Oregon Ducks vs. Stanford Cardinal Complete Game Preview
The Pac-12 power struggle between Oregon and Stanford might not have the same cache as Alabama and LSU, but in recent years, the matchups between the two have had serious national championship implications.
Since 2009, the Pac-12 North rivals have played a major role in the BCS with three straight matchups having come with both teams ranked in the top 13 of the BCS standings.
The 2009 game set the tone for what has become the biggest game of the season outside of the SEC. On that day, Stanford handed No. 7 Oregon its first Pac-12 loss, which also knocked the Ducks out of the national title race. Since that loss, Oregon has won 18 consecutive road games.
In 2010, both teams were unbeaten entering the game. No. 9 Stanford took the air out of Autzen Stadium by jumping out to a 21-3 first-quarter lead. The No. 4 Ducks outscored the Cardinal 48-10 the rest of the way, including a dominant 28-0 second half.
8-1 Oregon traveled to 9-0 Stanford in 2011, and the No. 7 Ducks walked away with a resounding 53-30 win over the No. 4 Cardinal. The win put the Ducks in position to challenge for a spot in the top two of the BCS after Oklahoma Stae's loss to Iowa State, but they lost to USC the following week.
Last season, the No. 13 Cardinal beat the No. 4 Ducks 17-14 in overtime, ending the nation's longest home win streak. Stanford held Oregon to its lowest point total since the opening game of the 2009 season.
Thursday's showdown will mark the first time the teams will meet when both are ranked in the top five of the BCS. No. 5 Stanford needs a win to control its destiny in the Pac-12 North and for any chance at a BCS title. No. 3 Oregon needs a marquee win to keep pace with No. 2 Florida State in the BCS standings.
The stage is set for the Pac-12 heavyweights to put their stamp on the 2013 season. Now it's up to the Ducks and the Cardinal to show the nation what they are capable of.
Here's everything you need to know about the matchup.
Where: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
When: Thursday, Nov. 7, at 9 p.m. ET
Spread: According to VegasInsider.com, Oregon is favored by 10.5 points.
Oregon Keys to Victory
Establish the running game
In 2010, RB LaMichael James ran for 257 yards and three touchdowns, and QB Darron Thomas added 117 on the ground as the Ducks rolled up 388 rushing yards against the Cardinal. In 2011, James ran for 146 yards with three touchdowns to lead Oregon's rushing attack.
Oregon won those two games by a combined score of 105-61.
Last year, the Ducks managed just 198 yards on the ground on 40 carries. Take away QB Marcus Mariota's 77-yard dash, and the Ducks managed just 121 yards on 39 carries. In Mariota's 11 other carries, he rushed for just 12 yards. The Ducks lost 17-14.
If Oregon runs the ball the way it is capable of, the Ducks should outlast Stanford like they did in 2010 and 2011. If Stanford can stuff the run as it did last year, Mariota's arm will need to do all the work.
Impose their will and tempo on the Cardinal
On the heels of the rushing numbers from the last three meetings between the two programs, it is as black and white as can be. Whichever team establishes its will on the other, controls the line of scrimmage and controls the ball, will likely win the game.
Unleash the playmakers
Oregon has athletes all over the field, but WR Bralon Addison, Mariota and RB De'Anthony Thomas are on another level. If they get loose on the edge, the Cardinal will be in big trouble. Aside from Mariota's 77-yard run, the Ducks were never able to get free in the open field during last year's meeting.
Oregon's speed is its biggest asset and gives the Ducks a big advantage over the bigger, more physical Cardinal. In 2011, Thomas, James and WR Josh Huff were able to get free for long touchdowns against Stanford. If the Ducks can duplicate that performance on Thursday, they could run away from the Cardinal early in the game.
Stanford Keys to Victory
Dominate the line of scrimmage
In 2010 and 2011, Oregon was able to match Stanford up front, which allowed the Ducks to rush for a combined total of 620 yards and seven touchdowns in the two games. Last year, the Cardinal never allowed the Ducks to get in a rhythm offensively with a dominant effort from their front seven.
All-America defensive end Ben Gardner is out for the year, but the Cardinal still have the ability to control the line of scrimmage against most teams. If Oregon's offensive line can open holes to establish the running game, Stanford will get picked apart by an athletically superior Oregon squad.
Stanford's powerful offensive line gave Hogan time and paved the way for Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor to rush for 161 yards. Stanford has another outstanding group up front and will need to wear down Oregon up front.
Control the ball and the clock, control the game
Auburn, LSU and Stanford have proven that if Oregon is unable to get into a rhythm offensively, the Ducks can be beaten. The Cardinal will need running backs Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson to be at their best to keep the chains moving and the Oregon offense on the sidelines.
In order to do that, quarterback Kevin Hogan will need to get the ball down the field vertically to keep the Ducks from stacking the box. He hasn't proven the ability to do so consistently in 2013, so it is important for him to strike early in the game against Oregon's talented secondary.
Oregon Players to Watch
Quarterback Marcus Mariota
Mariota remains the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy but will need to improve on his performance from last year to remain on top of that list. The sophomore would be the first to tell you that means nothing to him right now as he will be looking for revenge against the team that dealt him his only loss as a starter for the Ducks.
