Stanford-Oregon: A study in contrast

Oregon coach Chip Kelly runs a fancy-pants offense and his football philosophy is based on speed, speed, speed, but there is no way you're going to get a football coach to say he runs a "finesse team."

Finesse is not a term football coaches embrace. It's not very football-y. You finesse a 7-iron. You finesse a performance on "Dancing With the Stars." You finesse getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. You don't finesse a football play.

The fourth-ranked Ducks play host to No. 9 Stanford on Saturday in a game with significant Pac-10 and national ramifications, so it's also unlikely that Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh is going to announce that he sees Oregon as a "finesse" team either. Ask him about a contrast in styles between his undeniably physical crew and the Ducks and he spits out the bait.

"The physical nature, the strength of the Oregon offense, is something we've always had great respect for," Harbaugh said. "It's not a finesse offense. They are expert at what they do. It's a tough physical football team."

Truth is, Oregon can go mano-a-mano when it needs to. Just ask Oklahoma State, which the Ducks manhandled in the 2008 Holiday Bowl. In the months after that game, Cowboys coach Mike Gundy repeatedly referred to how physical the Ducks were and how they'd out-hit his team.

Still, it's hard not to see a contrast in styles between the Ducks' ludicrous speed spread-option offense, and Stanford's power running game that often squeezes a backup offensive lineman into a running back's number in order to get more meat on the field. Both work, by the way: Oregon is No. 1 in the nation in scoring with 57.8 points per game and Stanford is fourth with 48 ppg.

"You got the rough and tough guys from Stanford and a little bit more finesse from Oregon, which runs the ball over the place and scatters you out and beats you with their speed," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "It's a little bit of a clash of styles."

It's not just offensive philosophy either. Oregon and Stanford are just different.

  • Stanford is going to show up at Autzen Stadium in a conservative, all-white uniform. Oregon? Who knows what uniform the Ducks will choose from their 5,675,418 options.

  • Oregon fans are the most boisterous in the Pac-10 and among the rowdiest in the country. Stanford fans tend to be more patrician. And quieter, though certainly passionate in their own way.

  • Oregon has open practices and has a clear policy on handling player injuries with the media. Stanford has closed practice and Harbaugh decided this year to provide no injury information, which forces reporters to speculate and/or search out the scuttlebutt on their own.

  • During the Pac-10 teleconference Tuesday, Harbaugh told a parable about stone cutters and quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson. Kelly opened his news conference after the Ducks' victory this past Saturday over Arizona State by replying "Sure," to a 200-word question. (It was funny.)

But we don't want to go off on a tangent here, because there is a real, substantive contrast between these teams: Oregon is a faster team. Period.

"Oregon is fast-fast," Harbaugh said. "They are a strong, tough team and they are a fast team. They are the fastest team we've seen -- including our own."

Of course, Oregon was fast-fast last year when it went to Stanford as the hottest team in the nation and lost 51-42, giving up 505 yards, including 223 yards rushing and three touchdowns to running back Toby Gerhart.

Gerhart is gone, but the physical Stanford running game is not. The Ducks rank No. 1 in the conference with 321.8 yards rushing per game. Stanford is second at 223.2.

But offense, whatever the contrasting styles, might not be the ultimate key.

"I think [defense] going to be a key in all these games," Stoops said. "It's going to come down to defenses coming up with stops against some terrific offenses."

That is also a contrast. Oregon's defense is undersized but fast. Stanford's front seven is significantly bigger. Both units have played well in the early going, though Stanford is likely going to spend a lot of time with the film of the Ducks' game at Arizona State, when the Sun Devils piled up nearly 600 yards.

There is one contrast that Kelly is clearly embracing: this year and last. Oregon prefers the din of Autzen Stadium.

"I'm just really glad we've got them at home this year," he said.