Jim Harbaugh did not rebuild the Stanford Football program alone. He had two assistant coaches who helped the Cardinal emerge into conference contenders.
Now, Harbaugh is well out of the picture, and his former assistants have head coaching gigs.
David Shaw and Willie Taggart will now face each other in the Pac-12 After Dark game Saturday night. Coach Shaw leads the Stanford Cardinal while Coach Taggart will be on the other sideline with the Oregon Ducks.
The game is also the homecoming game for Stanford, but plenty of green and yellow at Stanford Stadium will be inside.
Oregon is coming off a 33-10 loss to Washington State which saw quarterback, Braxton Burmeister, make his first collegiate start. The Cougars played their first road game against the Ducks and showed no signs of a letdown performance after defeating USC the previous week.
Burmeister may have struggled in the first start, but he was without the aid of significant contributors this season. Receivers, Charles Nelson and Dillon Mitchell, did not play. Nelson is dealing with a leg injury while Mitchell suffered a concussion last week against Cal and was not cleared to play.
Royce Freeman started at tailback for the Ducks despite leaving last week with an injury in the first half against Cal. Unfortunately, the Cougars defense did their homework and kept the Ducks’ running game in check by allowing only 132 yards rushing.
The Ducks’ performance may have drawn the ire of supporters inside Autzen Stadium, but positives can be taken from last week. Oregon did manage to pressure Luke Falk and sacked the quarterback four times.
Second, while Falk delivered the damage with 282 yards passing and three touchdowns, the Cougars running game had little success. The Ducks have been good at stopping rushers and allowed only 87 yards rushing.
Coach Taggart has not said who will start this week at Stanford but whoever gets the call will have more options. Nelson and Mitchell should be available along with safety, Nick Pickett. Nelson’s presence has been sorely missed by the Oregon offense as his speed provides an explosiveness to keep the offense moving downfield.
For the Ducks, a strong first half may prove pivotal for the team to leave Stanford with a win against the Cardinal.
Since suffering back-to-back losses to USC and San Diego State, Coach Shaw and the Stanford Cardinal have looked unbeatable. A strong running back in Bryce Love is a huge reason the Cardinal have been formidable the past few weeks.
No doubt, the Ducks will have their hands full in containing the power of Love. The Heisman hopeful has over 1,000 yards rushing and is the backbone of the Cardinal offense. Against Arizona State, he set a single-game school record 301-yards rushing. Love also has runs of 50-plus yards in eight-straight games.
Love’s reliability has been a blessing for the Cardinal as Coach Shaw is dealing with a quarterback controversy. Keller Chryst is the starter, but K.J. Costello has proven he can start.
In the game against UCLA, Chryst left the first half after receiving a hit on a scramble. He suffered a concussion and did not return. Costello appeared rattled in his first two series under center, leaving the door open for the Bruins to win the game.
But Costello shook off the nerves and rallied the Cardinal against overrated Josh Rosen and the Bruins. He got the start against the Sun Devils after Chryst did not get medical clearance to play from his concussion. His performance in the passing game allowed Love to have a big game on the ground, prompting Coach Shaw to decide between the two quarterbacks against Utah.
Chryst got the start last week at Utah which was expected. The starting job was his to lose, and a concussion kept him from playing. Uncertainty surrounded Chryst after a poor performance against San Diego State resulted in a loss.
Both Chryst and Costello played against the Utes. Between the two, Chryst had the better performance as he led the Cardinal on all scoring drives. Love ran for a season-low 152-yards, but his 62-yard outburst made the difference in Stanford upsetting Utah in Salt Lake City.
Stanford is allowing 260 yards rushing per game and Oregon must capitalize in the first half. Starters, Harrison Phillips and Peter Kalambayi, will miss the first half. Both received targeting penalties against Utah in the second half. Phillips is the leader of the Cardinal defense, and his presence on the line could be costly.
Justin Reid and the Stanford secondary will likely step up after a great outing against Utah. Reid and teammate, Quenon Meeks, had interceptions which helped the Cardinal prevailed last week. The Cardinal secondary has been boasted as the best in the conference and has backed up the notion the past few weeks.
In the past, Oregon-Stanford is touted as a marquee matchup in the Pac-12 North division race. While last year’s meeting had little significance, Saturday’s matchup has implications for both teams. A win for Stanford keeps the team in contention for the division with games against the Washington schools on hand.
A win for Oregon will knock Stanford out of the Pac-12 North picture and bring the team closer to bowl eligibility.
Despite an 8 pm kickoff, Pac-12 After Dark has lived up to the name this season. Stanford Stadium will likely be full of Ducks’ fans as the Oregon Marching Band will also be at the game. Expect a thriller as both teams will put on a show.