Toby Gerhart and a talented offensive line have made it easier for coach Jim Harbaugh to implement a more physical style of play.
Nationally, it’s often been said of Pac-10 football that the league is USC and nine guys named Joe. So now that the Trojans have been rousted from their sedan chair, it would follow that those doing the deed would be getting their due, no?
Not so much, it turns out.
In this week’s BCS standings, there’s one Pac-10 team (Oregon, No. 11) in the top 16. So, Ohio State (No. 10), you lost at home to USC. Would you really want a piece of Stanford right now? You, Pitt, at No. 9? LSU, at No. 8?
Strewn among the collateral damage of USC’s defrocking is that for the seventh straight year, it’s almost a certainty the Pac-10 doesn’t get a second BCS team.
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Today, that won’t stop us from celebrating Stanford (7-3), which, in a golden November, has dropped 107 points on Oregon and USC.
Jim Harbaugh, the coach, talked very early about making Stanford more physical, and it’s been a thunderous transformation. Pressed about the genesis of it on Tuesday’s Pac-10 conference call, he offered up little, other than to say it came from people like his college coach at Michigan, the late Bo Schembechler, and his father Jack, a longtime coach who spent 14 years at Western Kentucky.
“Yeah, I believe that’s the way to play football,” Harbaugh said.
When Harbaugh arrived in late 2006, it helped that there was a freshman already on campus named Toby Gerhart. Against Oregon and USC, Gerhart has rushed for 401 yards on 67 carries for seven touchdowns. Paying attention, Heisman voters?
“Their style has been built around a terrific football player in Toby Gerhart,” says Pete Carroll, the USC coach. “Coach Harbaugh has captured his opportunity in Toby, and their players have responded to it.”
It falls to California this week to deal with the Stanford attack. Cal coach Jeff Tedford has had similar offensive lines in the past and appreciates what the Cardinal has assembled.
“The [best] offensive lines we’ve had are not big, overweight guys that can’t move, they’re guys that can play with low pad level, center a target and not fall down,” said Tedford. “Not only are they big, they’re not sloppy, but they’re in great shape. That’s what I see with Stanford.”
As for that controversial two-point conversion attempt against USC with 6:47 left and Stanford ahead 48-21, Harbaugh tried to explain it as insurance against USC possessions and possible onside kicks, which seems a stretch.
“I’ve been reading some people’s opinions that somehow this is something personal with coach Carroll,” Harbaugh said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not trying to make enemies. Life’s too short for that.”
The two teams that control their future in the rollicking Pac-10 race for the Rose Bowl meet in Tucson on Saturday, accompanied by ESPN GameDay and a “Red-Out” call to fans for suggested apparel.
Last year’s game no doubt is getting air time in the respective film rooms. The Ducks, with Jeremiah Masoli completing 21 of 26 passes, exploded to a 48-17 lead with 12 minutes left in the third quarter and won 55-45.
Statistically, it was inexplicable, Arizona running 98 plays to Oregon’s 57, and winning time of possession with 41 minutes, 46 seconds.
“That’s the chess match,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly. “What do they keep [defensively] from last year?”
Surely the Ducks aren’t telling Masoli what a graveyard Arizona Stadium has been for recent Oregon quarterbacks. In 2005, Kellen Clemens (broken ankle) and Dennis Dixon both went down. In 2007, playing on a bad knee and with a national championship and Heisman Trophy at stake for Oregon (then 8-1), Dixon suffered a knee injury that torpedoed all of it.
Oregon needs to prove it can win a road game against a high-level Pac-10 team. Its two road efforts against good teams were the abominations at Boise State and Stanford.
And what’s more …
• Hard to fathom, but when Tedford coaches his 100th game at the school against Stanford, he will trail only Pappy Waldorf (103 games from 1947-56) and Stub Allison (102, 1935-44) as the most-tenured Bears coach.
• Two numbers that speak loudly of USC’s struggles: A minus-three turnover margin, and a run defense allowing 135.6 yards per game, sixth in the Pac-10.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org