Canzano: Oregon Ducks deliver a midnight statement
Plus, thoughts on every other Pac-12 game...
Dan Lanning essentially got ‘pantsed’ on national television by Kirby Smart in Week 1. Since then, the Oregon Ducks have been good. Like, so good that I’m beginning to wonder if Lanning might get his team to Las Vegas and play for the Pac-12 Championship in December.
Oregon blasted Stanford 45-27 late… late… late… on Saturday night. The game ended. Fans went home. Roosters crowed. And the natural question on everyone’s mind was, “What in the world is wrong with Stanford?”
More on that in a bit.
First, let’s talk about the Ducks. Quarterback Bo Nix was lethal on Saturday. Oregon piled up 515 yards of offense and won for the fourth straight time. The victims, in order: Eastern Washington, BYU, Washington State and Stanford.
Most college football teams get a “moment of truth” in a season. Oregon is going to get more than a month of it. Six weeks of sincerity? If the Ducks somehow emerge unscathed, they’d be 11-1 with their only defeat being that aforementioned back-alley whipping by No. 1 Georgia.
I’m getting way ahead of myself. We’re still not even sure Lanning can coach yet. And Nix needs a larger sample size and better competition. But I’m seeing some encouraging indicators from Oregon. Nix is using his feet more. He’s evolved and rushed for 141 yards and two TDs vs. Stanford. Receiver Troy Franklin looks suddenly lethal. And the more I see of running back Bucky Irving, the more I think UO can win a lot of games with him carrying the ball.
Oregon plays at Arizona next week. Then, a bye week. It’s a good thing, too, because the final six regular-season games for Oregon go like this:
at Oregon State
Oregon gets the toughest three games — Bruins, Huskies and Utes — at home. Huge advantage there. But the road games at Cal and OSU will be tricky. It’s possible the Ducks could lose multiple games in that six-game stretch, but I’m fascinated by what we’ll see.
The point of a good movie or book is to draw us in. Same goes for a good college football season. That opening-week debacle in Atlanta was a strong opening act. It revealed all sorts of flaws in Oregon’s operation and set the stage for what America likes more than anything else — a comeback story.
One starring Nix, who was immediately labeled “Mr. Hot Mess” but has since been remarkably good. And co-starring Lanning, who told me he’s watched and re-watched the Week 1 loss over and over.
Now, about Stanford… puzzling, isn’t it?
David Shaw has three Rose Bowl appearances and multiple 10-win seasons. It’s not like he suddenly forgot how to coach. But the game has changed around him, and he’s lost some key cogs on his coaching staff in recent years.
Shaw played his college ball at Stanford. He does the public-facing stuff well. And he has a long-term contract. I don’t think he’s in jeopardy of being fired. But I keep thinking about what ex-athletic director Bob Bowlsby said when he hired Shaw all those years ago.
Bowlsby called Shaw: “exactly the right person at the right time.” He picked him over Greg Roman and Vic Fangio. And nobody in their right mind would view any of that as a mistake, given the success that Shaw brought.
What does Stanford want to be right now?
That’s become the question to ask on The Farm. Stanford doesn’t want to live in the transfer portal like the rest of college football. The academic standards make it difficult. So Shaw is left selling what he’s always sold — not just four years of college, but 40 years of Stanford relationships and networking. Thing is, blue-chip, NFL talent, doesn’t often think four decades ahead. It lives in the now.
Stanford has lost its identity. It’s still getting good quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends. But what it doesn’t have is the traditionally dominant offensive or defensive lines. And there’s not a Christian McCaffrey or Bryce Love in the backfield right now, either.
To be fair, the Cardinal team that showed up at Autzen Stadium, limped in. Back-up offensive lineman, back-up running back, and that creates pressure on the defense to be perfect. Shaw said after the game, “Too many fumbles. Too many turnovers. Too many bad plays for us.”
Oregon exploited the Cardinal.
There are some obvious solutions available to Stanford. It could relax the academic standards in spots and dabble a little more in the transfer game. But the prevailing thought is that Leland Stanford Junior University doesn’t want to be a football factory.
If so, well done.
Because it looked nothing like one on Saturday night.
Some thoughts on the other Pac-12 football games this weekend:
UCLA 40, Washington 32
The Bruins are slowly winning me over. But I’ll wait a little longer, as they host Utah this week. Chip Kelly’s team gets another chance to prove it’s real. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a fifth-year starter at quarterback — the first in conference history. That feels like such an advantage right now. I was disappointed with the Huskies. They played a terrible first half. UW goes to ASU this week in a game it has to win to stay in the hunt.
Utah 42, Oregon State 16
The Beavers are getting solid play from just about every position group, except quarterback. I wrote a column on OSU’s looming QB issue from Salt Lake City. I’m just not sure if Oregon State has a good solution on the roster. So it’s Chance Nolan or bust. On the bright side, the Beavers have games vs. Stanford, Colorado and ASU left on the schedule. Better days, ahead. (PS: I had a photographer working the Utah-OSU game and his updated photo gallery is a treat for fans of both programs.)
Washington State 28, Cal 9
Jake Dickert vs. Justin Wilcox turned into a defensive chess match. The Cougars (4-1) won it and go to USC next Saturday in a game that should be a sneaky-fun watch. Cal gave up 343 passing yards and three TDs to WSU’s Cameron Ward. I was a little surprised with that. The over/under on this game was 52.5 points. Cal gets a week off next Saturday and then plays at Colorado on Oct. 15.
Arizona 43, Colorado 20
Arizona looked great, but everyone seems to do that vs. Colorado these days. The Buffaloes finally got to 20 points for the first time in five losses. Karl Dorrell is really struggling and I wouldn’t be surprised to see AD Rick George make a change there. My pal Brian Howell of the Boulder Daily Camera pointed out a not-so-fun fact:
USC 42, ASU 25
Trojans’ QB Caleb Williams really competed in this one. He had 348 passing yards and three TDS in the win. ASU got after him and Williams had his streak of 215 straight pass attempts without an interception snapped. But I liked the way he competed. I thought it was his most impressive performance as a leader this season.
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Ducks with 14 penalties for 135 yards!
That *will* become an issue at a key moment/game if not cleaned up massively
I think it’s going to be a fun ride for the Duck fans.