Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 11/12/11

The Pac-12 balance of power was up for grabs on Saturday night as the Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal battled in Northern California. These two top-ten teams both had aspirations to finish atop the conference, and to host the first Pac-12 Championship game in December, but it was Oregon that ended up getting the job done as they throttled Andrew Luck and Stanford 53-30. LeMichael James had a monster game for the Ducks, and Luck ended up throwing two interceptions in the defeat.

So what did we learn from this showcase of two of the most potent offenses in the country? Five lessons in particular stand out from this one:

LeMichael James Is A Legitimate Heisman Contender 

A few weeks ago, the Heisman Trophy race was all but decided. Luck was in the driver’s seat of the race, but several game results have turned this blowout into a tight battle. Boise State QB Kellen Moore and Alabama RB Trent Richardson both suffered defeats over the past few weeks, and Luck joined them on Saturday. Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden has vaulted his way back into the discussion, and with his performance in northern California on Saturday, James has made himself a part of the conversation once again.

James was the unquestioned spark plug of the Ducks’ offense in this game, rushing 20 times for 146 yards and three scores, including a 58-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter. His ability to run both straight ahead and laterally are tremendous assets to this team, and he showed why he was considered a preseason Heisman contender with this effort.

Even In Defeat, Andrew Luck Still Showed His Pro Potential 

Luck may not have had the best statistical night of his career, but he still showed flashes of brilliance and character that should solidify his place atop the 2012 NFL Draft class.

While the Cardinal were trying to claw their way back into the game, Luck drove them down the field throughout the third quarter and into the fourth and kept them within shouting distance, and even though the defense kept coughing up more yards to Oregon, Andrew never lost focus, and kept trying to bring his team to victory.

Speaking of that inability to stop Oregon, mistakes started piling up for Stanford as the fourth quarter wore on, and one mistake in particular brought out the best in Luck. Luck threw a pass to receiver Ty Montgomery that should have been caught, but instead it was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Boseko Lokombo. After the play, instead of yelling at his receiver, Luck simply patted him on the back and told him to shake it off.

It was a spectacular gesture from the senior quarterback, and pro scouts are salivating at the level of maturity shown by this young man.

Oregon’s Defense Is…..Good? 

While they may have given up 30 points to Stanford on Saturday, Oregon’s defense still had an excellent showing in this game. They ended up forcing five turnovers from the team that came in with the longest winning streak in the nation, and they made all the right moves in keeping Luck in check.

What was perhaps even more spectacular was their proficiency in preventing Stanford from converting on third down. The Cardinal came into this game converting on 55% of their third downs, which was good for fourth in the nation, but Oregon held them to a 4-of-13 conversion rate in that department.

This ability to shut down the offense was instrumental in the team’s victory, and even head coach Chip Kelly had to admit after the game that his defensive line “was playing at a high level right now.” Strong words for a coach known for his offensive prowess.

Stanford’s Red Zone Offense Continues to Show Life 

While the Cardinal were unable to convert on a large chunk of their third downs, they still were plenty successful when they got into the red zone. They ended up scoring on every trip into that area of the field, running their season-long streak of successful red zone possessions to 58 straight.

Stanford may have lost this game, but if they can continue to convert at that rate from within the 20-yard line, they could have a legitimate shot at getting an at-large BCS bid should they fail to catch Oregon in the standings.

Chip Kelly Knows Exactly When to Shift Gears

The Oregon offense is obviously known for their ability to succeed in both running and passing the football, but perhaps an even bigger asset to them is their ability to move quickly when the need arises.

In several instances throughout the game, the Ducks rushed up to the line of scrimmage and ran plays before Stanford was ready to defend against them. In the fourth quarter, Oregon managed to get a too-many men penalty called on the Cardinal as they were trying to get a substitution in and failed to do so. In addition, the Ducks got a second half touchdown as Stanford was still shifting into their formation when quarterback Darron Thomas snapped the ball and gave it to James, who rushed it in for yet another score.

Kelly has always made it a point to have a hurry-up offense ready to call upon when needed, and he made sure to deploy it to maximum strategic effect on Saturday night.

 

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