In a game that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the BCS standings this week, the No. 3 Oregon Ducks visit Stanford Stadium to take on the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal.
Oregon is looking to stay perfect and leapfrog over No. 2 Florida State with a win. The Cardinal are simply striving to upset the Ducks for the second season in a row and make their path to the Pac-12 title game a bit easier.
Entering the game, the Ducks are putting their 18-game road winning streak on the line. Their last road defeat was in 2009 against the Cardinal. On the other hand, Stanford has won 13 straight at home, and their last loss was in 2011 against the Ducks.
With a possible BCS National Championship berth on the line, here's how Stanford can pull off the upset against the Ducks.
Sticking to a Stanford Style
The Stanford style of football has proved to be successful for the past few seasons, and sticking to that style will be the Cardinal's best chance to score an upset. There's no reason to deviate from the norm against Oregon, and doing so almost cost them against Oregon State in the Cardinal's previous game.
Stanford prides itself on its massive offensive line, and establishing the run should be a priority. With the Ducks' secondary led by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the Cardinal's best chance of utilizing its wide receivers effectively is through play-action. That can't be done unless Tyler Gaffney gets Stanford's running game going.
With a run-heavy offense, the Cardinal will look to keep the ball out of Marcus Mariota's hands and keep the clock running. In addition, this will help keep Stanford's defense off the field and rested, which will be crucial against a high-powered Oregon offense that can drain any defense rather quickly.
Stanford must also keep its defensive identity intact. Playing physical and setting the edges will be key to limiting Oregon and its tendency to run towards the boundaries. With the return of defensive end Henry Anderson, the Cardinal's defensive line will get a much-needed boost after losing Ben Gardner to injury. Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, two of Stanford's NFL-caliber defensive stars, will have the job of containing Oregon's explosive running game.
Winning the Turnover Battle
Both the Cardinal and the Ducks have had tremendous success in terms of turnovers this season. With a turnover margin of plus-13 in eight games, Oregon is ranked fourth in the nation. The team has also only thrown two interceptions all season long, which is the least in college football (tied with Louisville, Kentucky and New Mexico). Neither of those were thrown by Marcus Mariota. In fact, Mariota has not thrown a pick since the Ducks' loss to Stanford last season.
Stanford has a very impressive turnover streak as well. The Cardinal have gone 33 straight games with a takeaway, the longest active streak of its kind in the nation. However, Stanford is dead even with a turnover margin of zero thus far.
In last season's meeting, Oregon ended up winning the turnover battle with a 2-point margin, yet Stanford was still able to win in overtime. Regardless, no team ever wants to have a negative turnover margin, and recording a few takeaways against the Ducks will surely help the Cardinal's upset bid.
Field position will be crucial for both teams heading into this matchup. The Cardinal and the Ducks have explosive kickoff and punt returners to help them with gaining that extra bit of field position.
For Stanford, Ty Montgomery is one of the best kickoff returners in the nation, averaging 32.52 yards per return (second in the nation) and returning two kickoffs for touchdowns (tied for most in the nation). Bralon Addison has been extremely successful in returning punts for the Ducks. He is averaging 19.25 yards per return (third in the nation) and has returned two punts for touchdowns (tied for most in the nation). De'Anthony Thomas provides Oregon with yet another dangerous piece on special teams.
Making Marcus Mariota and the Ducks Uncomfortable
If Stanford can manage to keep the game close entering crunch time, one has to think that the Cardinal will have the advantage over Oregon. The Ducks are used to blowing out opponents and going into cruise control in the fourth quarter, which is what great teams can afford to do, but that habit seemed to hurt Oregon in last season's meeting.
Mariota has rarely been put in high-pressure situations. One can argue that his only experience in such a situation was against Stanford last year. On the other hand, the Cardinal have had several close fourth quarter games this season and know how to grind out a win.
If the Cardinal can successfully execute these four aspects of Thursday night's matchup, another upset against the Ducks is a good possibility. Defeating the Ducks and winning out may be just enough to earn Stanford a spot in the BCS National Championship.