Oregon (5-0 overall, 2-0 in conference play) beat Stanford (4-1, 1-1) 52-31 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. Boy oh boy. The buildup for this game was huge and indeed the implications for the winner and loser in both the Pac-10 and national championship races were real. So, what did we learn? Here are my thoughts:
- We learned that Oregon is the real deal. They are indeed in the drivers seat for the Pac-10 title and, now ranked at #3 in the AP, they are a real contender for the national title too. I am not saying the will be in the title game, just that for now they are in the mix for real.
- We learned that Stanford has a very good QB, a powerful offensive line, solid running backs and a above average defense...and STILL couldn't hang with the Ducks through four quarters.
- We learned - once again - that home field advantage is a significant factor. While the Ducks might have come back and won this game if it were played in Palo Alto, I think the fact that it was a home game really contributed to their ability to deliver the goods and put Stanford away.
- We learned that the Oregon defense is suspect at times, but has the talent, coaching and instincts to buckle down when it matters. How many points did Stanford have in the second half? Zero.
- We learned that Oregon kick returners are still having problems catching and holding onto the football. One such fumble Saturday led to a quick Stanford touchdown. At some point this will cost the Ducks a game if not fixed.
- We learned that Oregon QB Thomas can and will run the ball (well!) when given the chance. This adds a whole new dimension to the Ducks O. Think Dixon and Masoli.
- We again learned that the Ducks are resilient and being down 18 points to a very good team is not enough to put them away. Gritty team.
- We learned that what happened last year does not mean the exact same thing is going to happen again this year. Many - even most - pundits and "experts" really were convinced that Stanford would beat Oregon because of how they played them last year. Hey, I got suckered in too. I thought that Stanford would win for the same reasons.
- In a related note, we also learned that the "power team" (Stanford) vs. "finesse team" (Oregon) argument that seemed so dominate the airwaves last week is bogus...or at least the people espousing it don't know what they're talking about. You think Stanford players felt "finessed" when Oregon RB LaMichael James scorched them for 250+ yards? Or how about when they were sucking wind in the second half and unable to keep up with the fast Oregon attack? Right.
- We learned that if an opposing team tries the old "lets slow down the Oregon offense by faking injuries" that they need to do a better acting job than what Stanford tried on Saturday - at least in games at Autzen. Oh yes, it happened. But the Stanford player who faked his injury only to come in the next play did such a poor job of it that he elicited a pouring chorus of boos from the crowd that it became obvious that, well, I don' think they tried it again.
UCLA (3-2, 1-1) beat WSU (1-4, 0-2) 42-28 in L.A. We learned two things: 1) while UCLA has been an upstart surprise over the last two weeks...and won this game too...they may be an inconsistent and quite beatable squad. How else can you explain the lowly Cougars coming into the Rose Bowl and really giving the Bruins a run? 2) We learned that WSU players have heart and can compete. Yes, they lost - and may not win a Pac-10 game this year - but they represented and that bodes well for them.
Oregon State (2-2, 1-0) beat Arizona State (2-3, 0-2) 31-28 in Corvallis. I think we learned that despite solid movement in a positive direction and putting up 28 points on the road, ASU has a ways to go to challenge for the Pac-10 title. It's not too surprising that a team that looked quite good (except for the turnovers) last week vs. Oregon in Tempe showed up on the road lose. More importantly, I think we learned that OSU is still alive despite their slow start and I have to believe they'll be hitting their peak just about the time the Civil War game comes along.
Arizona (4-0, 1-0) and Cal (2-2, 0-1) each had the week off, so we did not learn anything about them.