EUGENE — Stanford is not a faceless opponent.
At least not for longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who remembers what David Shaw looked like as a precocious third-grader.
The Cardinal head coach is the son of Willie Shaw, a well-traveled college and NFL coach, who was on the 1979 Oregon staff when Aliotti was one of Rich Brooks’ graduate assistants.
Aliotti and Willie Shaw also worked together for the St. Louis Rams under Brooks.
Now David Shaw, 41, is all grown up and considered one of the bright minds in the game, at any level.
Revenge and rivalry are not words the coaches and players for No. 2 Oregon are using to describe next Thursday’s game at No. 6 Stanford.
But David clearly has the respect of the visiting Goliath in this matchup of Pac-12 heavyweights.
“I have a lot of respect for David Shaw and Stanford. A lot of respect,” said Aliotti, who got himself into some hot water for disrespectful comments about Washington State’s Mike Leach a couple weeks ago. “I think he’s one of the best coaches in the country. I was going to say one of the best young coaches, but I don’t want to just categorize him as a young coach.
“I think he gets the college game, I think they have a tough attitude, I think he’s a great offensive mind.”
The Cardinal turned Oregon’s BCS dreams into a nightmare during a 17-14 overtime upset of the Ducks at Autzen Stadium last year. The Ducks were the villains during a 53-30 win at Stanford in 2011 en route to the Rose Bowl.
Nationally, the focus for this highly anticipated meeting is on Heisman Trophy contender Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offense versus Stanford’s stingy, senior-dominated defense.
Aliotti notes that Shaw, a former Cardinal wide receiver, has developed some impressive targets (Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, Kodi Whitfield) for quarterback Kevin Hogan to throw to. And Stanford’s powerful offensive line usually dictates tempo with Tyler Gaffney (886 yards, 12 touchdowns) moving the chains.
“I coached with Willie Shaw, so I saw David grow up a little bit. Not all the time, but I saw him grow up and remember him as a receiver at Stanford,” Aliotti said. “I think whenever you’re around the game a lot you get that football knowledge or that extra little something. He’s got that extra little something. I really have a lot of respect for David Shaw and Stanford’s program. It will be a dogfight.”
Shaw was hoping the Ducks would take three steps back defensively this season with the loss of 2012 leading tackler Michael Clay and coveted NFL picks Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan. Oregon ranks 9th nationally in scoring defense (16.9 ppg) and 31st in total defense (359.3 ypg), even though Aliotti’s unit spends an average of 33 minutes, 25 seconds on the field (114th in time of possession).
“The crazy part is without those outstanding players, the defense as a whole looks better. They’re fast, they’re big,” David Shaw said of Oregon on the Pac-12 media teleconference this week. “The combination of what coach Aliotti does with those guys and then their abilities, it just makes it hard to move the ball.”
After beating opponents by an average of 38.7 points on the way to 8-0, the Ducks seems to be looking forward to this chess match. Both coaching staffs should have every stoned turned by next Thursday night.
David Shaw, who is 30-5 at Stanford with Fiesta and Rose Bowl appearances the last two seasons, was able to pick up where Jim Harbaugh left off, similar to the way Mark Helfrich has so far been able to continue Oregon’s run following Chip Kelly’s departure for the NFL.
“When they got Harbaugh, they got a guy that came in with a plan and he executed it. And then they kept it going with coach Shaw,” Oregon secondary coach John Neal said. “I really admire it, I’m a fan of that kind of stuff because I know how hard that stuff is to do. …
“From one head coach to another, they’ve really sustained their performance. That’s what we all try to strive for in all of our sports, can you have a system that keeps sustaining? There’s so many good ones out there, and we’re playing the best one that has come up in years.”