In that loss, Mariota was bottled up by the Cardinal defense. Aside from a long run that was wasted when the Ducks couldn't convert in the red zone, Mariota struggled to move the Ducks down the field.
His steady attitude and elite athleticism make him the perfect quarterback for a big road game. He won't be rattled by the Stanford crowd and can change a game in the blink of an eye.
He might not be thinking about the Heisman Trophy, but the voters are. Thursday night will be his best opportunity to impress the nation by having a Heisman moment on the biggest stage of his career.
Keliikipi and Havili-Heimuli have battled injuries throughout their careers but have become stalwarts on the interior defensive line. Oregon had been in search of true defensive tackles to anchor the Oregon defense after years of piecing together patchwork defensive lines.
Keliikipi has been outstanding and will need to be on top of his game on Thursday night against Stanford's power run game. Havili-Heimuli also has the size and strength to stand up to Stanford's power packages, and he will need to be as good as ever to stuff the interior run.
The size and experience of Oregon's other defensive linemen helps to take some pressure off of the senior tackles, but if they can clog the middle, expect Oregon to win with ease.
Stanford Players to Watch
Quarterback Kevin Hogan
Hogan is a unique weapon because he is a great athlete who plays within the game. His statistics don't jump off the page, but his 12-1 record as a starter, does.
He handled the Autzen Stadium crowd last season and helped lead the Cardinal to one of the biggest wins in the history of its program. He doesn't have the weapons he had last year as running back Stepfan Taylor and tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have moved on to the NFL.
Stanford's offense has been inconsistent and at times, ugly, but they find a way to win. Even with last year's weapons, Hogan and the Cardinal had just seven points until the final moments of the game in Eugene.
Hogan will need to connect with his receivers early in the game to keep the Ducks from crowding the line of scrimmage. If he is able to keep Oregon honest with the pass, Stanford's powerful offensive line could take over the game by imposing its will on the Oregon defense.
Wide receiver Ty Montgomery
Montgomery is Stanford's biggest home run threat on offense and special teams. In addition to his 39 receptions for 619 yards and five touchdowns, he has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season.
Oregon's secondary should be able to contain him in the passing game, but the Ducks need to limit his effectiveness on special teams. Montgomery is No. 2 in the country with a 32.52 average per kickoff return. He is the one Stanford player that can change a game in the blink of an eye, and nothing does that quicker than a special-teams touchdown.
Defensive end Henry Anderson
With defensive end Ben Gardner out for the year, Anderson's return from his own injury couldn't come at a better time. Anderson hasn't played since injuring his knee in mid-September. His knee is apparently at full strength, but Oregon's fast-paced offense will test his conditioning early in the game.
Look for the Ducks to challenge him early and often to try and wear him down in order to force the Cardinal backups into action. Gardner and Anderson were dominant against the Ducks in 2012, so look for the Ducks to try and exploit Stanford's depleted defensive line.
What They're Saying
There is plenty of respect between the two programs, which have combined to win the last four Pac-12 championships.
I thought last year he was the best quarterback in the nation, and I feel the same way this year. I don't care about stats. Stats don't mean anything. You watch the film, you see a kid that makes every throw. Every throw is accurate. Twenty touchdowns and no interceptions? Every ball is perfect, every ball is in stride, every ball there's no wobble on it. Everything's pretty.
As a former receiver, you always appreciate that, a guy that just throws a pretty ball. And then when nobody's open, he just takes off and outruns everybody. You're designing a quarterback, that's what you want.
"I don't think so," Thomas said. "I feel like, this team, we should at least put up 40."
George Schroeder of usatoday.com writes that Stanford knows how dangerous the Ducks can be if they get going.
"You go back and watch that film," said Ed Reynolds, a Stanford senior safety, "and every single guy on that defense played spot-on. We won the one-on-one matchups. You rarely saw a missed tackle. They blow the lid off you once you have one guy miss."
Stanford defensive coordinator has high praise for the Oregon team and knows what the Cardinal are up against.
That Oregon team a year ago was tough, dominant and athletic," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "Now, they're older, more dominant, more athletic.
Cardinal LB Trent Murphy took to twitter to show that he respects the Ducks but believes in his team and its philosophy.
Oregon is a good football team. But this week game plan is simple- Hard Work, Trust, Discipline, and one mean S.O.B attitude.@TMurphy_93
Stanford has knocked Oregon out of the national championship hunt three times since the 2001 season. However, those three wins are the only three they have enjoyed against the Ducks since the year 1998.
The Cardinal might not beat the Ducks with regularity, but they make sure it counts when they do. It took a late score and countless Oregon mistakes for Stanford to pull out a win last year.
Even though it's in Palo Alto, don't expect the same result in 2013. Mariota and the Ducks aren't fazed by the Florida State hype or the loss to the Cardinal last season.
Expect the Ducks to push their road win streak to 19 games and solidify themselves as the dominant program in the Pac-12. In the process, Mariota will show the nation that is deserving of winning Oregon's first Heisman Trophy with a standout performance.
Oregon 42, Stanford 20