Can Oregon beat Stanford?

With so much on the line, what does Oregon need to do to come out victorious against the Pac-12 bully, Stanford?

The Cardinal have been a persistent thorn in Oregon’s side over the last couple seasons. And while the Cardinal are looking to hang a loss on the Ducks for the third straight season, Oregon is looking to stay alive in the college football playoff race.

Last season, Oregon continually shot themselves in the foot, showing ability to move the ball but losing out to great individual efforts by Shayne Skov and the Stanford defense. Two red zone fumbles and a turnover on downs did not help the Ducks as they were held scoreless through three quarters before a miraculous near comeback left the ledger at 26-20 for Stanford. While the Ducks were able to move the ball down the field, execution when the game was on the line is what came back to haunt the Ducks down the stretch.

This season, things appear to be a little different as the Cardinal have already dropped games to Arizona State, USC and Notre Dame. However, the defense seems to be holding up to the Cardinal standard as no team has scored more than 26 points against them. That 26 came against Arizona State in a game that saw several uncharacteristic mistakes from Stanford, giving the Sun Devils good field position which they used to cash in for points.

Oregon has several benefits this season compared to last year, namely among them a healthy Marcus Mariota. Last season, Mariota’s MCL hampered the quarterback’s ability to avoid the rush and be effective in the running game. Mariota is 100% this season and has an offensive line which has been getting healthier and been effective in the past several weeks.

The Cardinal were able to sell out to stop the run which kept the Ducks scoreless through the first three quarters, but this year the Ducks have the wrecking ball of Royce Freeman in the back field who has the ability to pick up the tough yards needed to topple Stanford. Overall, the offense is a bit of a different beast than it has been in recent years. The Ducks have turned to more sustained drives which take more time, while still having that explosive feel to it. Much of that is due to Freeman’s presence.

The other major difference from last season to this year is the emergence of Oregon’s wide receivers. Dwayne Stanford, Byron Marshall and Pharaoh Brown have contributed well in recent weeks and gives credence to a passing game that features one of the best signal callers in college football. If Stanford loads the box to stuff the run, Mariota will have the ability to shred the Cardinal secondary which is already down a safety. Expect Oregon to establish the run early as they often do, but if drives are unable to be sustained that way, Oregon may need the pass to move the ball down the field. Against the Sun Devils, the Cardinal showed a weakness in the seam where a player like Brown would be able to make some big time plays.

Defensively, the Ducks have to attack on the edges. The Ducks saw good pressure last week from Christian French and Tony Washington as they were able to get into the backfield on run blitzes and create havoc for the Golden Bear offense. While Kevin Hogan is a capable runner with the ball in his hands, the Ducks need to focus on the run and make Hogan beat them with his arm.

Stanford needs to get the ball in the hands of Ty Montgomery. He is an exceptional kick returner and very good in open space. Montgomery is going to get yards, but if the Ducks can limit his abilities to get into the end zone, it may be a long day for the Stanford offense.

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