The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: Early Pac-10 supremacy is on the line in Eugene this weekend, as top-10 foes Stanford and Oregon battle it out in Autzen Stadium.
The ninth-ranked Cardinal are one of the real surprise stories of the 2010 campaign thus far. Jim Harbaugh's squad was expected to be good this season, but a 4-0 start and a meteoric rise in the national polls was not. Stanford is seeking its first 5-0 start to a season since 1951. The team is 1-0 in conference play already with a 35-0 shutout of UCLA a couple of weeks ago and enters this game following a solid 37-14 win at Notre Dame last weekend. It marked Stanford's first win in South Bend since 1992.
Coach Harbaugh knows the value of winning tough road games.
Well, I mean, it's big. Football, it's the best sport out there. It's a tremendous game, first of all. It's a game that really tests a man's courage. To win a ballgame, I mean, that is a great thing. Then to be able to go into another stadium, into a hostile environment, I mean, nothing makes you feel quite like a man like that does, you know. So I think it will be good for our football team. But, you know, every week in college football is a new week and your season can turn on one week. Just important for us to move forward, get ready for Oregon."
If any team in the Pac-10 is playing better than Stanford right now, it is fourth-ranked Oregon. Chip Kelly's Ducks possess a lethal offense and have used that to run off four straight victories in 2010, including a 42-31 decision at Arizona State in Oregon's Pac-10 opener last week.
Kelly's success in such a short time has been rewarded by the powers that be at Oregon, which gave their second-year coach a new six-year contract extension.
"Chip Kelly's track record in a short amount of time speaks volumes for his character, integrity and ability to lead this program to a new set of standards," said Oregon Athletics Director Rob Mullens. "It became clear before my arrival at Oregon that retaining him to head the university's football program was a priority. This is an investment in the future success of Oregon athletics and an investment in retaining one of the brightest college coaches in the country."
In a series that dates back to 1900, Stanford leads Oregon by a count of 44-28-1. Oregon had a seven-game win streak in the series snapped last year, as the Cardinal posted a 51-42 shootout win at Stanford Stadium.
The Cardinal got another solid outing from All-American candidate Andrew Luck under center and five field goals from Nate Whitaker in the big win at Notre Dame.
Luck currently leads one of the more balanced offenses in the nation, with Stanford averaging 48.0 ppg, on well over 400 yards per outing. The team is averaging over 200 yards both on the ground (223.2 ypg) and through the air (234.2 ypg), making it very difficult to gameplan for.
Luck has completed 62.7 percent of his passes thus far, for 912 yards, with 11 TDs and just two INTs. Doug Baldwin (12 receptions, for 222 yards, three TDs) and Ryan Whalen (10 receptions, for 113 yards, one TD) lead the way downfield, although Whalen is questionable for this game with an elbow injury.
Luck has contributed to the effort on the ground as well, with 163 yards and one TD. Sophomore Stepfan Taylor leads the rushing attack, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 66.2 yards per game. Fellow sophomore Tyler Gaffney (6.1 ypc) leads the team with three rushing scores.
The Stanford offense is not the only unit playing at a high level right now. The defense is yielding just 13.8 ppg, while holding foes to a mere 256.0 yards of total offense. The pass defense has been particularly good (144.2 ypg), thanks in large part to 14 sacks and four INTs. Strong safety Delano Howell and linebacker Chase Thomas lead the team with 19 tackles apiece. Thomas has been the top playmaker, with four TFLs, 3.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries thus far.
Even though the Stanford defense is playing at a high level, the Cardinal will need to elevate that play even further in Eugene, as no team in the country is getting it done offensively like the Ducks. Oregon is averaging an eye-popping 57.8 ppg, on 560.0 yards of total offense. The rushing attack is responsible for 321.8 ypg, while the passing attack adds another 238.2 to the mix.
Tailback LaMichael James sat out the season-opener, but has made up for lost time, racking up 475 yards since (158.3 ypg) on a hefty 8.2 yards per carry. Oregon has already scored 14 touchdowns on the ground, with James and Kenjon Barner sharing the team-lead with four each.
Quarterback Darron Thomas has been effective under center, despite completing a modest 54.7 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 822 yards thus far, with a solid 10-2 TD-to-INT ratio. Jeff Maehl has been the top option in the vertical game, leading the way in receptions (18), receiving yards (254) and TDs (three).
The Oregon defense has taken a backseat to the offense this year, but this is a unit that is getting it done nonetheless. With two shutouts already in the books, this fast and aggressive squad may be as good as it gets in the Pac-10. The Ducks have already recorded 18 takeaways (nine INTs and nine fumble recoveries) to go along with 11 sacks.
Sophomore safety John Boyett paces the team with 25 total tackles. Senior linebacker Casey Matthews has shown his big play ability, with 16 tackles, one sack, two INTs and three fumble recoveries. Senior defensive tackle Brandon Bair has been a disruptive force in opposing backfields, leading the team in TFLs (8.5) and sacks (three).