Beating Oregon at Autzen is a piece of cake. Stanford, after all, has managed to do just that four of the last five times the two teams have met in the Duck Pond, including last year's stunning 49-42 last-minute victory that emphatically changed the momentum for Stanford's entire season. Nevertheless, the Card flies into the Duck Pond this year as serious underdogs, and it's not hard to see why. The talented and bowl-hungry Ducks are trying to choke down their first two-game home losing streak in 5 years. Their Rose Bowl hopes are effectively dashed. Now they're going up against the team that single-handedly kept them out of the Rose Bowl last year and stuck them with their only loss of the season - on Homecoming weekend, no less! Few places in the world will be as inhospitable for the Cardinal this Saturday as the University of California at Eugene. The picture for this Saturday's rematch is, on the face of it, just a little bleak. Stanford is scoring 24 points a game, while Oregon is scoring 38. Oregon is 6-2, Stanford is 2-5. Stanford will need to play great defense and unholster its offensive weaponry in a big way – a little more howitzer and a little less six-shooter, so to speak.
The Ducks (6-2, 2-2 Pac-10) are a team of contrasts. They lead the conference in scoring offense, and rank dead last in total defense. They have a terrific running game, and a turbulent passing game. They're allowing 311 passing yards a game, worst in the conference, but are limiting opponents to just 76 yards a game on the ground. Looking beyond the numbers, however, the Ducks are simply a very good team. They have breakaway threats at wide receiver, the top rusher in the league, burly offensive and defensive lines, and a quarterback who, until he ran into Shaun Cody and the Trojans last week, ranked second in the country in pass efficiency. Stanford's primary hope is that its passing game picks up – Card receivers made key plays in the win last year, especially Teyo Johnson, who brutalized the tiny corners stacked against him. If Stanford's wideouts can get consistently open this weekend against dismal duck pass coverage, and if Kyle Matter and Co. can consistently find them, the Card may be able to stretch the field and keep it close.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. The Ducks have a terrific offense, but as the last four games against Pac-10 opponents have proved, when it stumbles, the entire team stumbles. There is no margin for error for this offense – they either get the points or watch frustrated from the sidelines as opponents put up big numbers.
The potent Oregon offense is remarkably balanced, but the centrifugal force is the ever-reliable offensive line. The Duck O-line is a young one – the beast in the middle is sophomore center Dan Weaver, a former walk-on who has since become one of the most dominating linemen in the Pac. Powerful OT Mike Delagrange was injured last week against SC and is listed as day-to-day, potentially throwing a wrench into their smooth running game. Regardless, the Ducks played against the best defense in the Pac-10 last week and still put up 33 points and over 400 yards of offense.
Jason Fife will be taking the bulk of the snaps for the Ducks this Saturday - while he's surprisingly elusive, he lacks Joey Harrington's touch with the long ball, and isn't immune to dumb mistakes. Fife has completed almost 58% of his passes this season for 1950 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Stanford's seventh-ranked rush defense will come helmet to helmet this weekend with bullish RB Onterrio Smith, the conference's leading rusher. Smith has already racked up over 1000 yards on the season, averaging five yards a carry and 127 per game. USC limited him to just.70 yards last week, but Stanford's defense just ain't SC's – perhaps more indicatively, against ASU two weeks ago he racked up 176 yards on 31 carries.
Samie Parker (5-11, 177) and Keenan Howry (5-10, 170), who had a record-setting day against Stanford last year, line up at wide receiver. Samie leads the team in receptions with 38, catapulting through opponents' secondaries for 581 yards and six touchdowns. Howry, meanwhile, needs just six catches and two touchdowns to move past Cristin McLemore as the school's career leader in receptions and touchdown catches. Not that big and not that fast, the ever-confident Howry always seems to find a way to get open.
Tight end George Wrighster adds an intriguing 3rd option to the passing game, following in the footsteps of the all-conference and dearly departed Justin Peele. Wrighster is second on the team in receptions and touchdowns (25 and five respectively).
It hasn't been pretty for the Quackers over the last few games. In the last game and a half, the Ducks have given up 89 points, highlighted by some abysmal pass defense statistics. Whether or not the Stanford offense will show any inclination to take advantage of the leaky Duck D is an entirely different story, however. The Card rank dead last in the conference in first downs this year, and next to last in total offense.
The young defensive line is the best part of the Oregon defense. Having lost two ends to injury and suspension early in the season, there have been some clear difficulties in establishing a reliable pass rush. 333 lb. freshman Haloti Ngata has shown flashes of brilliance this year at tackle, and is ably assisted inside by the 305 lb. fan favorite Igor Olshansky, recently of the Ukraine. This duo has been the heart and soul of Oregon's second ranked rushing defense, along with the tremendous play of all-Pac-10 inside linebacker Kevin Mitchell (5-11, 220).
Further assistance against the run is provided by the Oregon backfield; they've been so hideous this year that most opponents might worry about wasting downs by keeping the ball on the ground. If Arizona, UCLA. USC, and Arizona State can average 450 passing yards against the Ducks, the boys in cardinal have to be able to find some daylight. While cornerback may be one of the most instinctive and talent-dependent positions in the game, the Ducks suffer from a severe lack of experience in the back four. Highly recruited true freshman Marques Binns (5-11, 160) starts at right corner, and he is backed up by yet another true freshman, Aaron Gipson (5-8, 179). Senior Rasul Webster is the deacon of the backfield at safety, with 45 tackles and a sack to his credit.
Prediction: Need I say it? The Ducks are a good team; Stanford is a not-so-good team. If last year's game is any indication, however, we could be in for an exciting afternoon of special teams bloopers, mishaps and heroism. The thought of Keenan Howry darting up the sideline still gives me fits… Ducks win it with authority, 45-25