Stanford Cardinal Battle Oregon Ducks in Eugene

November 5, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) leads the team out of the tunnel before the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
November 5, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) leads the team out of the tunnel before the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

This season’s matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and Oregon Ducks has a different meaning, unlike season’s past. Instead of College Football Playoff implications, both teams will look to provide an entertaining game. The Cardinal hope for payback after the Ducks barely escaped with a win at Stanford last season.

Two straight victories have the Stanford Cardinal peaking at the right time. Both offense and defense found their swagger with sound wins over Arizona and Oregon State. However, perhaps head coach David Shaw is keeping the full playbook under wraps. The Cardinal offense has benefitted with Keller Chryst starting the past two games. Despite the offense scoring once again, Stanford still appears vanilla with the play calls.

Stanford’s run game was on full display last week against Oregon State. Led by Christian McCaffrey, the Cardinal running game piled up 365 yards of offense. Play by the offensive line has improved significantly since being pushed around by the Washington Schools. Although both Arizona and Oregon State are ranked in the bottom of FBS teams defensively, confidence has been reclaimed winning battles in the trenches.

While the running game is back in action, the passing game has been lacking bite. Chryst threw for only 60 yards against the Beavers. The success of the running game made the passing game non-essential in wearing down the Oregon State defense. Chryst benefits from a big advantage Ryan Burns does not – size. Listed at 6-5 and 236 pounds, Chryst is tough to bring down when in motion. He scrambled for 83 yards last week and will look to be a threat on the ground again in Eugene.

McCaffrey, Burns, and Bryce Love provide a three-headed monster ground attack for Stanford. Signs point for the resurgent Cardinal offense to trend upward facing an Oregon defense ranked 127th out of 128 FBS teams in yards allowed.

Autzen Stadium is perhaps the toughest stadium in which to win a Pac-12 game. Husky Stadium may have a nice view, but fans do not bring the intensity Oregon fans bring. A passionate student section along with Oregon fans stand all game cheering the Ducks to victory. Sound echoes throughout the stadium causing havoc for opponents. Gameday in Eugene is truly special from making the trek to Autzen and the tailgating outside the stadium. An experience all fans, Ducks or visitors, should witness.

Saturday is senior day for the Oregon Ducks, where the seniors hope their last home game will end in triumph. For the Ducks, this season has been tough to swallow for all those who bleed green and yellow. A program riding high since the Chip Kelly era has now hit rock bottom. Mark Helfrich and the coaching staff did not expect a five-game losing streak to unfold before the season.

Despite a tough loss to Nebraska, losing to Colorado the following week dealt a heavy blow to Oregon. The Ducks spiraled out of control, getting outplayed against Washington State and humiliated at home to Washington, snapping a 12-game win streak against their Northwest rival. Reports came out certain players had checked out to even care anymore about the season. Some progress has been made by the players but frustration remains on how the season is turning out.

There were big concerns for Oregon before the season started. Picked to finish third by the media, starting quarterback and defensive coordinator became issues for the Ducks during camp. While Dakota Prukop did okay in the beginning, the FCS transfer never should have been the choice from the start. Brady Hoke was going to have growing pains implementing the 4-3 scheme with a young Oregon defense. The problems persist, especially in the secondary.

Helfrich had the luxury of Marcus Mariota leading the Ducks and recruits Kelly brought in to keep the program in contention for a championship. Since Mariota’s departure, Helfrich has been unsuccessful to cement his legacy on the Oregon program from coaches past. Helfrich needs the Ducks to make a bowl game to ensure positive momentum next season. And with reports of Nike founder Phil Knight willing to throw $10 million a year for a coach, Helfrich may see his time up in Eugene.

Like Stanford, Oregon has benefitted with a change in quarterback. True-freshman Justin Herbert is the future for Oregon Football and has rallied the team. Despite being overwhelmed against Washington and USC; Herbert has the maturity and grit to grow as a quarterback in the coming seasons.

This was seen on the road against Cal, where he led a second-half comeback to force overtime. Although he came out on the wrong end throwing an interception to end the game, Herbert rebounded with a spectacular performance against Arizona State to the delight of Oregon fans.

Despite the downturn for Oregon this season, the offense can strike quickly to have all-hands-on-deck for Stanford. The Ducks are ranked 22nd in the country and fourth in the Pac-12 averaging 38.2 points per game. Linebackers Kevin Palma and Mustafa Branch had big games last week each getting an interception last week. Along with the two, Solomon Thomas and Noor Davis will look to keep Herbert from making big plays down the field.

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Royce Freeman was hoping to have a Heisman campaign after a successful sophomore season. Unfortunately, an injury against Nebraska derailed his plans as he has been ineffective since returning. Speedster Tony Brooks-James has emerged from Freeman’s lack of production with the ability to find the edge and cut up-field. Taj Griffin is also a running back Stanford must contain as his speed will pile up yards if not contained.

An injury to Olympian Devon Allen certainly put a blow into Oregon’s receiving corps. However, speed is their game, and Stanford defensive backs Quenton Meeks and Dallas Lloyd must keep pace against Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson, and Pharaoh Brown. Justin Reid’s play will also be critical to keep Oregon’s playmakers from being wide open for easy scores.

Injuries to Oregon’s defensive line have allowed opponents to pile up yards. The defense took a big hit when announced this week lineman Canton Kaumatule took a medical hardship, ending his Oregon career. Kaumatule was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in Oregon’s 2015 signing class. Freshman Troy Dye has been a bright spot for the Ducks and will look rally the defense.

Despite a thin defensive line, expect Oregon to come out strong against Stanford’s run game. McCaffrey will have the benefit of Daniel Marx to block in front as he expected back from injury. Marx was a big reason McCaffrey had a breakout performance last season and his return could be a difference maker. Hoke has been working with the Ducks defense on gang tackling the Cardinal running backs in hopes to ground Stanford.

Perhaps this may be the game Shaw turns Stanford’s vanilla offense into a different flavor. If the Cardinal have success on the ground, the passing attack could finally be on display. With Oregon having a weak secondary, Trent Irwin and Michael Rector should have ample opportunities to make plays. Tight end Dalton Schultz could see passes come his way as play from the tight ends was non-existent last week.

Next: Resurgent Stanford Cardinal Face Oregon State

Regardless of the records and no implications on the line, Stanford and Oregon will provide an entertaining game. Past games have seen either blowouts or nail-biting finishes in the marquee Pac-12 North division game. Autzen Stadium will be loud to send off the Oregon seniors in style. Stanford will look to spoil the festivities and knock the Ducks out of bowl game contention.