During his weekly press conference at the Casanova Center on Tuesday, Oregon head coach Chip Kelly was asked whether it was easier to defend Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck in open space or within the pocket. His answer, though in jest, was telling.
“I would like him to be in outer space,” Kelly said. “If we could get that taken care of, put him in a rocket and send him to the moon for the weekend.”
Luck, of course, will be on the field and ready to play on Saturday when the Ducks arrive at Stanford Stadium. Though the Oregon defense had just enough success to pull out a victory against the Heisman front-runner in last year’s showdown, a repeat performance certainly isn’t being taken for granted.
“He’s really, really, really athletic,” Kelly said. “And he throws the ball extremely accurate on the run, but he can sit back in the pocket and do it. So you’re picking a poison whether he’s in or out of the pocket.”
Of course, despite Luck’s prowess, Stanford is still a team committed to running the ball. The Cardinal has rushed on 55 percent of its plays from scrimmage this year, totaling over 2,000 yards in just nine games so far.
“The matchup really is with their offensive line and their tight ends and fullbacks,” Kelly said. “Because they do such a great job of blocking at the point of attack … it’ll be our best matchup against probably the best offensive line we’ll face, and that’s where the game’s gonna be played.”
Stanford uses that prolific running game to set up the pass, and Luck has driven the play-action fake to an exact science.
“They have a lot of play-action too. They can fake it,” linebacker Boseko Lokombo said. “Luck, he’s really good at reading his routes and knowing who to hit. So that’s one thing we’re going to have to keep an eye on.”
Indeed, the Cardinal offense is predicated upon deceptive formations. Head coach David Shaw rarely shows the same hand twice, which will make the defense’s task even more difficult.
“They have so many weapons, and they’re so multiformational,” Kelly said. “First it’s two tight ends, then it’s three tight ends, then it’s no tight ends, then the fullback’s motioning out, then they run unbalanced.
“They really keep you guessing, and then by the time you kind of figure out what they’re in, they snap the ball, and they’re gone.”
Stopping Luck and the Cardinal attack will rely largely upon the defense’s ability to put pressure on the senior.
“If you can disrupt the launch point for a quarterback, that’s the key to playing good pass defense,” Kelly said. “If a guy can sit back there all day long, eventually he’s going to be able to find out where the receivers are and put the ball on target.”
Defensive end Terrell Turner heard that message loud and clear. The senior has five tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks on the year and knows he’ll need a few more to make a difference on Saturday.
“We’re going to be headhunting,” Turner said. “Just like we headhunt for anyone else in the Pac-12 and any of our opponents.”