Stanford (5-3) at Oregon (7-1) Nov. 1, 7:30, Fox
Here’s The Deal: Now’s your chance, Oregon. You better not mess it up.
The Ducks have had to live with the reality that budding rival Stanford has derailed their national championship quests in each of the last two seasons. In 2012, Oregon was unbeaten and heavily-favored, yet lost to the Cardinal, 17-14. Ditto last November. This time around, the No. 5 Ducks have a loss, but they’re still the frontrunner in the Pac-12 North and essentially control their own destiny in the quest for a playoff spot. They’ve done an about-face since falling to Arizona a month ago, reeling off three straight conference routs.
This is not the same Stanford team that handled Oregon the last two seasons. This group isn’t even ranked after 72 consecutive weeks appearing in the AP poll. But the Cardinal cannot be taken lightly, as if the Ducks need to be reminded. Despite the uncharacteristic three losses, to ranked opponents by the way, this remains a smart, well-coached and physical team. The kind of outfit that’s historically given Oregon problems. And all it takes is one upset this Saturday to propel Stanford right back into first place in the North.
Why Stanford Might Win: The team is down. The defense is not.
David Shaw, not former coordinator Derek Mason or the wave of graduated defenders, owns the secret sauce for slowing down Oregon’s offense. Despite not getting much help from the offense, Stanford ranks in the top 10 nationally in run defense, scoring defense and total D, yielding just 3.7 yards per carry. The unit is rugged, smart and unforgiving. Every yard the Ducks gain this weekend will be earned, especially when they attempt to move the ball on the ground.
Why Oregon Might Win: The Ducks have Marcus Mariota and an offense that’s scored at least 42 points six times this year. The Cardinal has Kevin Hogan, the enigmatic leader of an attack averaging just 26 points.
While Oregon has found its groove, Stanford is tripping over its own feet against better teams. Hogan has always been a bit of a head-scratcher, but the real problems on the Farm are a line that’s slipped and a running game missing a leading man. The Cardinal could grind out yards in its last two meeting with the Ducks, but this edition won’t have that luxury. And if Hogan has to throw too often in the direction of S Erick Dargan or corners Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Troy Hill, mark the quarterback down for at least two picks.
Who To Watch Out For: The job of softening up the Stanford run defense belongs to rookie RB Royce Freeman, who’s been Mariota’s improbable right-hand man this fall. The true freshman has gone over 100 yards in each of the last three games, and he’s not afraid to work between the tackles. Ironically, at a hearty 6-0 and 229 pounds, Freeman is exactly the kind of downhill runner the Cardinal has needed this season.
Hogan will need someone to step up and be special on offense this weekend. WR Ty Montgomery is always up for the assignment, but he’ll be off-and-on with Ekpre-Olomu constantly in his hip pocket. Hogan also has a couple of big targets at his disposal, WR Devon Cajuste and TE Austin Hooper. The 6-4, 249-pound Hooper is capable of creating matchup problems for the undersized Oregon linebackers.
Oregon LT Jake Fisher versus whoever is looping around the edge of the Stanford will be a fascinating—and pivotal—matchup. Mariota aside, Fisher has arguably been the Ducks’ most valuable player up to this point. The Cardinal, though, is skilled at affecting the integrity of the pocket from more than one level. Ends Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders are battlers at the point of impact, but linebackers Kevin Anderson, Peter Kalambayi, Blake Martinez and A.J. Tarpley must be accounted for at all times as well.
The Oregon D has been generous at times this season. But can the Cardinal capitalize? Stanford has been staggeringly inefficient for a team with a third-year starter under center. It’s 10th in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions and last in red-zone touchdown efficiency. While the Cardinal has shown in recent years that it doesn’t need pyrotechnics to outscore the Ducks, it’s unlikely that 17 or 20 points will cut it this time around.
What’s Going To Happen: While it won’t erase the memories of the last two losses, Oregon is about to get a pound of redemption for its recent problems with Stanford.
The Cardinal has talent, particularly on defense. And the Cardinal is dangerous. But the inability to move the ball effectively—and without turnovers—will prevent a third straight upset in a heated rivalry that’s gained traction of late. No, Mariota won’t put up his usual gaudy numbers. Stanford is just too tough for that. But even a 10-point Duck cushion will be too much for this inconsistent Cardinal attack to overcome, especially at Autzen Stadium.
Prediction: Oregon 31 … Stanford 21
Line: USC -8 o/u: 54.5
Must Watch Factor: 5: Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown – 1: Mike Tyson Mysteries … 4.5
Stanford (5-3) at Oregon (7-1) Nov. 1, 7:30, Fox