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Lowell Cohn: Clash of philosophies between Stanford and Oregon

  • Stanford's Tyler Gaffney (25) runs against Oregon State's Rommel Mageo (46) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday Oct. 26, 2013. Stanford beat Oregon State 20-12. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)

Head coach Mark Helfrich, who comes out guns blazing, wants to run a play every 22 seconds. That can cause oxygen deficit in a defense, exactly what the Ducks aim for. Oregon wants to set up fast at the line of scrimmage, too fast for the defense to substitute, too fast for the defense to get a blow.

Oregon spreads the field from boundary to boundary, spreads its backs, spreads its receivers — just plain stretches a defense horizontally, creating one-on-one matchups, creating coverage nightmares.

And if Oregon scores early, it smells blood and then it increases its speed even more, getting the plays in faster in the middle of a series. After a first down, it will run the next play bang, just like that. A defense has to make the right calls on the fly and a defense has to hang in there. In the second half, conditioning becomes a factor. Stanford is a well-conditioned team.

Gee, I'm getting light-headed just writing about the Ducks' super-amped offense.

Stanford doesn't do any of that. It does the opposite. Stanford likes to play offense in a phone booth. That was merely a metaphor because there aren't phone booths anymore. But you get the point. Stanford likes to play in a confined space. Stanford likes — loves — big tough offensive linemen and big tough tight ends. Often, these players are called "ogre personnel," and this whole deal is a carryover from the Jim Harbaugh days at Stanford. (I once asked Harbaugh if he knew where the library is on campus. Indignant, he said, "Of course, I know where the library is.")

While Oregon likes speed quickness and, yes, finesse, Stanford wants size and mass, wants to pound and grind a defense. How does Stanford pound and grind? That's easy — with the running game, and then the running game, hopefully, leads to play-action passes. You see the same offensive equation on Sundays with the 49ers.

Stanford coach David Shaw doesn't want to rush the clock — perhaps you could say he doesn't want to squander the clock. He wants to control the clock, own the clock, especially in tonight's game to keep the Oregon offense on the bench where it can't do damage.

Stanford does not have an electric offense. It is methodical. Methodical can be good, but it has a potential downside. Methodical offenses do not play as well from behind, are not constructed to come back from a deficit, are not particularly explosive. The whole idea of a methodical offense is to assert its will, make the opponent play according to its agenda. And that's what Stanford tries to do, and needs to do tonight.

Stanford's defensive coordinator Derek Mason ("The Willie Shaw Director of Defense") must be feeling the pressure right now. He has to be so conscious of defensive assignments mostly because of Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, who can kill a defense all by himself. He a proficient passer and, man, he can run — averages more than 9 yards a carry. He is a definite pro prospect.

Mason needs to contain Mariota, the runner, the way NFL defenses try to control Colin Kaepernick the runner. Good luck. The Ducks have a workhorse running back in Byron Marshall and an electrifying back in De'Anthony Thomas, known as Black Mamba, who is not always healthy. If these two runners get going, forget it.


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