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Oregon Ducks at Stanford Cardinal: Preview and Pick
Oregon Ducks at Stanford Cardinal: Preview and Pick
The Oregon Ducks are one of the best teams in all of college football and they sit high above the rest of the world when it comes to the BCS rankings. They dominated the UCLA Bruins in what was supposed to be a close game, and now they will face another team that is supposed to challenge on Thursday when they take on the Stanford Cardinal.
Oregon Ducks at Stanford Cardinal Odds
The college football odds for this game have the Ducks as the favorite although they are playing on the road in a hostile environment. The Ducks are currently listed as (-8.5) point favorites and that line may shift due to public betting. Make sure to check the latest point spread at your favorite top rated sportsbook.
The first of the 76 times these teams played, Oregon didn't fly to the Bay Area, not to save money but because it was three years before the Wright Brothers pioneered air travel. Yet it's only over the last few seasons that Ducks-Cardinal has taken on significance outside the Pacific time zone. Two years ago running back LaMichael James went off in a 53-30 Oregon upset, knocking Stanford out of the national title hunt. Last season the Ducks were on a glide pattern to the BCS championship game until Stanford stunned them in overtime 17-14.
Even as the stakes have risen, the animosity between the teams and their fan bases has yet to achieve liftoff. That could all change this Thursday in what will be the biggest game of the season for Stanford.
The college football betting trends for this game reveal that this could be a high scoring game with the underdog a real threat to win. Oregon is 4-1 straight up in its last 5 games when playing on the road against Stanford and Oregon is 5-0 straight up in its last 5 games on the road. Stanford is 2-9 straight up in its last 11 games when playing Oregon and 3-8 against the spread (ATS) in its last 11 games when playing Oregon. The total has gone over in 7 of Oregon's last 8 games when playing Stanford and the total has gone over in 5 of Oregon's last 6 games on the road. Stanford is 15-1 straight up in its last 16 games and could provide the only real challenge for the Ducks this season.
Oregon Ducks at Stanford Cardinal Pick
With plenty of time before kickoff we will wait for more information to come in before we select a side on this contest. Make sure to check back on the day of the game to see who we select as our winner for this big game.
Third-ranked Oregon and No. 5 Stanford had a couple extra days to prepare for their Pac-12 Conference showdown.
The Ducks and Cardinal each had a bye on Saturday, giving them 10 days to prepare for Thursday night’s nationally-televised game in Palo Alto.
The 8-0 Ducks rank second in the nation by averaging 55.6 points and 632.1 yards of total offense, but Stanford (7-1) will provide Oregon with its toughest test. The Cardinal gave Oregon its lone defeat last year with a 17-14 overtime win in Eugene.
Stanford is allowing 19.4 points per game, but will be without defensive end Ben Gardner for the rest of the season due to injury.
“They have so much experience when you look at their front seven and their defense in general, only one guy is not a senior,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “They have a bunch of familiar faces playing really hard. They are real athletic and are playing really well.”
Oregon’s defense has been even better than the Cardinal, leading the conference by allowing 16.9 points per game despite graduating seniors Dion Jordan and Kiko Alonso to the NFL along with leading tackler Michael Clay.
“They are missing three dynamic players, but the crazy part is that their defense as a whole looks better,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “They are fast, big, and have guys with length. The combination of what their coach does with their abilities makes it hard to move the ball.”
The Ducks won the North Division title in 2011 while Stanford won last year, and Thursday’s winner looks likely to claim the title this season.
Stanford is 11-1 (.917) at home against opponents ranked in either the AP or USA Today Coaches polls since 2009 (3-1 vs. top 10), including wins over No. 9 UCLA (2013), No. 15 Washington (2013), No. 23 Arizona State (2013), No. 2 USC (2012), No. 7 Oregon (2009), No. 13 Arizona (2010), No. 13 Oregon State (2012), No. 17 UCLA (2012 Pac-12
Football Championship Game), No. 22 Washington (2011), No. 22 Notre Dame (2011) and No. 24 Washington (2009).
• The lone home loss to a ranked opponent since 2009 came at the hands of No. 6 Oregon (2011).
• Stanford is 44-17 (.721) all-time when ranked in the top 10.
The magnitude of the Stanford-Oregon showdown Thursday night can best be described in four words: Bigger than Alabama-LSU.
Actually, let's rephrase that to account for Southeastern Conference fanaticism:
Stanford-Oregon is more significant than Alabama-LSU, which comes two days later.
