Series History: Stanford leads 44-30-1; Oregon has won 9 of the last 10.
Time/TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC
With Alabama failing to win last week against Texas A&M, the door opened for Kansas State and Oregon to play in the BCS Championship Game. Both the Wildcats and the Ducks have hard conference games this week, with K-State playing Baylor and the Stanford Cardinals traveling up to Eugene and facing off against the high-flying Ducks offense. Both games will be a challenge and it wouldn’t shock anybody if one or both of these teams were upset.
Baylor is looking more and more like a trap game to me for Kansas State, but Stanford will be hungry with Rose Bowl dreams and will attempt to stymie the rushing and passing attack of the Ducks. If the Ducks want to keep their national championship aspirations going, they’ll have to beat an experienced, savvy Stanford team who is hungry to knock off a conference foe. The Ducks offense tends to score in spurts, and it will be imperative that Stanford can stop the momentum when the Ducks offense starts rolling. The Cardinal Sophomore QB Kevin Hogan was impressive against Oregon State last week, and seemed to show the natural ability to know when a play was breaking down and to get out of the pocket or throw the ball away. It’s always entertaining to see these two on the gridiron, so here’s what to look for on both sides of the ball on Saturday night in Oregon.
When Oregon is on Offense
Ducks in a row: Oregon’s offense has been nothing short of astounding this year. They put up video game numbers every week by having a relentless no huddle offense pummel opposing defenses into submission. The numbers say it all — the Ducks have the third most productive offense in the country at 562 yards per game, while scoring at a rate of 54.8 ppg. These insane numbers are courtesy of the Ducks coach, Chip Kelly, who last year studied basketball film in order to diagram his offensive schemes to make it similar to a fast break on the hardwood. The QB for the Ducks, Marcus Mariota, has been an excellent field general, passing for 2,164 yards and 28 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions. The Ducks have a stud running back in Kenjon Barner, who was injured last week but will be healthy for the game on Saturday. Barner has 1,360 yards rushing and 19 rushing touchdowns so far in the 2012 season. If the Cardinal choose to crowd the line for Barner, the Ducks excel on play-action and Mariota has his choice of either De’Anthony Thomas, Josh Huff or Colt Lyerla to throw to. I don’t see how the Cardinal can stop all the offensive weapons the Ducks will throw at them, but look for the Ducks to establish the run early against the Cardinal defense, and then start to try to catch the Cardinal defense off-guard with play action and no huddle in the second half.
When Stanford is on Defense
Duck and Cover: Stanford’s defense has established itself as the best defense in the Pac-12. They have held teams to 17.2 points and 320.7 yards per game. They are especially good against the running game, where the opposing offense only averages 56.8 ypg. Stanford’s front 7 have given offensive coordinators nightmares this year, disrupting game plans with 91 tackles for a loss and compiling 42 sacks in 2012. The front 7 for the Cardinal haven’t faced an offense like the Ducks yet this year, but they kept the Notre Dame running game largely in check when they met earlier this year. It will be up to the linebackers to sniff out the play action that the Ducks use to perfection, and literally try to slow the game down by getting into the backfield and causing sacks or losses for the Oregon offense. If Stanford could keep it’s average of about 320 yards allowed in this game, that would be almost 250 fewer yards than Oregon averages on offense. There will be points given up, but Stanford has managed to stay in the game for a half against the Oregon offense lately, only to have a defensive meltdown at some point against the Ducks. The weather looks like it’s going to be rainy on Saturday night, so that could help slow down the Ducks passing attack and play into Stanford’s defensive strength, which is stopping the run. It may not be enough to stop the Ducks altogether, but holding their offense to 30-35 points would keep the Cardinal in the game.
When Stanford is on Offense
Duck Hunting: Usually when a sophomore QB makes his debut at this point in the season, it usually means either a injury or the team’s season has gone haywire. Not so at Stanford. QB Kevin Hogan made his first start against Oregon State last weekend and had a pretty impressive debut, going 22-29 passing with 3 passing touchdowns. He did throw 2 interceptions, but Hogan led the Cardinal to a win against a tough conference opponent. Stanford has largely relied on it’s running game to move the chains on offense. The Cardinal have a huge, experienced offensive line and have a great running back in Stepfan Taylor. Against Oregon State last week, Taylor finished with 114 yards rushing and a touchdown. Overall in 2012, Taylor has piled up 1,061 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground. He’s been effective as a receiver out of the backfield as well, accounting for 28 receptions, which is second most on the team. The key for Stanford offense is to keep Oregon’s offense off the field. A turnover on offense could be deadly, as Oregon has shown to be opportunistic in turning them into quick touchdowns. The Cardinal will give the Ducks defense a steady diet of Taylor running and will also target tight-end Zach Ertz on passing situations. The offensive line must keep Hogan safe from the blitz and continue to open up holes for Taylor. They don’t have the weapons Oregon has, but they do have the players in the skill positions that could lead them to victory.
When Oregon is on Defense
Fowl Weather: Stats don’t really tell the story with Oregon’s defense. While giving up over 377 ypg to opposing offenses, there is a simple reason for this. With the Ducks ability to score points quickly on offense, it usually means the opposing offense has much more opportunity to pick up yards with more possessions. A better barometer of the Ducks defense is points per game. At 22.3 ppg given up, that ranks 3rd in the Pac-12 and is a scoring differential of more than 30 p0ints a game compared to the offense. The Ducks may not be known for their great defense, but they boast a secondary that has three different players that have more than three interceptions and lead the Pac-12 in passes defended with 17. It will be a tall order for the Ducks front line to step up against the experienced offensive line of the Cardinal and stop the running game, but Taylor Hart has 7 sacks and could cause Stanford’s inexperienced QB to throw an interception by getting into the backfield. Simply put, the D in Oregon will trade yards for turnover opportunities whenever it can. All it will take is one big play on defense to change the momentum of the game, and we’ve all seen how the Ducks use momentum to steamroll opponents.
Laying the Wood (Facts that will knock you off your feet)
The Football Mentalist Predicts (record 2-4)
The Cardinal will hang tough in the first half, but it will turn into a blowout after halftime. The Ducks are simply way too talented, and the home crowd in Eugene will be whipped into a frenzy.
Oregon 52, Stanford 24