It has been smooth sailing to start the season for the No. 7 ranked Stanford Cardinal (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12). Three straight home games. A blowout win over San Diego State. A dominating defensive performance against USC and their true freshman quarterback. And last Saturday, an easy win over an overmatched UC Davis team.
But enough with the sleepy Saturday morning kickoffs and non-conference tune ups. This season is about to take a whole different shape, starting this Saturday as the Cardinal head north to Eugene to take on a nationally-ranked No. 20 Oregon team (3-0).
Playing a night game at Autzen Stadium is never an easy task, as the Ducks’ home stadium is one of the most hostile in all of college football. It is sure to be rocking on Saturday as the site of ESPN’s College Gameday.
For the Cardinal, a lot is riding on the health of running back Bryce Love, who did not play against UC Davis with an undisclosed injury. The Cardinal have shown they can win against good teams when Love isn’t playing at his best, but it would obviously be a huge blow to the offense if he can’t play on Saturday. Trevor Speights and Cameron Scarlett have stepped up in Love’s absence, but neither one has the same game-changing ability that Love possesses.
Junior quarterback K.J. Costello has looked poised and efficient in his first full season at the helm. He’s developed a connection with senior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, whose two touchdowns on Saturday increased his season total to five. Arcega-Whiteside is a big target, and Costello loves to throw him jump balls in the red zone. When the Cardinal get near the goal line, expect K.J. and J.J. to make some more magic happen.
Costello’s counterpart, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, is a Heisman contender with a cannon arm and elusiveness in the pocket. Part of what will make preparing for Saturday’s showdown so difficult for Coach David Shaw and defensive coordinator Lance Anderson is that nobody really knows how good Oregon is. Yes, they have steamrolled all three of their opponents to start the season. But with all due respect to Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State, the Ducks haven’t been tested once this season, and it will be interesting to see how Herbert and his teammates perform under the bright primetime lights.
When the Cardinal and Ducks get together, it’s always an exciting matchup. The last time College Gameday came to Eugene for this matchup, Stanford took down the No.1- ranked Oregon team 17-14 in overtime. Despite all the offensive firepower on these teams, it is possible that Saturday’s game could be equally as low-scoring. Stanford’s defense has shown it can stifle good quarterbacks and Oregon’s defense is a stingy unit led by linebacker Justin Hollins, who single-handedly shut down San Jose State’s offense.
On paper, Stanford is the stronger, more experienced team. But once Autzen Stadium gets going and Herbert hits a few big throws, it’s anybody’s game. We’ll learn a lot about the resiliency of this Stanford team and their ability to respond to an electric offense on the road in a tough environment. With a win, the Cardinal are sitting pretty in the Pac-12 North, not to mention the national rankings. A loss, and they are going to be digging themselves out of a hole for the rest of the season.
This isn’t a one-game test for Stanford. They head to South Bend the following week for what could be a top-10 showdown with Notre Dame. But before they look towards the Irish, it’s hunting season up in Eugene.
Contact Gregory Block at gblock ‘at’ stanford.edu.