PULLMAN – Fire and ice. Dirt and water. Rizzoli and Isles.
Opposites may attract, but when they do they usually melt into a muddy mess.
That shouldn’t be the case Saturday night when the alpha dogs of the Pac-12 – No. 3 Stanford and No. 6 Oregon – collide in Stanford with much more than just the Pac-12 North Division title on the line.
When this year’s conference game of the century is over, the national championship race should clear up a bit, the host for the Pac-12’s first title game will be known and the best way to run the football will be obvious.
Well, that last one might still be up for debate. But rarely have such differing schemes – with similar results – been on display.
“I’m just a fan here talking now, but I think you’re talking about two great running teams with totally diverse styles,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said on Tuesday. “That’s what’s neat about it and that’s what’s neat about college football.”
On the surface, the teams couldn’t be more different. But for every contrast the conference’s coaches point out, the bottom line is the same.
“You’re talking about one team that goes as fast as they can go, (hoping) that speed and number of snaps can wear you out,” Washington’s Steve Sarkisian said. “And you’re talking about another team that snaps the ball with under 5 seconds on the play clock and tries to wear you down physically, pounding you and running the football.”
Oregon uses its speed and spread attack to slash, probe and finally break a long run against your weary defense. LaMichael James, De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner are three-quarters of a world-class relay team.
“If you’re out of position, they’ll find you,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, headed to his first matchup with the Ducks as a head coach.
The Cardinal sometimes bunch it up, play three tight ends – though Shaw intimated the injured Zach Ertz won’t be available – and run the football downhill all day, trying to break the opponent’s will.
“They are relentless,” Riley said.
But the main difference could be at quarterback. Although UO’s Darron Thomas is an excellent college signal-caller, Stanford’s Andrew Luck may win the Heisman Trophy and be the first pick in the NFL draft.
“They have the best quarterback in the country in Andrew Luck,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said, “but they can line up and pound you. If you pay too much attention to the run game, they’ll kill you with play-action pass.”
Four from the Pac-12
1. One more thing from Oregon/Stanford. Both coaches believe one statistic is less than nothing. “Time of possession doesn’t mean anything,” Shaw said. “You can win the time of possession against Oregon and be down 21 points.” “Time of possession is an overrated stat,” Kelly said. “It’s plays run (that matters). You can sit in the huddle for 40 seconds, but that doesn’t mean anything, (except to) let the crowd go to the bathroom or get something to drink.”
2. UCLA is in position to win the Pac-12 South. If the Bruins win out, they are in the title game. So how did that happen? According to coach Rick Neuheisel, it came about through some soul searching after a bad loss at Arizona that dropped their record to 3-4, 2-2 in conference. “We can be a good team when we play as hard as we possibly can play,” Neuheisel said. “That’s at the core of what’s taken place.”
3. Colorado is 1-9 overall, but more important, 0-6 in its first year of Pac-12 play. And the Buffs are nearly out of chances to get a conference victory. They host Arizona (2-7, 1-6) this week, then finish at UCLA and Utah. “We’re running out of opportunities for these seniors,” coach Jon Embree said. “For us to go the whole year without a Pac-12 win would be disheartening, to say the least, for those guys.”
4. The other new member, Utah, has won its last two conference games and has a chance to ruin UCLA’s title hopes when it hosts the Bruins this week. If the Utes are going to drive a stake in those hopes, it will probably be their defensive linemen swinging the hammer. “I don’t want to name names, but four or five of (our) guys, when it’s all said and done – that’s counting the younger guys who are still developing – might have a shot,” to play in the NFL, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.