The Stanford Cardinal put on a clinic against Oregon last week by playing smart, physical, assignment football on both sides of the ball. Stanford didn't do anything that hasn't been seen before. After all, it has been the narrative for the Oregon program ever since Chip Kelly made the Ducks a regular in BCS bowls.
Oregon has been unable to handle bigger, stronger and nastier teams in its biggest games over the past few seasons. The Ducks have been close—at least on the scoreboard—to getting over the stigma of being too small and unable to manage a more physical team determined to pound the Ducks into submission.
When competing for national championships, close doesn't cut it, though. The bottom line is that Oregon has yet to prove they can beat a stronger, more deliberate team.
Boise State, Ohio State, Auburn, LSU and USC have all been able to impose their will on Oregon and walked away with big wins over the Ducks, but no program has done it better than the Cardinal, who have now beaten the Ducks in three of their past five meetings.
Don't be fooled by the 26-20 score.
It was a dominant performance by Stanford in all facets of the game.
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The Oregon offense is known for using speed and tempo to wear down opposing defenses. Against most teams, the Ducks have no problem finding their rhythm and cruising to an easy win.
Clearly, Stanford isn't most teams.
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The Stanford offense chipped away at the Ducks with a slow and steady pace, demoralizing the Oregon defense. The offense was good, but the Cardinal defense was great. Using a wide variety of looks, while playing with discipline against a roster full of dangerous weapons, Stanford kept Oregon from finding its groove.
Despite playing without all-American defensive end Ben Gardner, the Stanford defense was able to keep Oregon's offense on its heels all night long. The Cardinal defensive line, led by Henry Anderson, David Parry and Josh Mauro did a great job of occupying the offensive line, allowing the back seven to do its job with ease.
The line was outstanding, but it was the Cardinal linebackers who made the biggest impact. Shane Skov, A.J. Tarpley, Trent Murphy and James Vaughters showed why they are considered to be among the top linebackers in the country.
The group combined for 22 tackles, 4.5 of which came behind the line of scrimmage, and 2.5 sacks in the game. The numbers were solid, but they don't tell the whole story.
Skov was used as a pass-rusher off the right side, the left side and up the gut. He was dominant in every aspect of the game by disrupting passes, taking on blocks and chasing down Oregon ball carriers.
Oregon's line was crashed into by a well-timed Stanford blitz on what seemed like every play. Stanford either figured out the Oregon snap count early in the game or they were making an educated guess, based on film study, on each play.
There were times when Oregon's Hroniss Grasu, projected by nfldraftscout.com to be the top NFL prospect at center in 2015, couldn't even get into his set before being blown off the line by one of Stanford's linebackers.
Problems arise for the Ducks when they are unable to get into a rhythm and set the tempo to their liking. Stanford has figured out how to keep Oregon off balance, and it showed, as they shut out the Ducks for three-and-a-half quarters.
The Cardinal did everything that the Ducks have problems with, and they did it better than anyone else has been able. Even when the Ducks have struggled against other teams, they have managed to put points on the board during the first three quarters.
It's usually the Oregon offense that makes opponents uncomfortable. The Ducks thrive off a fast-paced tempo that wears down the defense by not allowing substitutions and forcing tired players to make assignment mistakes.
Using a variety of looks and applying pressure from different angles, the Cardinal never allowed the Oregon offense to get into its comfort zone.
Marcus Mariota's knee kept him from using his usual speed and explosiveness to escape the pocket when things broke down. Even when he did scramble to the outside, he was mostly unable to elude Stanford's pursuit.
Everybody knew the Ducks were vulnerable to a certain style of play, but the Cardinal hammered home the fact by shutting down the Ducks for a second-straight season. They were tougher up front and they refused to allow the Ducks to break free in the open field.
The Ducks want to use their speed and skill to play in space, where few teams can compete with them. Stanford is just the opposite, as they want to play the game in a proverbial phone booth, but that doesn't mean the Cardinal can't play in space.
Cornerback Alex Carter made a great play on Oregon running back Byron Marshall, who bounced outside when the inside run was stuffed. Marshall had a shot at breaking a long run, but Carter stayed disciplined and didn't allow Marshall to get away from him, saving a huge play.
In the last two matchups between the polar opposite programs, Stanford's will has been much greater than Oregon's. By forcing the Ducks to play its style, the Cardinal pushed the Ducks out of their comfort zone on both sides of the ball.
Oregon's kryptonite on the field is a slow-paced, bare-knuckle brawl. Stanford is built for just that, which history shows, is what it takes to win the national championship.