EUGENE, Ore. (AP) If the Oregon Ducks want to use two straight losses to Stanford as motivation against the Cardinal this season, then so be it, coach Mark Helfrich said.
”There’s always all those outside motivators whether it’s revenge or the rivalry or this or that or the other,” he said. ”Funnel that to your preparation. That’s the only way you can make that a functional positive for you or for the team.”
Fifth-ranked Oregon hosts Stanford on Saturday afternoon, and no doubt there are several players who have considered that for the past two seasons the Cardinal have spoiled the Ducks’ national championship hopes.
In 2012, Oregon was ranked No. 1 when the fourteenth-ranked Cardinal came to Autzen and shocked the Ducks 17-14 on Jordan Williamson’s 37-yard field goal in overtime. Oregon would go on to finish ranked No. 2 in the nation after rolling over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, which would turn out to be Chip Kelly’s last game as coach.
Last season, the stakes were high on both sides, when the No. 5 Cardinal piled up a 26-0 lead after three quarters then held off a frenzied fourth-quarter rally by the No. 3 Ducks to escape with a 26-20 victory. It was later revealed that Marcus Mariota was playing injured, and Oregon would go on to drop another game to Arizona and miss out on a BCS bowl for the first time in four seasons.
Helfrich said the two losses were very different.
”Last year we had a ton of chances. The year before we didn’t play very hard, we didn’t play very well. Last year we played hard but didn’t finish well,” he said.
This season, Stanford (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) may be struggling, but Oregon (7-1, 4-1) is still very much in the mix for college football’s first playoff. The Cardinal could play spoiler again.
Oregon center Hroniss Grasu cautioned his teammates against getting too hyped up because of the implications.
”Don’t make the game bigger than it is. They’re obviously a very good team and a team we haven’t beat in two years, so they’re obviously doing something right and we’ve got to do something to fix that,” he said.
Here are other things to consider when the Cardinal visit the Ducks:
MARIOTA’S MARCH: Mariota has piled up the accolades since he’s been at Oregon, but a win over Stanford has eluded him. ”Marcus Mariota doesn’t need to beat anybody to prove the greatness of him,” Helfrich said. ”I know he’s a competitor and wants to beat everybody.” Mariota, who has thrown for 2,283 yards and 24 touchdowns with only one interception, is a front runner for the Heisman Trophy this season.
GAFFNEY’S GONE: Last year, Tyler Gaffney ran for 157 yards against the Ducks, but he’s moved on to the NFL. Without him, Stanford hasn’t had a 100-yard rusher this season – which could be a positive for the Ducks. Remound Wright leads the team with 326 total yards and two touchdowns, but he’s averaging less than 10 carries a game. Barry Sanders has 40 carries for 290 yards.
ALL ABOUT THAT D: Senior linebacker A.J. Tarpley has 53 tackles, including four tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception this season. The Cardinal captain says the job Saturday is simple: keep Oregon out of the end zone. ”One thing as a defense we want to emphasize is it doesn’t matter where they get the ball. It doesn’t how much break we’ve had, whether it’s one play or 10 plays. Our job is stop them from scoring points,” he said.
FREEING FREEMAN: Last season, the Cardinal allowed Oregon just 62 total yards on the ground. So a key for the Ducks will be establishing the rush. Freshman running back Royce Freeman has run for 748 yards and leads the Pac-12 with 13 touchdowns, but Stanford poses his biggest challenge of the season.
AND THERE’S THIS: Stanford has the nation’s second-best scoring defense (12.5 points) and second-best total defense (250.6 yards). But mostly because of its offense, Stanford is tied with Washington State for the Pac-12’s worst turnover ratio (minus-8). Oregon is the best as plus-11.
AP Sports Writer Antonio Gonzalez in San Francisco contributed to this report.