Widgets Magazine

Stanford football back and forth with Oregon (Part I)

In advance of Thursday’s football game between Stanford and Oregon, The Daily’s David Cohn chatted with Preston Hiefield, sports director of DuckTV, the University of Oregon’s student television station, to get perspectives from both camps on how Oregon could beat Stanford. Check back for part two in tomorrow’s Game Day issue of The Daily for a conversation focusing on how Stanford could beat Oregon.

(AVI BAGLA/The Stanford Daily)

Senior linebacker Trent Murphy (93) has had another stellar year as one of the leaders of Stanford’s defense, which will be tasked with stopping the Ducks Thursday night. (AVI BAGLA/The Stanford Daily)

David Cohn (DC): We certainly have a great matchup on our hands this week, with Oregon and Stanford once again demonstrating themselves to be the class of the Pac-12. Both teams have had their moments at home and on the road in this series over the last four years, so in theory, either team could win on Thursday. However, I want to focus on a topic that I know you (Preston) will probably appreciate: why and how Oregon can win this matchup.

I am going to have to swallow my strong sense of Stanford football pride for this conversation. I guess I will manage… Let me first, however, get your assessment of Oregon’s season so far.

Preston Hiefield (PH): I would say that Oregon’s season has gone as expected for the most part. [Quarterback] Marcus Mariota has looked (mostly) spectacular, although I will say that [Florida State quarterback] Jameis Winston looks like the more deserving Heisman candidate through this point of the season. Now that both [former Oregon running backs] Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James are gone, it looks like Byron Marshall is capable of being a quality featured back for a team that prides itself on running the football to set up the pass.

The biggest question mark up to this point of the season is the [team’s] health and, in turn, the playmaking ability of [running back] De’Anthony Thomas. Most of the country knows what a fantastic athlete he is, but he has carried the ball just 10 times since the Sept. 14 game against Tennessee due to a high ankle sprain. He’s the type of player that can change the game in an instant in favor of Oregon, but is he healthy enough to have a big impact on Thursday? I think so, but you never know until he takes a couple of hits.

DC: I completely agree. As an Oregon outsider, this season has been very much in line with what we have come to expect from the Ducks: dominant and relentless play coupled with superb execution, particularly on offense. I believe that any conversation regarding Oregon’s offense, in contrast with prior years, begins with Marcus Mariota. Mariota had a fabulous debut last season for Oregon; however, he has been even better this season, a fact that is reflected in the increase in his adjusted QBR from 87.8 to 94.9 on a 0-100 scale. That is absolutely remarkable. If Mariota plays at this near-perfect level, Oregon will win this football game.

PH: Definitely. A 94.9, as you know, is ludicrous. So ridiculous, in fact, that it would be a big surprise to me if he reaches that mark this Thursday. Recall that the Stanford defense, which Oregon has tremendous respect for, held Mariota to a 44.9 QBR in last year’s game at Autzen Stadium. He completed 21-of-37 for 207 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

But stats don’t tell the whole story. Aside from one breakaway run, Stanford really limited his ability to stretch the field vertically. When Oregon is unable to complete passes of 15-plus yards on a consistent basis against good teams, their running game can become slightly predictable. Playing against Stanford’s front seven, undoubtedly one of the best in the country, it will be imperative for Mariota and this offense to get the ball down field vertically and loosen up the Cardinal’s linebackers.

DC: You mention the turnover by Mariota in last year’s contest. I was looking at his stat sheet, and I was shocked to notice that Mariota hasn’t thrown an interception this year. I know he has been remarkably efficient and successful with his decision-making, but that is still something to note.

You also bring up Oregon’s short to intermediate passing game, which I highlighted in another Daily piece as my biggest concern for the Cardinal in this contest. Can you talk about the emergence of Bralon Addison, the continued production from Josh Huff in the receiving game and their role with the intermediate passing? While most Stanford fans certainly know Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, Addison and Huff may still be mysteries.

PH: I’ll say with confidence that Bralon Addison is the most improved player on this entire Oregon team, be that offense, defense or special teams. He doesn’t have unreal speed or size, but he’s just a natural playmaker. He has a rare blend of football IQ, vision and agility that makes him really special. His emergence has been huge for the Ducks, who have really lacked a “go-to” receiver since Jeff Maehl graduated following the 2010 season.

Both Huff and Addison, who are tied for the team lead in receptions with 38 each, are by far the most productive receivers on this year’s squad. What makes them so dangerous as a tandem, though, is that they’re actually very different players. Huff has been known to make spectacular leaping catches in traffic on one play, but then drop a routine catch the next. Addison, though, is quite the opposite. I’m not sure I’ve seen him drop more than two or three passes in his young Oregon career, and he has an uncanny ability to find the open spot in coverage. Look for Huff to make more plays in the vertical passing game and Addison to have a bigger impact on short to intermediate routes, as well as returning punts on special teams.

DC: Let’s now turn to the defense for Oregon. I would say that a stereotype that may exist in college football conversations, namely because the Ducks are so talented and successful on offense, is that Oregon doesn’t play defense. I know a lot of SEC fans love to bring up this point when they try to discredit Oregon’s merit in the national championship conversation. Who is the player on defense that is most likely to elevate the play of the entire unit?

PH: Oregon’s secondary has produced some awesome players in recent years, and junior corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is the next in line. He saw significant time as a true freshman in 2011, including the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin where he gave up two touchdowns to Jared Abbrederis. Since that game, though, he has played like a potential first- or second-round NFL Draft pick. He reminds me a little bit of former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu in that he is just always around the football. His cover skills are elite, but more than that he just makes plays. He’s the type of corner who, due to his lack of size, always plays with a chip on his shoulder no matter who the competition is. His tenacity as a player and as a leader for this Oregon defense will be a big key for the Ducks against Stanford.

DC: I have two more questions. The first is, if Oregon wins this game, what do you expect the makeup of the game and the general trends of the game to be? Secondly, what is your actual prediction for the score and why?

PH: Should Oregon win, I would expect the game to be much more like the Ducks’ 2011 victory over Stanford than their 2010 win. In 2010, they had to come from behind down 21-3. In 2011, however, they jumped out of the gates quickly and it felt like Stanford was trying to play catch-up the rest of the way. The Cardinal seemed uncomfortable trying to go score for score with Oregon, and who could blame it?

This is a game that could go either way, but the Ducks played so poorly in 2012 against the Cardinal that I think they will come out with a razor-sharp focus and a relentless attitude. Also keep in mind that Oregon has actually been better on the road than at home during the last four years. Stanford’s defense and rushing attack keeps them in it, but I’ll say Oregon scores on a few explosive plays and hangs on. Oregon 34, Stanford 20.

Contact David Cohn at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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