Following a 26-15 victory over Oregon State at home last Saturday, Stanford football (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) goes on the road for another conference game against a 3-6 Oregon team with a lone conference win. Football writers Jamie MacFarlane, Samuel Curry and Lorenzo Rosas break down the Ducks’ offensive woes and Stanford head coach David Shaw’s plans for improvement at the quarterback position.
Stanford’s defense faces a struggling Ducks squad that was completely run out of the Colosseum by a strong Trojan offense that doubled Oregon’s total offense on the day. Who for the Ducks offensively could provide an early spark against Lance Anderson and the Cardinal defense who have held opponents to under 15 points for four consecutive weeks?
Jamie MacFarlane (JM): Oregon is desperate right now on offense. So desperate, in fact, that it’s now making changes just for the sake of making changes. Last week against USC, the Ducks benched stud junior running back Royce Freeman, who has nearly 4,400 yards from scrimmage and 46 touchdowns in his Oregon career and was averaging 5.5 yards per rush this year. They also benched Darren Carrington III, their junior wideout and deep threat who has over 1,750 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns in his career. The duo led the team in rushing and receiving, respectively.
So I think the challenge falls to Oregon’s freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, the Oregon native who took over the starting job four weeks ago and has an impressive 13-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio. Up until the USC game, his numbers had steadily gotten better week after week, so Oregon better hope that this past week was just a blip in that progression. Either way, the offense isn’t the problem here — the Oregon defense is TERRIBLE, having given up at least 26 points every single game.
Samuel Curry (SC): The Ducks don’t have much to lose at this point. They need to win the rest of their games this season to become bowl eligible, and that looks very unlikely with Stanford and Utah being their next two games. They’ll most likely try some new things and put a lot of faith into freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, making them dangerous. Herbert has proven to be effective too, tying school records for touchdowns and passing yards against Cal and Arizona State, respectively. The Stanford defense looks tough right now, and I think big plays and takeaways are Oregon’s best chance of winning Saturday. Look for Oregon to try the deep ball a lot, and expect Herbert to throw a high volume of passes in general. If that proves unsuccessful, the Ducks might just see if they can bring back the Royce Freeman of seasons past.
Lorenzo Rosas (LR): Jamie makes a great point in bringing up the horrific Oregon defense as the major problem for the Ducks as the offense has averaged 493.4 total offensive yards per game only to get outgained by a walloping 535.2 total offensive yards allowed to opponents this season. Yet, despite promising freshman performances from new quarterback and offensive linemen, the Oregon offense is far from where the Ducks need to be in order to be competitive in an offensive Pac-12 conference.
Oregon seemed to be making strides when freshman quarterback Justin Herbert stepped into the starting role four weeks ago and set school records since, but the freshman’s performance slipped against the Trojans, completing only 18 of 33 passes for one touchdown in the contest. From the beginning, the Ducks offense looked completely outmatched by USC and finally put up its first points only after the Trojans darted to a 17-point lead. Against another strong defense in the Cardinal, Oregon needs big performances all around, starting with quarterback Herbert in addition to the return of wide receiver Darren Carrington in order to have a chance this Saturday. The Ducks definitely have pace in their running game with or without Royce Freeman in Tony Brooks-James and Charles Nelson, and if Herbert successfully spreads the Stanford defense, the Ducks could potentially cause problems for Stanford. However, that means a lot has to go right for head coach Mark Helfrich, Herbert and the rest of the offense in order to win on Saturday.
Despite exiting Stanford Stadium last weekend victorious against Oregon State, starting quarterback Keller Chryst completed only 10 passes for a cumulative 60 yards on the ground as the Cardinal closed out their game with 29 consecutive runs. How can Shaw create more success for Chryst in Eugene against a struggling Ducks pass defense?
JM: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I don’t think it matters if Oregon’s pass defense is terrible. I think at this point, Shaw should let Chryst be simply a game manager and not force the issue. Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love are running really well right now behind a line that has improved and is creating enough daylight for those two to work their magic. If Oregon decides to put eight or nine in the box, that strategy might have to change (i.e. put McCaffrey out in the slot and leave Love in the backfield, and then Oregon really has a decision to make). Chryst is doing a great job keeping the ball in Stanford’s possession right now, and if he gets into a rhythm as the game develops and feels comfortable throwing the ball downfield, by all means go for it, but I see no reason to make that a point of emphasis for Shaw right out of the gate.
SC: Although the passing game has undoubtedly been lacking for almost the entire season, I’m not sure David Shaw is too concerned about it. He has frequently shown that they will live and die by the run this season, and no matter how predictable the Stanford running game is, weak defenses can’t stop it. Arizona and Oregon State couldn’t do much about it, and the fact that Oregon’s defense is considerably worse than even those two — leading only Rice nationally in yards allowed per game — gives me no reason to think that the McCaffrey-Love tandem won’t have another field day in Eugene.
That being said, if Oregon’s tackling somehow becomes sound overnight, I still don’t think Shaw and co. will be worried. Let’s keep in mind how close Keller Chryst and Michael Rector have been to connecting on deep balls the past two weeks. Beyond that, what Chryst lacks in touch on his shorter throws he makes up for with security, throwing few interceptable passes. If Shaw wants more production from Chryst, he’ll simply call more pass plays for him and, more importantly, downfield pass plays. Keller only threw the ball 17 times against Oregon State, and on many of them the receivers ran shorter routes, which aren’t exactly Chryst’s specialty. I don’t expect Shaw to have to turn to his passing game for a spark Saturday, but if he does, I think Chryst and the wide receivers have all the talent and ability necessary for more production, especially against a weak passing defense.
LR: Unlike Jamie and Sam, I continue to doubt this Stanford offense that seems to have no capable passing threat this far into the season, and, although Shaw continues to show little concern behind a stacked running back core, a one-dimensional offense always has a chance to be shut down any given week. I fear that the lack of versatility in play calling will make the defense’s job easier, no matter how much of a threat the McCaffrey-Love duo has proven to be.
That being said, Chryst’s lack of pass game has no true and evident remedy to fix in one week, but I would say Shaw needs to be more versatile in his play-calling. While Stanford does little to hide its true ground-game identity, both McCaffrey and Love would be helped if Shaw started this weekend’s game with a couple pass plays to catch the defense off guard. The offense will and definitely should remain close to its running identity, but a more flexible Chryst only works to open the Ducks defense that’s sure to pack the box in preparation for McCaffrey and could ultimately provide the remedy to a plaguing Stanford pass attack.
Contact Jamie MacFarlane at jamiemac ‘at’ stanford.edu, Samuel Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu and Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu.