Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE
The Countdown: Stanford Travels to Oregon
When I was outlining this out, I was pretty amazed by how little I find the advanced stats helpful in analyzing this. This game is more for a man of faith than of science; an analysis of philosophies.
Stanford is without Andrew Luck, and if Stanford couldn't win with the most NFL-ready quarterback in a long time, how are they going to beat Oregon on the road? Stanford has to run the ball and we will get the answer to our questions about the defensive line. The imminent threat of a play-action bomb deep if Oregon sells out on the run isn't as dangerous without Luck.
Can Marcus Mariota continue his run through the record books? Will De'Anthony Thomas get his groove back and make speed cuts against a slower defense? Will Kenjon Barner rebound statistically to re-enter the Heisman forefront?
Will Stanford's linebackers and front seven show they've adapted over the last year by moving better laterally? Will the Cardinal tackle better? Can Hogan handle a road environment like Autzen?
The more questions answered in the affirmative for each team will decide the winner.
Stanford will win if:
Their defense holds up
Stanford's defense has to be one of the best in the country, at least against pro style teams. They made USC look mediocre on offense in the second half and have shown they can get pressure on the quarterback. Stanford needs to slow the Oregon rushing attack down while simultaneously getting pressure on the quarterback. Mariota has shown he can burn you if you sell out on the run and don't get pressure.
This mostly applies to tackling in space. Stanford's defense, while great, is not that fast. They struggled the last two years to cover Oregon skill players in space. The way the Cardinal make up for this is being sure-tacklers. They can't let a missed tackle result in a touchdown.
Limit Explosive Plays
Stanford hasn't allowed touchdown drives of less than a minute or 3 plays or less. By slowing down Oregon's pace it shifts the advantage to Stanford. Sure, USC put up a ton of points against Oregon, but it was on Oregon's terms, in a shootout. If Oregon's offense takes longer than normal to score and Stanford's scoring drives take up a ton of minutes the Cardinal can keep it close and hopefully get a few lucky bounces.
Get an early lead
Receive the ball to start off. Don't be USC and try to get cute. Get the lead on Oregon and try to take the air out of the ball. By that I mean figuratively take the air out of the ball, not literally like USC does. Teams end up playing from behind against Oregon out of the gates by kicking off, getting scored on, and then having a three and out. Do not play with quicksand.
Oregon will win if:
Get the ball out in to space
Players like Josh Huff, De'Anthony Thomas, and Kenjon Barner are three guys who can shred this Cardinal defense. It isn't a fast unit and these guys always make the first guy miss. It has been interesting to see Chip Kelly run a lot of inside zone reads and power plays between the tackles and packaging it with a quick hit to the outside the last two years.
First to 40 wins
My joke the last few years with Oregon is that games were really just a race to 40. Odds are, no matter the differential, that if you were the first team to hit 40, you won. It was true the last time Oregon lost to Stanford. Stanford has shown they are capable of scoring a lot of points. However, that offensive explosion was against Arizona, a defense that is not at all in a condition to slow Stanford. I think that Oregon will surely pass 40 points, but whether it is the 3rd quarter or 4th quarter is the mystery. Even if this is a shootout, that favors Oregon since it will be at Oregon's pace.
Swarm to the ball
Oregon has to slow Stepfan Taylor. If Taylor is held to 3 yards a carry or less Oregon will almost surely win this game. In order to stop Stepfan you have to bottle him at the line of scrimmage. Swarm to the line and eliminate cutback options. Make Kevin Hogan need to win this game for the Cardinal. He's a good quarterback but a road start for a first-year quarterback is not easy.
Get a turnover to set up an easy score
There comes a point in every game where Oregon pulls away and it is either a non-offensive touchdown or a turnover that leads directly to a score. Last week it was an interception that resulted in a Mariota pass to Josh Huff. It was a pick-six against Washington and kickoff in the first three games of the year. I think this happens in the second quarter this week.