It is, once again, that magical time of year when Stanford faces off against Oregon. Each year, this is a popular game to watch, and understandably so. This annual matchup has been pivotal in determining the Pac-12 championship. Over the last four seasons the winner of the Stanford-Oregon game has won the Pac-12 championship.
Things in the Pac-12 are heating up, and the Ducks-Cardinal duel is going to be important in shaping the conference title yet again. The Cardinal are currently 3-2 in conference play, therefore it is vital that they defeat the Ducks if they want any chance at a Pac-12 title. As far as the Ducks are concerned, every week from here on out will be an immense test, as they will need to win them all. A two-loss team out of Eugene will have a hard time landing a playoff spot.
This game will test junior quarterback Marcus Mariota against the Stanford defense. In last season’s matchup, Mariota was sacked three times and the Cardinal defense held off the Ducks scoring opportunities until the fourth quarter. Over Mariota’s three year tenure at Oregon, Stanford’s defense has always given him hard time and this year will not be any different.
Though there has been a changing of the guard, with Lance Anderson in as the new defensive coordinator, Stanford’s defense hasn’t been phased on the slightest it seems. They are currently holding their opponents to 3.7 yards per play, and only one team has managed to pull out more than 17 points (Arizona State) against their defense. If Stanford hopes to ring the victor’s bell Saturday night, they have to hold strong at the line of scrimmage against Oregon’s offense.
Assuming Stanford’s defense does in fact find a way to slow down the offense of the Ducks, the Cardinal will next have to face the challenge of generating enough points to upset and keep Oregon out of the playoffs. Coach David Shaw has been working with the offense post-Arizona State and the results have been promising. After only putting ten points up on the board against the Sun Devils, a week later the Cardinal was able to score 38 points against the Oregon State Beavers, while also averaging 6.7 yards per play. While this is a season best in Pac-12 play this year, beating the Beavers at home and trying to undermine the Ducks on the road…well that is just a horse of a different color.
A reworked and unclear Stanford offense needs to rely more on quarterback Kevin Hogan in order to generate points on Saturday. While Oregon’s defense has suffered this season, allowing 5.7 yards per play, the Cardinal will need to find an offensive center to focus on. Hogan, a junior, is completing 62.6 percent of his throws, though he gave up two interceptions against Notre Dame earlier in October. Hogan needs clear direction coming from the sideline to focus on completing his passes to the team’s playmakers.
Running back Royce Freeman of Oregon has been a workhorse in his debut season as a true freshman. Freeman has rushed for 748 yards and 13 touchdowns on 136 attempts. He has posted three consecutive 100-yard efforts and annihilated Washington for 169 yards and four scores. If Freeman is able to find room against the Stanford defense, the Cardinal better look out.
Stanford is not without it’s own offensive special weapon, as they have wide receiver Ty Montgomery on their sideline. The senior leads the team with 1,163 yards, averaging 13.1 yards per touch. Montgomery is a threat any time the ball in his hands. Taking this into account, coach David Shaw would do well to get the senior as many touches as possible.
Although the hype surrounding this game has died out a bit due to Stanford’s 4-3 record, this game still has important implications for each side. Stanford may be lower in the rankings than most people might have imagined in the preseason, but they control Oregon’s playoff destiny, at least as far as this week is concerned. Stanford needs to keep an eye out for a more strengthened and resolved offense than what it played last year, as well as rally its own offense in order to make this a game truly worth watching.
*Section photo and Featured Photo (above) credit to Ezra Shaw, Getty Images.