PULLMAN – With last Thursday’s 26-20 win over No. 2 Oregon, Stanford assumed the Ducks’ mantle as the premier team in the Pac-12. Having already beaten Pac-12 South contend- ers Arizona State and UCLA, the Cardinal can claim to be the best team in not just the Pac-12 North division, but in the entire conference.
The fact that Stanford’s only loss was Utah’s only conference win speaks to the Pac-12’s overall depth. Because of that league-wide parity, the Cardinal haven’t had a moment to bask in their big win. Not with a trip to Los Angeles to face USC on the horizon.
“The conference is too tough, going down to play at the Coliseum against USC on national TV – that gets your attention,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We can’t afford to dwell on any of the things that happened last week.”
It was the second time in two years that UO’s national title hopes were derailed against the Cardinal. In each game the Ducks’ speed-based attack wilted against the bigger, stronger Stanford team.
The physical nature in which Stanford neutralized the fabled Oregon offense the past two seasons has led to questions about whether the Ducks would need to adapt. After all, even if the Ducks make it past the Cardinal they’ll in all likelihood still need to beat a team from the powerful Southeastern Conference to win a national championship.
And USC interim coach Ed Orgeron – who formerly coached at the University of Mississippi – paid Stanford the high compliment on Tuesday of comparing the Cardinal to an SEC team in terms of size, speed and physicality.
UO coach Mark Helfrich rejected the idea that the Ducks will need to grow to reach the top, saying, “If we make a couple plays early on, it’s a completely different situation. And we didn’t make those plays from a defensive standpoint or an offensive standpoint. I don’t think there’re any huge, program-changing things that we take from this.”
There is some good news for the Ducks, however. Quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was visibly hurt against Stanford, insists he’ll be ready to go on Saturday when UO hosts Utah.
Losing takes toll on Cal
Sonny Dykes can’t have known how his first season as head coach at Cal would go, but chances are he pictured something a little better than this. The Golden Bears have been ravaged by injuries, and as the hurt players pile up, so have the losses.
“It’s been hard. It’s been a tough season,” Dykes said. “We’ve had a lot of bad things happen to us in terms of injuries and having to play with a lot of young players. And we haven’t played very well and it’s frustrating for everybody. But our kids have continued to work hard and practice well. We’ve just made too many mistakes on Saturdays to give us a chance to win.”
A seven-point victory over FCS Portland State is Cal’s only win of the season, and Saturday’s contest against Colorado (3-6, 0-12 Pac-12) will almost certainly be the team’s last chance at a conference win. Freshman quarterback Jared Goff has shown promise and Cal has some undeniably good skill players on offense. But the defense, which was hit the hardest by injuries, has been unable to compete with Pac-12 offenses. Still, Cal’s coach is happy that his charges have not lost focus.
“It’s not easy when you’re not playing well and everybody here is accustomed to winning and we’re accustomed to winning as a coaching staff,” Dykes said. “So it’s been hard, but I give our players a lot of credit for having a great attitude and continuing to work hard.”