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Lowell Cohn: Clash of philosophies between Stanford and Oregon

  • Stanford will try to grind down Oregon's defense and control the clock with a methodical and punishing running attack led by senior Tyler Gaffney. (GREG WAHL-STEPHENS / Associated Press)

With Stanford and Oregon, it's not just a football game. It's a clash of philosophies.

There's another way of saying that without invoking the “P-word,” that's “P” for philosophy. The Stanford and Oregon football teams are as different as teams get — as in polar opposites, as in looking at the world of football in contrasting, even antagonistic, ways.

Say what?

Pay attention, OK?

When the Oregon Ducks play offense, it is the football equivalent of fast-break basketball. Call it basketball on grass — or in Oregon's case, basketball on turf.

Head coach Mark Helfrich, who comes out guns blazing, wants to run a play every 22 seconds. That can cause oxygen deficit in a defense, exactly what the Ducks aim for. Oregon wants to set up fast at the line of scrimmage, too fast for the defense to substitute, too fast for the defense to get a blow.

Oregon spreads the field from boundary to boundary, spreads its backs, spreads its receivers — just plain stretches a defense horizontally, creating one-on-one matchups, creating coverage nightmares.

And if Oregon scores early, it smells blood and then it increases its speed even more, getting the plays in faster in the middle of a series. After a first down, it will run the next play bang, just like that. A defense has to make the right calls on the fly and a defense has to hang in there. In the second half, conditioning becomes a factor. Stanford is a well-conditioned team.

Gee, I'm getting light-headed just writing about the Ducks' super-amped offense.

Stanford doesn't do any of that. It does the opposite. Stanford likes to play offense in a phone booth. That was merely a metaphor because there aren't phone booths anymore. But you get the point. Stanford likes to play in a confined space. Stanford likes — loves — big tough offensive linemen and big tough tight ends. Often, these players are called “ogre personnel,” and this whole deal is a carryover from the Jim Harbaugh days at Stanford. (I once asked Harbaugh if he knew where the library is on campus. Indignant, he said, “Of course, I know where the library is.”)

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