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Jaffe: Huge matchup with Oregon sets up dead even

With a top-10 team coming to town, College GameDay at the Farm for the first time ever and national title hopes hanging in the balance, Saturday’s clash with Oregon is much more than just a normal football game. If LSU-Alabama was the “Game of the Century,” then Oregon-Stanford looks to be the “Game of the Century: Watchable Edition,” or at least the “Game of the Century: Now with Offense!”

In any case, the Pac-12 Game of the Year necessitates a special edition of Stat on the Back. Here’s a statistical preview of what could be the most significant regular season game in Stanford sports history.

Number of the game: 2

What it means: This game truly is a showdown of the top two teams in the Pac-12. Of the four major statistical categories on each side of the ball — rushing, passing efficiency, total yards and points — the Pac-12 leader for each is either Stanford or Oregon. The two teams rank 1-2 in the Pac-12 in scoring offense, rushing offense, total offense, passing efficiency, sacks allowed and sacks.

Why it matters: At seemingly every angle you look at this game, this is a battle of juggernauts. Even more than just being good teams, though, these two squads appear perfectly designed to exploit the other team’s weaknesses.

Consider: Oregon’s biggest strength on offense is its speed on the edge, which is Stanford’s biggest weakness. The Cardinal’s biggest strength on offense is its power up the middle, which is Oregon’s biggest weakness. Stanford likes to churn up clock, as it leads the conference in time of possession, which is exactly where the Duck defense is susceptible. Oregon has a quick-strike attack, ranking last in the nation in time of possession, and these quick strikes are exactly what have caused the Cardinal defense major problems.

Oregon hasn’t lost a conference game since it last played on the Farm, a span of 18 Pac-12 games. Stanford hasn’t lost any game since it last played at Autzen Stadium, a span of 17 games. Each team is the other’s kryptonite and the other’s antithesis. Fiery Chip Kelly against calm David Shaw. Cliff Harris’s suspensions against Andrew Luck’s saintliness. Public against private. Green against red. About the only thing these two teams have in common is Phil Knight.

Other notable numbers:

406: Saturday will be the 406th day since Stanford last played Oregon. It will also be the 406th day since Stanford lost a game. Many things have changed in those 406 days (incoming freshmen, outgoing seniors, new coaches, suspensions, injuries, etc.), and how much things have changed will decide who wins this game.

21-2: One of the main things that has changed over this time span is the location of the game. The Autzen crowd made Stanford’s life miserable last year, but the Cardinal will welcome the Ducks to the Bay Area this year. And for the Cardinal, Stanford Stadium has provided quite the home-field advantage. Stanford is 21-2 in its last 23 contests on the Farm, including a current streak of 11 straight wins.

190.4: Luck is the complete package (I’m talking to you, Phil Simms) and has very few flaws. But Luck at home is just flat-out unfair. In the past two seasons, Luck has a 190.4 passer rating in home games, and unsurprisingly the Cardinal is 11-0 in those games. In those 11 contests, Luck has thrown 30 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions (one of which was a perfectly thrown pass that senior wide receiver Chris Owusu dropped into an opponent’s arms.) If you want a comparison, Aaron Rodgers’ absurd season in the NFL this year would net him an NCAA passer rating of 183.

110.1: On the other hand, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas has not enjoyed the road nearly as much as Eugene. Thomas has a passer rating of 110.1 on the road compared to 209.9 at home this season, and his yards per attempt on the road (5.15) is less than half his home split (11.67).

117: Last year, the Oregon running game torched Stanford’s defense, but it was the dual-threat nature of Thomas that made the biggest difference. Thomas ran for 117 yards in that game on 15 carries. In 2011, he’s run for just 114 yards all year and he’s carried the ball 26 times. In fact, the Ducks have been taking the ball out of his hands much more this year. In last year’s game, 44 plays were either throws or passes for Thomas, and he had 355 total yards. This year, only one game has had more than 30 plays for him, and he has only had over 252 total yards once.

257: The same can be said for star running back LaMichael James, who had 31 carries for 257 rushing yards in last year’s matchup. James has not run the ball 31 times in a game yet this year, and he has eclipsed 257 rushing yards once.

This is not to say that Oregon’s offense is sagging. The Ducks just have more weapons this year. Junior running back Kenjon Barner has already surpassed last season’s output with 601 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. True freshman De’Anthony Thomas has instantly become a major weapon for the Ducks, racking up 731 total yards and 12 touchdowns while leading the team in receiving yards. With weapons all around, James said that this year’s team is even faster than last year’s, which could spell doom for the Cardinal defense.

17: Both squads rank in the top 10 in giving the ball away, as the two teams have only committed 17 turnovers combined. Both are below average in forcing turnovers, though, and in a game as closely contested as this one should be, one turnover could make the difference.

57: One factor that could neutralize Stanford’s home-field advantage is injuries. The Cardinal looks to be without both Owusu and junior tight end Zach Ertz, which is a loss of 57 combined catches on the season, or over a quarter of the passing game. Owusu is Stanford’s best deep threat and Ertz is Stanford’s top third-down receiver. Their absence could be crucial. In other injury news, it looks like senior strong safety Delano Howell and junior tight end Levine Toilolo will play, which will be a significant boost on both sides of the ball. Sophomore kicker Jordan Williamson and sophomore offensive lineman Cameron Fleming are both questionable heading into the game. On the other hand, Oregon appears to be healthy at the right time, as both Darron Thomas and James were back to their old selves last week against Washington after recovering from injuries.

1: Whichever team comes away with the win on Saturday night will also win the first ever Pac-12 North crown (technically, if Oregon wins, it will need one more win to clinch the title, but there’s no way the Ducks will lose at home to Oregon State) and a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. The winner of this game will be a big favorite over either Arizona State or UCLA in that game, so in essence, the winner of the Game of the Year will likely play in the Rose Bowl at worst.

Jacob Jaffe just might faint doing the play-by-play this weekend. Help him prepare a first-aid kit for the KZSU broadcast booth at jwjaffe@stanford.edu or on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.

About Jacob Jaffe