With Stanford set to square off against Oregon this Saturday, The Stanford Daily’s Managing Editor of Sports, Kabir Sawhney, and The Oregon Daily Emerald’s Sports Editor, Lucas Clark, break down the matchup between the Cardinal and the Ducks.
Lucas Clark: I can think of very few things that left more of a bitter taste in my mouth than when I walked out of Stanford Stadium last Nov. 7. Not only did we face an eight-hour drive back to Eugene, but Oregon had just had its national championship hopes run into the ground by Toby Gerhart. The game was one of the few low points in 2009 and should make for a very interesting matchup come Saturday. With the ESPN College GameDay crew rolling into town for a showdown between two top 10 teams, it’s hard to say where the clear advantage lies at this point.
Kabir Sawhney: Stanford’s upset of Oregon had to be one of the highlights of last year for Cardinal fans. Coupled with the dismantling of USC, it marked the return of Stanford football to the ranks of Pac-10 contenders. I still remember rushing the field after that game, convinced that the trajectory of the program only pointed upwards. While Oregon has been the consensus favorite in the Pac-10 since the end of last year’s Rose Bowl, it should be interesting to see if the Cardinal can replicate last year’s result. I think the game’s location is going to play a big factor in this one; Stanford has yet to go on the road this year against an opponent of Oregon’s caliber, and Autzen Stadium is a difficult place for visiting teams to play.
LC: No question Oregon has one of the best home-field advantages in the college football realm. Eugene is notorious for the ruckus its can cause in the venue–rain, sleet or shine. But this game is going to be about neither the weather nor the fans. It will be about what happens between the lines of play with two of the best teams in the country. Despite a somewhat lackluster performance last weekend against Arizona State, the Ducks still have one of the most dangerous offensive attacks in the nation. If it weren’t for the strength of the offense I might find myself worried if Oregon could hang with Andrew Luck and Co. But no matter how many points the Cardinal puts up, Oregon is capable of matching the total. The key variable: both defenses.
KS: You’re absolutely right about the defenses. While both have been putting up impressive numbers, neither has faced a truly elite offense. For the Ducks, the toughest offense so far has been Arizona State; for Stanford, it was Wake Forest. I’m particularly concerned about how the Stanford secondary will match up against Darron Thomas and the passing game. From what we’ve seen so far, Stanford’s front seven is as good as any in the country, and the Cardinal’s identity is built on a brute-force, smash mouth game on both sides of the ball. However, Stanford’s best playmaker in the secondary this season, safety Michael Thomas, was injured last weekend against Notre Dame, and whether the secondary will be able to contain Oregon’s receiving corps remains an open question.
LC: In previous seasons, Oregon’s receiving corps has been a bit of a question mark in the early going. The Ducks have taken as many as four games to really develop a consistent passing attack, but that hasn’t been the case in 2010. Led by all-everything senior Jeff Maehl, the Oregon wideouts have been one of the offensive bright spots this season. Senior Lavasier Tuinei has been a welcomed surprise after a shaky 2009 season, and true freshman Josh Huff has been the only first-year player to make an impact with the first-team Oregon offense. The front seven for Stanford, both physically imposing and intelligent with their schemes, will provide Oregon with an extremely tough look up front. The pride of every Oregon team has always been in the running game, and in order for the Ducks to stay undefeated through week five, expect a heavy dose of sophomores LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner.
KS: I’m sure the prospect of James and Barner running all over the Cardinal is one that keeps the defensive coaching staff up at night. To stop them, Stanford is going to rely heavily on its linebackers, led by all-world senior Owen Marecic, to contain the running game just like it held down Notre Dame last weekend. Stanford’s running game is a major component of its offense, too, with a trio of runners: sophomores Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney and redshirt freshman Usua Amanam, with freshman Anthony Wilkerson occasionally in the mix. To the amazement of many commentators, who predicted a huge drop-off after Toby Gerhart left for the NFL, the Cardinal running attack hasn’t missed a beat, largely due to the dominance of the offensive line. That line was a big part of Gerhart’s success last season, and it returned four starters this year. Look for Stanford to try and pound the Oregon front seven into submission, which should open some holes for Andrew Luck and the passing game.
This debate was also published in The Oregon Daily Emerald.