College Football Insider

What's next for Oregon and no-huddle offense's title hopes?

STANFORD, Calif. -- This isn't who Oregon is, at least not completely.

Not with Marcus Mariota's injured knee clearly affecting Oregon's running-game plans, or the two lost fumbles or the crucial interception reversal.

Those were all factors in a game that could have played out differently than the 26-20 final.

Without knocking Stanford's brilliant win, that's a bit unfortunate. Fair or not, Stanford's win punctuates what's considered a blueprint for stopping no-huddle spread teams -- win at the line of scrimmage and milking time of possession.

Until an Oregon or a Baylor exorcises that demon for fast football everywhere, these offenses will be known more for points than championships.

The ‘We Want Bama' shirts will stay neatly folded in a box.

These offenses have come close. Oklahoma State in 2011. Oregon in 2010. For now, Rick Neuheisel has more ammo to sing the SEC has more crystal than Tiffany's.

Oregon left tackle Tyler Johnstone doesn't believe in formulas. Oregon just had a bad day, he says. Talk about terrible timing for that.

“There's no formula for beating any football team. Every game's unique,” Johnstone said. “We were struggling on the second level as far as the offensive line goes. We were driving on them. We really were. Just shooting ourselves in the foot on turnovers.”

When it goes bad, boy, does it ever. This was a bad time for Mariota to be stuck in the pocket. Mariota only rushes about seven times per game, but the threat of his breakoff runs keeps defenses honest and fuels Oregon's misdirection. Without that threat, Oregon was a pass-first offense – it was something it's not.

I thought the difference against Stanford would be Oregon's improved defense, a unit that ranked first in the Pac-12 in turnovers and scoring defense entering the game. The Ducks had played a big, stout offensive line before just a few weeks ago against UCLA and held up well.

Defensive gameplans get trashed when you can't get off the field on third down, which speaks to a bigger issue – is a team like Oregon, which thrives on speed, big enough to handle the most physical teams?

A text from an SEC assistant coach Thursday night: “Stanford is knocking them off the ball. That's what's wrong with running a spread offense. Your defense doesn't develop proper run fits and is not as physical.”

To say this is the case of all spread teams is a generalization. Auburn won a national title with a spread offense, but they did so within the structure of big SEC lineman and a behemoth QB.

Entering Thursday, Stanford liked its chances of winning up front. Looking at both teams in warmups, it was fairly obvious that Stanford , with its average offensive line weight of about 305, looked more imposing in that area.

“I'm glad when their offense is on the sideline,” Stanford coach David Shaw said of his gameplan to sustain drives with the occasional big play sprinkled in.

Still, Shaw thinks a no-huddle team can win a national title. Oregon is too good to be held down for long, he says. A few more breaks, it can happen.

Oregon is better than what they showed, which is sort of unfortunate, because the Ducks were at their worst at the worst possible time.

There's still plenthy of time for a BCS bowl, however. A Clemson-Oregon matchup in the Orange Bowl would be terrific.


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
 
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