Week Five game notes

Forget about the Red River Shootout, Florida at Alabama or even the Ravens and Steelers—this is your football game of the week.

The brain trust over on the ABC family of networks deemed the matchup between Stanford and Oregon so big; they slid it into their primetime College GameDay slot. When you've got Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit calling the action with the adorable Erin Andrews roaming the sidelines, you've got respect.

But Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh and his players are staying level-headed in the wave of the national attention flooding in around them.

"It's not like we needed any extra motivation for this game but it's cool," Luck said about playing in the national spotlight. "We've had this game circled on the schedule since the season ended last year, and I'm sure Oregon did too."

Stanford will take its undefeated record into one of the most hostile environments the NCAA landscape has to offer. Esteemed college football expert Phil Steele provides the Ducks with a 6-point advantage when playing in the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium

"It's a college football atmosphere and one of those games you're excited about playing in because it's a special place," said Luck. "We definitely have to work on communicating in ways other than just talking to guys. We're going to have to yell, use hand signals, do things with snap counts and try to keep the crowd out of it."

Luck mentioned that the team had been practicing with blaring music in the background all week. He said that Harbaugh selects a wide genre of songs that includes rap, rock and country. Stanford is winless in its last four trips to Autzen, getting outscored by an average margin of 26.8 points per game.

But unlike past seasons on the road, the Cardinal have the ability to match scoring with Oregon's potent offense. That was evident in last year's 51-42 home win over the Ducks when Stanford rolled up 505 yards of offense.

And Oregon proved it was beatable last week. On the road at Arizona State, the Ducks were limited to 405 total yards and converted just 2 of 13 third-down opportunities. The Sun Devils posted 597 yards on offense and had it not been for seven turnovers, they probably would have won the game.

"Obviously they are lethal on offense and can strike quickly but everyone has to stay fundamentally sound," Shayne Skov said. "We have to be committed and focused throughout the game."

The Ducks, led by quarterback Darron Thomas, operate a spread, zone-read offensive attack with almost flawless execution. Skov said that playing similar systems the last two weeks in Wake Forest and Notre Dame will assist in preparation but, snap to snap, Oregon is the fastest team in the country.

Oregon creates space with its offensive set and tackling in space has not been a strength for Stanford in years past. Harbaugh said improving that phase of the defense has been emphasized all season with defensive backs coach Derek Mason running tackling drills every day in practice.

"It is scheme and playing good team defense, knowing where your help is," Harbaugh said of the improved tackling. "And it's experience. There haven't been many missed tackles this year."

When you hear about Oregon's defense, it bends and breaks, but it thrives off of turnovers. It's akin to an arena football defense. The unit is looking for a couple of stops because it believes the offense can score on every possession.

"They are extremely opportunistic defensively, they're built that way," Harbaugh said. "They have multiple fronts and do a great job of disguising them, they try to confuse you. They are an opportunistic and ball-hawking defense."

Running that defense is inside linebacker Casey Matthews. Matthews come from a long lineage of pigskin players with his father and grandfather playing in the NFL. His older brother, Clay, played at USC and currently leads the NFL in sacks as a member of the Green Bay Packers.

"I know they have one heck of a middle linebacker that comes from that freakish football family," Luck said. "He's definitely the leader of their defense and he is very good."

So if the Ducks are averaging nearly 58 points per game this season, is the Cardinal going to have to put up 60 to walk out of Autzen with a victory?

"We approach every game like we want to light the scoreboard up," Luck said. "Obviously Oregon's offense is something special but we have a lot of confidence in our defense as well. We don't feel like we have to [score 60 points] or else we're going to lose the game."

It will be interesting to see what happens if Stanford can manage a lead at any point Saturday. After getting out to a 31-14 lead at the half last year, Harbaugh somewhat let off the gas and allowed Oregon waddle back into the game. Power and iso make Stanford's offense tick, but the Ducks can rip off big plays in the blink of an eye.

You won't want to go to the fridge for a cold one until a commercial break begins because this game is sure to be action-packed from start to finish.

The Cardinal are ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll while Oregon is positioned at No. 4…Oregon ranks first at the FBS level in scoring (57.8 ppg), Stanford is fourth (48.0 ppg)…The Ducks have posted at least 40 points in all four games in 2010…Stanford leads the Pac-10 with 14 sacks, while both teams have only given up one sack this season…The Cardinal are a perfect 27-for-27 in red zone opportunities and their 18 touchdowns inside the 20 leads the nation…Jim Harbaugh said that Oregon coach Chip Kelly was in the same class as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer…Stanford opened as 4.5-point underdogs for this game but the spread has been bet up to a touchdown…Stanford was 7-point underdogs last year at home and pulled off the upset, 51-42.

About the Author: Bootleg Senior Writer Scott Cooley has worked in the sports media industry throughout his professional career, including serving as a writer for an ESPN production house and a professional football franchise. His work has been published in multiple print and online platforms including ESPN.com. He currently writes for yours truly, as well as Covers.com and Bookmaker.com. Cooley specializes in football, baseball and basketball with an emphasis on sports betting. Cooley and his wife reside in California, contact him at scottwcooley@gmail.com

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