1. Keep Stanford Out Of The Red Zone
On 52 attempts inside the red zone this season for Stanford, the Cardinal have come away with 52 scores (41 touchdowns, 11 field goals). Their perfect efficiency rate inside their opponent's 20 yard line is the best in the country and good enough to surely make any 4.0 Stanford student blush. Much of that has to with their triggerman at quarterback, junior Andrew Luck. For all of Luck's physical gifts, his mental approach to the game is unrivaled and has been compared favorably to Peyton Manning while Manning was at Tennessee. Luck's preparation and understanding of defenses makes him downright cold-blooded when it comes to executing in areas such as the red zone, thus, Oregon must limit the opportunities Luck gets in that area of the field. For years, the Ducks have prided themselves on a "bend-but-don't-break" approach to defense, flexing particular muscle against opposing red zone offenses. This season has been no different, as the Ducks rank third in the Pac-12 in holding opposing offenses to 25 scores in 33 attempts inside the red zone. Yet, something's got to give when Oregon and Stanford face off Saturday evening. While smart money is on the Cardinal to win that test of wills, if Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti and his defense are able to dial up a defensive game plan that prevents Luck and Stanford from executing with brutal proficiency deep inside Oregon territory, it could very well mean the difference between a win and a loss.
2. Don't Get Run Over
Despite surrendering the most rushing attempts on defense in the Pac-12 (365), the Ducks rank fourth in the conference in rushing yards per attempt, limiting teams to only 3.68 yards per carry. Last week against Washington, the Oregon defense turned in arguably their most impressive performance of the season against one of the conference's premier running backs in Chris Polk. On 24 carries, Oregon held Polk to 80 yards and no touchdowns, resulting in Polk's worst game from a yardage standpoint since the Huskies 31-23 victory versus Cal in September. Riding a wave of momentum, it will be interesting to see how the Ducks stack up against the conference's best rushing offense, excluding Oregon. Stanford's offense -- and in particular their running game -- is predicated on strength and power. The last time Oregon went up against Stanford down in Palo Alto, the Ducks were steamrolled by Stanford running back Toby Gerhart who rumbled his way for 223 yards and three touchdowns against an Oregon front seven that was woefully overmatched. Though the Cardinal are now two seasons removed from Gerhart, their offensive philosophy has changed little. The Cardinal offensive line is again regarded as one of the most physical offensive lines in college football and Stanford goes four deep at running back, steadily rotating Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Jeremy Stewart throughout a given game. If Oregon's front seven can rise to the occasion for a second consecutive week and help keep the defense out of 3rd and short situations, you have to like your chances if you're a Duck fan.
3. Make The Most Of Your Opportunities
Against Stanford, a team can't afford to waist possessions if it has any intention of winning. When the Cardinal have the ball they usually possess it for long stretches of time, only turning it over seven times this season, preferring to bleed you slowly throughout the course of a game until it's too late to mount a comeback. That's not to say Stanford isn't explosive, but unlike Oregon, they favor clubbing you senseless as opposed to searing you with incendiary speed. For Oregon, that means being efficient with every possession and staying far away from committing turnovers and accruing gobs of penalties. Shooting yourself in the foot is the last thing you want to do in a game of such critical importance as the one come Saturday and Oregon has already found out once this season how quickly a game can get away if turnovers and penalties are allowed to get the best of you. A win over the Cardinal doesn't guarantee anything, but it could be the second chance opportunity that the Ducks would be shameful to waste.
Follow Chris Courtney on Twitter at eDuckCCourtney
3 Keys To Stanford
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