The storyline that's being told over and over this week is that this weekend will be a battle of Oregon's speed and Stanford's strength.
And that's true to some degree. Stanford wants to win games by physically destroying other teams. They want to win with "cruelty." And thus far, they've been able to impose their will upon their opponents.
But Stanford will face their first true test of the season this weekend at Oregon. None of the teams that Stanford has faced has had the talent to compete with the Cardinal.
But Oregon does. Oregon is easily the fastest and most talented team that Stanford has faced thus far. And I believe that Oregon has the physical ability to go toe to toe with Stanford's physicality.
Yes, Stanford is bigger. But Oregon has faced big offensive lines over and over again over the past two years. The only one that was able to truly take advantage of that size differential was Stanford. There were a number of reasons for that, but a big reason was simply that the Ducks were not well prepared for the game. They weren't prepared for Andrew Luck's arm. They weren't prepared for the physicality of the game. They didn't focus.
On the defensive side of the ball, almost every single player was getting consistently beat. The defensive line wasn't making plays, the linebackers weren't making plays, and the secondary was not making plays. Across the board, we saw failure by the Ducks.
I don't think it was a case of Stanford being better, or Stanford having an inherent advantage on the line of scrimmage. I think that they simply wanted the game more. They hit Oregon in the mouth early, and the Ducks never truly recovered.
Harbaugh uses a fairly simple game plan. Stanford's game plan is to wear your team down, and make the other team want to give up. Just look at how they've worn other teams down. UCLA stayed within a couple scores of Stanford until the end of the third quarter before giving up 22 points in the final 16 minutes. Notre Dame was only down 19-6 in the fourth before giving up two quick scores and effectively ending the game.
Stanford accomplishes this by bring out more size on the field that just about any team in the country. Fullback Owen Marecic is punishing from the fullback position, and is able to hit opposing linebackers after getting a full head of steam. Stanford will bring out extra (pass eligible) offensive linemen in tight ends numbers to get more size onto the field, and add an extra wrinkle into their offense. But the end goal is to hit the other team hard on every single play.
If this type of gameplan sounds familiar, Oregon tries to get to the same end result, though through much different method. Much as Stanford does, they want to wear the other team down. Though Oregon focuses on using speed to wear down the other team, rather than brute size. That's not to say that Oregon doesn't have size. They are surprisingly strong for the speed that they bring on the field, and that speed and strength combination has made for some brutal hits on opposing offenses.
Both Stanford and Oregon want this game to come down to a battle of wills. They want the other team to think they are incapable of continuing.
For all of Oregon's innovation and creativity on the field, this one is going to come down to which teams wants it more. Which players will get hit with incredible force, and get right back up again, get down on the line, and go to battle again.
I don't believe Oregon was prepared for Stanford last year. This year, they will be. They know what Stanford is going to do, and they will be ready. Oregon has the bodies, the speed, and the strength to match Stanford's physicality. But the Ducks must stay focused mentally on every play. They must want to physically and emotionally win the battle of wills. The Ducks are more talented than the Cardinal, and are, at worst, a push on many of the key matchups. Stanford has made a name for itself by imposing its will on other teams. It's time for the Ducks to use their own game plan against them.