Gerhart Rings in Midnight Against Cinderella Duck Defense
by Zach Bigalke
Oregon Ducks 42, Stanford Cardinal 51
Coming into the season, the defense was supposed to be the ugly stepsister in the Oregon Ducks' Cinderella story. Traditionally, high-flying offenses have been hampered in Eugene by a bend-but-don't-break defense that far too often bends too far. After losing several key players to graduation and the NFL, everyone knew that any success Oregon enjoyed in 2009 would be dependent on Nick Aliotti preparing his new charges for the battle.
For the first eight games of the season, Aliotti's crew had exceeded every expectation. Opening the year at Boise State , the Ducks might have lost the game... but they also held a potent Broncos offense, ranked second in the nation in scoring and in the top fifteen in total offense, to just 19 points. Kellen Moore was held under 200 yards passing, and the Ducks defense kept Jeremiah Masoli and the offense in a game that by all indications should have never even been close.
As the season progressed, the defense carried the team back from ignominy to prominence. As the offense started to wind back up to 2008 form, the defense bent a little. But this year, the slipper was fitting and the defense wasn't breaking. Tight wins at home against Purdue and Utah rebuilt some confidence for the Oregon crew ahead of a tough Pac-10 season.
The Ducks continued their momentum, opening their conference schedule at home with a 42-3 rout of a highly-touted Cal team to take charge of the Pac-10 race out of the gate. The next week, it was Washington State who came to Autzen and was laid to waste 52-6. Even when defender after defender went down, the unit never wavered in its performance. They traveled for the first time in over a month to UCLA and came home with a 24-10 win; this was followed the next week by a 43-19 trouncing of Washington up in Seattle . So, after throttling USC last weekend, the Ducks' trip to Stanford on Saturday was supposed to be a confirmation game -- signifying Oregon 's ascent to the top of the conference.
By the final whistle in Palo Alto , the only thing that had been confirmed was the reality that, in 2009, the Pac-10 is right in the argument as the deepest conference in the nation. At Stanford Stadium, Toby Gerhart and the Cardinal were the clock that pealed midnight for the Oregon defense. Aliotti's boys, who had looked fleet as a carriage against so many opponents, lumbered like a pumpkin as Gerhart methodically bowled forward across huge tracts of land on down after punishing down. Finishing with a career-high 223 yards on 38 carries, Gerhart singlehandedly carved more than a third of his team's points out of Oregon's hide....