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Ducks can't let Stanford dictate play in Nov. 7 battle

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariotas lone college loss came last year to Stanford. He and the Ducks get a chance for redemption on the road Nov. 7 in a game that could keep UO in national championship contention.No matter what he says, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn’t forgotten about the blemish on the Ducks’ 2012 record.

As a team-oriented QB, he took a lot of the blame for UO’s crushing 17-14 overtime defeat to Stanford, even though De’Anthony Thomas’ missed block and Alejandro Maldonado’s missed field goal proved to be the most damning plays of the defeat that changed the course of the Ducks’ season. Mariota said he made some bad decisions, and he couldn’t make the plays to forge the win; had he made plays, Mariota might have joined Johnny Manziel as a redshirt freshman Heisman Trophy finalist.

But, eight games into the

2013 season, with the big rematch between Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12) and Stanford (7-1, 5-1) looming at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at Stanford, Calif., Mariota says all the bad memories have been put behind him.

“I’m not trying to beat around the bush at this question. In all honesty, it’s in the past,” says Mariota, the 2013 Heisman Trophy favorite with 29 total touchdowns (20 TD passes), zero interceptions and great passing and rushing stats. “It’s a new season for us. We’re going to approach this game like any other one. That’s been the M.O. around here. I’m doing my best, and everyone’s the same way, and we don’t even want to talk about (the 2012 game).

“Yeah, during the offseason, there was times I did go over the game,” says Mariota, who was 21 of 37 for 307 yards, a TD and an interception and rushed for 89 yards on 12 carries against Stanford last year. “But once training camp started, that year’s in the past.”

The Ducks have the chance to play for the BCS national championship by beating Stanford and their remaining conference games — the same scenario that would have happened last year, had the Cardinal not upset the Ducks at Autzen Stadium. So many plays could have turned the 2012 game in UO’s favor:

• What if Thomas had turned and blocked the Stanford defender on Mariota’s breakaway run in the first quarter, rather than inexplicably running side-by-side with the QB? “I thought he was already out there running, and he was ready to score the touchdown,” Thomas said. “I was just running straight. I was thinking he was going to outrun the dude.”

• What if Ifo Ekpre-Olomu could have broken up the tying TD pass to Zach Ertz in the game’s final moments? It was ruled that Ertz landed out of bounds on the play, but a review overturned the call.

• What if Mariota had not miscommunicated with receiver Josh Huff, and completed a pass in overtime. “A miscommunication on my part,” Mariota said. “I didn’t see the full signal (from the sideline). Totally on me.”

• What if Maldonado had made some kicks? He missed one field-goal attempt in regulation and, with the chance to put Oregon ahead in overtime, he missed a 41-yard try, the ball bouncing off the left upright. “I was jammed, meaning I was too close to the ball,” Maldonado said.

• What if Ekpre-Olomu or Michael Clay had gained control of a Stanford fumble in overtime, which the Cardinal followed with the game-winning field goal? Clay slid off the ball. “I got into the pile late,” Ekpre-Olomu said, “and when Mike put his hand out, (the ball) went to the other side, and their lineman was able to get underneath and get the ball.”

Not up for debate was how well Stanford played, running the ball with QB Kevin Hogan and running back Stepfan Taylor and keeping the ball — about 38 minutes to UO’s 22. Also, the Stanford defense allowed the Ducks only 14 points and 405 yards offense as the UO running game couldn’t dictate play. Showing athleticism on the flanks and power up front, the Cardinal defended the UO outside game and covered well downfield — and tackled very well.

The Cardinal returned several players this year, including Hogan and most of the defense, led by linebackers Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley and Trent Murphy, safeties Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards and defensive linemen Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro, David Parry and Blake Lueders. Another standout D-linemen, Henry Anderson, has been


The Stanford defense has allowed 19.4 points, 354 yards offense and 103.9 yards rushing per game. Oregon’s standout defense ranks comparably, but the story of Oregon vs. Stanford remains how the Cardinal defended the Ducks, and whether virtually the same players can do the same thing.

“They’re playing really well,” UO coach Mark Helfrich says of the Stanford defense, which punished Oregon State physically and sacked QB Sean Mannion eight times in last week’s 20-12 win at Corvallis. “Obviously, they have a couple new guys on their back end, and they’re rotating. I think they start one non-senior on the front seven. It’s a bunch of experience guys who are playing really well.

“They’ve done a great job of varying things, game-planning to the opponent’s strength. They look different every week, but they always look sound.”

Are the Ducks better equipped to handle Stanford’s defense? Helfrich says it’s on the coaches to fix what went wrong last year.

“I think our guys will come into the game ready to play,” he says.

Stanford has evolved, offensively. The Cardinal still plays smash-mouth football with its huge and athletic offensive line and running back Tyler Gaffney (886 yards, 5.3 per carry, 12 TDs) and the elusive Hogan. The QB can sling it, throwing for 186.6 yards per game, 13 TDs and five interceptions. While Gaffney returned from a hiatus for baseball, receiver Ty Montgomery has seemingly left some injuries behind him, catching 39 balls for 619 yards and five TDs, and adding two kickoff returns for touchdowns. Big receiver Devon Cajuste has 21 catches for 377 yards and four scores, but he has been injured lately, missing the OSU game.

The Cardinal’s offensive stats pale in comparison to Oregon’s 55.6 points and 632.1 yards offense and 331.5 yards rushing per game.

“They’re a different team,” UO safety Avery Patterson says. “It seems like they can thrown the ball downfield a lot better. They don’t have the same tight ends they had in the past. They have to play a different style of football. But we know they’re going to run the ball and play defense. It’s a new team, and we want to take them down.”

The Ducks have every reason to be confident heading to the Bay Area. Mariota has become a Heisman Trophy favorite. Running back Bryon Marshall averages 109.9 yards per game with 12 TDs, with true freshman Thomas Tyner playing well as his backup. Thomas returned to action against UCLA, before re-aggravating his ankle injury. Bralon Addison and Huff have made plays at receiver, and the balanced defense leads the Pac-12 in points allowed (16.9 per game).

Could the key, again, be the UO kicker? Maldonado missed another field-goal attempt against UCLA. Special teams coach Tom Osborne says Maldonado has been the most consistent in his competition with freshman Matt Wogan.

“Alejandro has just played better in practice,” Osborne says. “He’s been more efficient. He maybe misses one kick the entire week. He’s just trying to gain a little confidence.” But, games are different from practice, he adds.

Surely, Mariota learned from the experience of his one and only college loss.

“When the offense stagnates, I try to make too many plays,” Mariota said, after the 2012 loss, “instead of going back to keys and assignments that I’ve learned throughout the week.”

He also learned about miscommunication on offense, which “was on me,” he said then.

And, he learned that the Ducks, if Stanford again is able to control the time of possession, have to capitalize on


“They grinded out the clock a little bit,” Mariota said a year ago. “Our defense did a good job of stopping them, but we weren’t going to get a whole lot of possessions. We understood that going in. We had to figure out how to get our rhythm. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. It was a good learning tool.”

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