Unlike the SEC collision, the Pac-12 duel matches teams with national title aspirations and top-five rankings in the Bowl Championship Series standings.
It also has the Heisman Trophy front-runner.
With kickoff only three days away, here's a primer:
• The stakes.
Oregon dropped to No. 3 this week in the BCS standings, but a difficult schedule should catapult the Ducks into the national title game -- if they run the table.
Stanford also is in contention. Despite a loss at Utah three weeks ago, the Cardinal (No. 5 in the BCS) controls its own destiny in the Rose Bowl race and remains in the hunt for a berth in the title game. It must win out and get a little help.
Measured by the participants' position in the BCS standings and The Associated Press rankings, this is the biggest game ever played at Stanford Stadium.
• The talent.
As many as 15 players from this game could be selected in the 2014 NFL draft, according to an NFC scout who has evaluated both rosters.
The top prospect is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman front-runner and a likely top-five pick (if he leaves school).
The second tier is occupied by Stanford senior linebacker Trent Murphy and two juniors: Cardinal guard David Yankey and Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. All three are first-round candidates.
The crowded third level -- players projected for the second or third round -- includes Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, Oregon center Hroniss Grasu and the Ducks' all-purpose dynamo, De'Anthony Thomas.
• The history.
The teams have split the past four meetings, with the road team winning in 2011-12.
If those games have taught us anything, it's to discard presumptions.
Stanford was undefeated and the betting favorite two years ago with quarterback Andrew Luck, but the Ducks controlled the line of scrimmage and raced to a 23-point victory.
Oregon was expected to win handily last year -- the No. 1 team in the nation, playing on its home turf and favored by 20 points -- but Stanford's defensive masterpiece fueled an overtime upset.
• The quarterbacks.
Mariota has been nearly flawless, with 20 touchdown passes, nine touchdown runs and no interceptions. If any fault can be found, it's his sloppy ballhandling in the pocket.
Stanford's Kevin Hogan struggled at Oregon State and has been erratic over the past month, in part because of breakdowns in protection and the lack of a consistent No. 2 receiver behind Ty Montgomery.
But the redshirt sophomore is usually at his best when the stakes are highest: He's 7-0 as a starter against ranked teams.
• The styles.
If Stanford is old school, Oregon is a school transported here from the future.
The Cardinal methodically pulverizes opponents with its ground-and-pound running game and smothering defense. The Ducks prefer to slash and dash at Millennium Falcon speed.
As a result, Stanford plays close games on a weekly basis, and the Ducks are a blowout machine.
Since the start of last season, the Cardinal has played 13 games decided by a touchdown or less -- and won 10 of them.
In that same span, the Ducks have been in one close game: The 17-14 overtime defeat to Stanford.
All of the ingredients are in place. No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 5 Stanford, a matchup with BCS national championship game implications.
The loser will likely see its national championship dreams and Pac-12 title hopes vanish. So this game rises to another level, right?
“Not really,” Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas said after Monday’s practice. “We’re just playing on a Thursday instead of a Saturday. Great teams win on the road.”
Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac-12 North) has the nation’s longest non-neutral site road winning streak of 18 games. Wouldn’t you know it, the Ducks’ last road defeat came Nov. 7, 2009 in a 51-42 setback at Stanford.
Oregon prevailed at home during its national champion game run in 2010, and at The Farm in 2011. But three-touchdown underdog Stanford upset then-No. 1 Oregon, 17-14 at Autzen Stadium last season, putting a blemish on the Ducks’ unbeaten record and effectively knocking them out of the national championship game equation.
While Oregon players adhere to the company line of playing a faceless opponent every week, there can be no doubt that last season’s loss to Stanford provides added incentive.
“I just think from a motivation standpoint if our guys use that as motivation to prepare we’re all for it,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “(But) you can’t dwell. You can’t sit around and pout about what happened last year.”
There is nothing Oregon can do about the past. A physical, low-scoring game was played at Stanford’s tempo.
In 33 of its past 34 games, Oregon has scored at least 34 points. Only Stanford found the right defensive formula to stymie the Ducks’ offense during that span. Tackling in space and controlling the line of scrimmage were keys.
Oregon center Hroniss Grasu laments the fact that Stanford, “didn’t get our best shot last year and that’s what really bothers me.”
Stanford (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12 North) is the nation’s highest ranked one-loss team. The Cardinal came back from a 27-21 loss at Utah on Oct. 12 to beat then-No. 10 UCLA 24-10, and Oregon State 20-12, in their past two games.
