Scout Pac-10: Oregon-Stanford Match up

The Pac-10 Conference race gets underway on Saturday, September 2nd, when the Stanford Cardinal travel to Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon to take on the Oregon Ducks. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. The game will be carried on ABC and fans can also follow the game by logging onto TheBootleg.com and eDuck.com.

SEASON OPENER: The 2006 season kicks off with a home opener against Stanford at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks finished 10-2 last season and believe they are as good this season even if some big shoes need to be filled. Gone are seven players to the NFL but the Ducks have plenty of future NFL talent waiting in the wings. Oregon will modify the spread offense this year to accommodate running backs Jonathan Stewart and Jeremiah Johnson's talents plus having nine scholarship receivers who are 6-1 or taller. Defensively the Ducks run a 4-3-4 defensive scheme although the outside linebacker is listed as a strong safety. Head Coach Mike Bellotti is in his 12th season as the headman in Eugene and his Ducks are anxious to avenge being excluded from a BCS Bowl last season. The men in green or yellow or black or white (depending on which of the new uniform color combinations they chose) are on a mission and have something to prove -- that they are a BCS team. SEASON OPENER: Stanford surprised many people last year in the first year under head coach Walt Harris – in several respects. The Cardinal finished tied for fourth in the Pac-10 with a 4-4 conference record, but they blew their chance to don bowling shoes with an unthinkable loss to UC Davis. Harris is not fond of opening Year Two with a Pac-10 road game, particularly at Autzen Stadium, but this schedule switch was a sacrifice he made to give Stanford a break in October from what was originally a 12-week uninterrupted season. The theme for the Cardinal this Saturday is the same we expect all season: score and survive. Much like the Stanford teams we grew up with, the 2006 version has the talent to pile up points on offense but a defense that could give up just as many. The NCAA's new rules to speed up college football games may prove futile against Stanford's high-scoring affairs this fall.
KEY INJURIES:
DE Victor Filipe (dislocated elbow - out)
WR Derrick Jones (sprained ankle - out)
CB Terrell Ward (torn meniscus - out)
DT Ra'Shon Harris (torn triceps - out for the season)
KEY INJURIES:

C Tim Mattran (lower leg - questionable)
C Preston Clover (knee - out)
ILB Michael Okwo (broken thumb - out)
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WHEN OREGON IS ON OFFENSE: The Ducks will operate out of the shotgun in Offensive Coordinator Gary Crowton's spread formation. They have terrific speed at all skill positions. Quarterback Dennis Dixon will make his fifth start against Stanford and presents the Cardinal a big problem. Dixon is very accurate in throwing the ball and has great mobility. Last year he was 69-for-104, 777 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions with the majority of those yards coming in the last four games. Dixon can also tuck the ball in and scamper as he also picked up 143 total yards last year, but expect him to be used in more running plays this year. Sophomore Jonathan Stewart scored nine touchdowns last year (six rushing, one pass reception and two kickoff returns) and has Duck coaches and fans salivating. The 5-11, 230-pound running back bench pressed 410 pounds last winter and has recorded a vertical jump of over 40 inches, not to mention his 4.35-second timing in the 40-yard dash. Jeremiah Johnson will also see time running the ball and the pair could be christened the new Thunder and Lightning of the Pac-10. The Ducks also have a deep, talented receiver corps that boasts nine scholarship receivers over 6-1. Senior James Finley had 57 catches last season. Junior Cameron Colvin wants to make this his year, as does sophomore Jaison Williams. Bellotti though may start Garren Strong, Brian Paysinger and 3-sport letterman Jordan Kent against Stanford. Last season the Ducks had nine receivers with double-figure catches and the Ducks believe at least that many will accomplish the same feat in 2006. WHEN STANFORD IS ON OFFENSE: Trent Edwards is on display. Walt Harris has been fond of saying this month that his fifth-year senior is the "best quarterback nobody has heard of." Edwards matured markedly under Harris' tutelage last year, raising his completion percentage from 54.6% to 62.7% and lowering his touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio from 9/11 to 17/7. His ceiling is higher still in 2006, not only thriving in his second year in the offense but also expecting to have both of his best wideouts. Redshirt junior wide receiver Evan Moore at 6'7" is unlike any other at his position in the Pac-10, but he had his hip dislocated in the first half of the 2005 season opener and never returned. Opposite Moore, senior Mark Bradford is poised for his best season ever. Both are threats, short and long. The running game should be improved, which says little after its 92.3-yard team average a year ago. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Kimble does look promising at tailback, not only more experienced after learning the position in 2005 but also faster (timed with a 4.34 40 in the spring). True freshman Toby Gerhart could see the field Saturday in his first college action, with surprising quickness plus his power as a change of pace to Kimble. The tight ends and backs will again receive plenty of balls from Edwards, but the big question remains the offensive line. They protected their passer poorly last year and opened few holes in the running game. Stanford also lost its top two centers in training camp and will start redshirt sophomore guard Alex Fletcher over the ball. Will some position switches and a simplified scheme change anything in '06?
WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL: Oregon's defense is going through some changes. Gone is a giant defensive tackle (Haloti Ngata) that stands 6-4 and weighs 345 pounds and insert Cole Linehan, 6-4, 295. Matt Toeaina, 6-3, 301, moves over to defensive end but most likely will see time back at defensive tackle too. Newcomer Jeremy Gibbs, 6-3. 280 is the other tackle while Darius Sanders, 6-5, 269 is the other end. The Ducks will run a 4-3-4 defense but reading the roster might make things confusing because Oregon calls the outside linebacker a strong safety. Blair Phillips is the best playmaking linebacker. The Oregon secondary is anchored by senior free safety J.D. Nelson. Patrick Chung is the rover. The cornerbacks Jackie Bates and Walter Thurmond are very fast and had some very strong practice days this August. The Ducks have traditionally wanted to stop the run and force teams to throw the ball. Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti will keep the same formula and the Ducks' coaching staff believes they are very strong up the middle. Oregon has terrific defensive team speed. Oregon intends to keep the pressure on Stanford's Trent Edwards and will mix up the coverage to keep Edwards off balanced. The Duck coaching staff are determined not to let Edwards sit back and use his great accuracy to find Mark Bradford and Evan Moore. While no Oregon defensive back physically matches up with the 6-foot-6 Moore, they do have the experience of playing against similarly tall receivers (Kent and Williams, both 6-5) in practice. WHEN OREGON HAS THE BALL: The Cardinal hold their breath. The outlook was bleak enough after losing all of their best playmakers to the NFL, but bad went to worse when Michael Okwo went down. The senior inside linebacker left the starting lineup after three starts with a high ankle sprain, and now misfortune strikes again with a shattered bone in his thumb. No Okwo on Saturday makes the hill even steeper for Stanford to climb. The Cardinal have a new defensive coordinator this year in A.J. Christoff but again will operate out of a 3-4 defense. While the base looks the same as last year on paper, expect a different defense. Though Stanford had superior personnel with proven playmaking experience last year when these two teams met, the Cardinal were devastated by the pass (463 yards, 3 touchdowns) and the run (132 yds, 3 TDs) of Oregon's spread offense. This week's gameplan hopes to both attack the backfield and better cover the Ducks' spread of offensive weapons. That is schematically challenging enough, but more so for Stanford's green group. Redshirt freshmen may start at three or more positions, and true freshmen are expected to play in the two-deep at three or four spots. Keep your eye on 6'4" 233-pound outside linebacker Clinton Snyder and 6'2" 305-pound nose tackle Ekom Udofia, two of Stanford's top promising playmakers who will see their first college action this Saturday. In the back end, 6'2" 224-pound senior Brandon Harrison will be tested by Oregon's wideouts in his first game at cornerback after three years at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Oregon's special teams should be very fast and athletic. Place kickers Paul Martinez (FG and PAT) was hampered by an injury in the spring but came back in fall camp and was very accurate. Martinez was 19-for-24 last year in field goal kicking with a long of 51. If Martinez is unable to perform, Matt Evensen can fill the bill nicely. Evensen was 4-of-9 last season with a long of 51. Evensen will do the kickoffs and had great control of his kicks during camp. One of the biggest controversies last year was the shield punt formation. Stanford found a way to block a punt last year and this year the Ducks have modified the punt formation by moving the shield up four steps and using smaller but more agile players in the 3-man shield. Punter Matt Dragich had a 38.9-yard average last season with a long of 56. Aaron Knowles can also boot the ball away and 40 yards on 36 punts last season with a long of 53 yards. SPECIAL TEAMS: Stanford's special teams are a huge question mark. Gone are the Cardinal's special teams coordinator (New York Giants), four-year placekicker (graduation), top special teams coverage player (Oakland Raiders) and their explosive punt and kickoff returner (Indianapolis Colts). We'll start with the kicking, where the Cardinal do not have a scholarship player for the first time since at least the 1980s. Redshirt sophomore Aaron Zagory won an uninspiring position battle and will attempt his first field goal/PAT this weekend. His leg strength is suspect, which could call redshirt junior Derek Belch for long distance attempts. Belch will also take kickoffs, with the added challenge of the NCAA's new one-inch tee. Look for Kimble to take the lead on kickoff return duty, something he has not done since high school. Redshirt junior cornerback Nick Sanchez will return punts, also for the first time in college. Stanford returns strength in one phase, with redshirt juniors punter Jay Ottovegio and long snapper Brent Newhouse together for a third straight year. Ottovegio is a gem, but otherwise Stanford will hold their breath every time special teams take the field Saturday.
OREGON CAN WIN IF: The Ducks control the ball with their powerful running game. The Oregon coaching staff has said Oregon will run the ball more this year and add that to an established passing game and it spells trouble for Stanford. The only thing that will keep Oregon from winning the game is mental mistakes, particularly by Dixon. In fall camp Dixon demonstrated his confidence by making great decisions. The ball carriers held onto the ball and considering the number of times Stewart had head on collisions in camp, it is particularly impressive he held onto the ball so well. Expect the Ducks to run and drive opposing defensive coordinators wild. Stewart, Johnson and Dixon present individual problems for a defense to deal with. Stewart can run over defenders, Johnson can slash and cut while Dixon has great footwork plus a strong, accurate arm to hit an array of tall, fast receivers. All of this of course is predicated on Dixon not making mistakes. Basically though, there are just too many weapons in the Ducks' arsenal and with a raucous Autzen Stadium the Ducks should be in high gear from opening kick off to final whistle. STANFORD CAN WIN IF: The offensive line shows marked improvement, protecting Edwards and opening holes for the running game. This scheme and this collection of veteran offensive personnel are the best Stanford has seen in years, particularly in the passing game. But Edwards has to stay on the field and have the chance to find Bradford and Moore. That trio will need a couple of deep strikes, but primarily the Cardinal will attempt ball control with high-percentage passes to the receivers, backs and tight ends – to move the chains and eat clock, keeping Oregon's offense off the field. During the Buddy Teevens years, wins or surprisingly narrow losses came primarily with the defense bailing out an anemic offense. The defense will be in trouble this weekend, and maybe throughout the 2006 season, requiring the offense to keep the Cardinal afloat for a change. That being said, the defense and special teams will need to play beyond their inexperience, netting at least a +2 turnover margin and a few scattered impact plays to compensate their aggregate disadvantages against Oregon's units. That includes either fortuitous or forced mistakes by Ducks quarterback Dennis Dixon, opening his first year as a full-time starter.
OREGON WILL LOSE IF: The Ducks are unable to stop Stanford running game and allow Edwards to pick apart the secondary. Logically, Stanford wants to establish a running game so that play action will work. If Oregon can not put pressure on Edwards because they are tied up with play action and the Oregon secondary can not help each other on coverage of Bradford and Moore then it could be a long day for the Duck faithful. STANFORD WILL LOSE IF: The offense falters even occasionally and the defense plays to their experience level. Walt Harris has said that ball security and turnover margin are this team's "only salvation." If Edwards offers up any interceptions or ball carriers fumble the ball, the Cardinal could not only lose but lose ugly. Even if the offense does not give the game away, there is a chance the defense could hemorrhage. At times in the spring and during fall camp, they have tackled horrifically. That is a nightmare matchup against powerful Jonathan Stewart and Oregon's supersized wide receivers.

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