Bohm: Stanford must avoid a letdown

Oct. 4, 2010, 1:31 a.m.

It may sound cliché, but it’s gut check time for the Stanford football team. After steamrolling its first four opponents, the Cardinal is now facing its first bit of adversity, having fallen Saturday to Oregon and its video game-like offense.

Stanford seemed to be in control of the game in the first half—Andrew Luck was leading the offense up and down the field, and the Cardinal defense was being disruptive enough to force three Oregon turnovers. And then Oregon scored, recovered an onside kick and never looked back.

Now, how will the Stanford team respond? After losing such a hyped game—it may have been the biggest Stanford game in years—after seemingly being in control, lots of teams would fold. Lots of teams would struggle to overcome the disappointment and would carry that emotion into their next game. With an angry USC team looming, Stanford can’t afford that.

USC is going to be motivated when it invades the Farm on Saturday. As most of the country probably knows, Jim Harbaugh’s Cardinal didn’t exactly let off the gas last year when it was pummeling the Trojans in the Coliseum. That win left many in southern California none too pleased.

That, the Stanford loss and the fact that USC fell on Saturday to Washington, make next Saturday very dangerous. It has all the ingredients of a letdown.

But then again, the same could be said for the Trojans.

Nobody expected Stanford to go undefeated this season. Despite the loss to Oregon, a Rose Bowl berth is not at all out of the question, so responding in a big way against another talented team next week is vitally important.

I don’t know what Chip Kelly served his Ducks at halftime on Saturday, but in the second half, Oregon controlled every aspect of the football game. For the first time in a year and a half, Stanford was getting dominated in the trenches. Andrew Luck didn’t have time to pass, and the Cardinal front three (or four) were getting pushed downfield on the defensive side of the ball.

This was understandable. Oregon’s offense was moving at a million miles an hour, and Stanford was playing in a hostile environment. What can’t happen now is a loss of confidence. Stanford’s offensive line remains one of, if not the best in the conference, and that crew needs to get back at it.

Luckily for Stanford, that same rabble-rouser that got under the skin of Trojan faithful last year—Harbaugh—is the man tasked with ensuring that Stanford regroups from being outscored 49-10 after taking an early 18-point lead. If there is a man up to that task, it is Harbaugh, who I am sure will do everything in his power to ensure that the Cardinal roster is thinking only about this coming week and not last week.

The rest of Stanford’s schedule is quite manageable. From here on out, Stanford is likely to be favored in every game, so if the team doesn’t play its own worst enemy, as was the case in Saturday’s second half, things set up awfully well.

One major concern is injuries, however. Stanford may well be without its top two receivers—Ryan Whalen, who suited up for the Oregon game but did not play with an elbow injury, and Chris Owusu, who was injured in what appeared, at least from the stands, to be a helmet-to-helmet hit in Saturday’s third quarter. Also missing are running backs Jeremy Stewart and Tyler Gaffney, while linebacker Shayne Skov and defensive back Michael Thomas are both banged up.

Not only will next week be a test of Stanford’s mental fortitude, but it may also be a test of the team’s depth. At receiver, some of the young players—Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Jemari Roberts—may have to step up. Oregon exploited Stanford’s perceived lack of depth along the defensive front on Saturday by wearing out the same front seven for almost the entire game. Young defensive lineman and linebackers may need to grow up fast in the coming weeks.

There are a few directions Stanford’s season can go now—hopefully the Cardinal can rise to its first mental challenge of the season and beat USC this week.

Daniel Bohm originally thought Harbaugh was a “rebel-rouser.” Acquaint him with an appropriate digital dictionary at [email protected].

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