as Oregon's. This season, 23 of the Ducks' 31 touchdown drives have taken 1:49 or less off the clock. Twelve of those took less than a minute. To keep bodies fresh, Aliotti rotates guys in with much more frequency than most other defensive coordinators. He uses eight linemen, six linebackers and 10 defensive backs. "It's like hockey players coming over the railing," he says.