The Ducks and Cardinal were idle last week.
“You just have to go out there and execute. Really it’s as simple as that,” Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “Focus on what we have to do to make sure we execute to the best of our ability.”
Mariota, who is 20-1 as a starter with the lone defeat against Stanford, is considered the Heisman Trophy frontrunner along with Florida State signal caller Jameis Winston.
A signature performance by Mariota on Thursday would put him in excellent position to become the first Oregon player to win the most prestigious award in college football. He has thrown for 2,281 yards (64.0 percent) and 20 touchdowns with no interceptions, and run for 511 yards and nine scores.
“I thought last year he was the best quarterback in the nation. I feel the same way this year,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
Stanford quarterback Kevin Grogan is a dual threat as well, but his numbers pale in comparison to Mariota. Grogan has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,493 yards and 13 touchdowns with five interceptions, and run for 184 yards and one score.
In contrast to the high-scoring, speedy Ducks, who are second in the nation in scoring (55.6 points per game), total offense (632.1 yards per game), and rushing (331.5 ypg), Stanford is a smash-mouth, ball control team built around a veteran defense led by senior linebackers Trent Murphy, who leads the Pac-12 in sacks (9 ½) and tackles for loss (13 ½), and Shayne Skov.
“I love the challenge that they bring to the table for us,” Grasu said. “We’ve been preparing for this type of game all offseason so it’s really exciting.”
Here are five of the most intriguing story lines to follow.....
1. The rush goes on:
Byron Marshall is just 121 yards away from the 20th 1,000-yard season in Oregon history and has a streak of five consecutive 100-rushing yard games. He's been a one-man show since De'Anthony Thomas injured his right ankle against California, and the fact he ripped for 133 yards against a very physical UCLA defense that mimics Stanford's size and physicality is a hopeful sign for the Ducks. Stanford allows 103.3 rushing yards per game, the 10th-best rush defense in FBS.
Still, it's hard not to like Oregon's chances to run the ball. Thomas says he is again healthy, freshman Thomas Tyner is gaining more confidence weekly and true freshman tackle Cameron Hunt -- should he need to play more in place of Jake Fisher -- is also gaining valuable experience. Oregon hasn't rushed for fewer than 216 yards in a game this season. That performance, a 5.3-yard per carry average, came against Tennessee's sizable defensive front.
2. Ty Montgomery:
Oregon's secondary isn't the only group responsible for containing Stanford's standout junior receiver. Though he averages 77.4 yards per game and has five receiving touchdowns this season, he is perhaps more dangerous on special teams. He's the nation's second-best kick returner, averaging 32.5 yards, and returned kickoffs for touchdowns against Utah and Washington.
By comparison, Oregon's kickoff return defense is pedestrian and ranks in the lower half of FBS by allowing 21.6 yards per return.
3. Stanford's front seven:
Facing UCLA's uber-aggressive defensive line and linebackers was a nice preview for Oregon, but the Ducks haven't seen a unit as challenging as Stanford's front seven.
A claim like that wasn't likely until Monday, when Stanford coach David Shaw announced end Henry Anderson would return from a knee injury suffered in the season's second game to face the Ducks. The addition offsets the loss of Ben Gardner, his usual counterpoint on the other side of Stanford's 3-4 scheme, who is out for the season's remainder after tearing a pectoral muscle against Oregon State.
Though players such as Anderson and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy make this defense the stingy unit it is, Gardner's pronounced absence is a bit more troubling for the Cardinal because that position is uncharacteristically shallow with its depth. Two converted tight ends and a converted linebacker have been asked to fill Gardner's role. Yet Stanford has excelled this season without one of its best defenders before, ranking eighth nationally with 8.0 tackles for loss (Oregon averages 6.0) during Anderson's injury.
4. Can Oregon continue to force turnovers?
There aren't many noticeable differences between these two teams, but UO's success in winning the turnover battle compared to Stanford is large -- and could remain so Thursday evening in determining the winner. UO forces 1.5 more turnovers than it commits per game, the fourth-best ratio in the nation. Stanford breaks even at 0.0, tied for 64th-best, in part because of five interceptions by quarterback Kevin Hogan and six lost fumbles.
Oregon's defense is also on a roll. In the last two games UO has forced (and recovered) five fumbles and intercepted six passes.
5. Stanford's peerless protection:
No offensive line protects its backfield like Stanford, whose 3.0 tackles for loss allowed per game is the lowest in the country. So while pressure on Hogan and running back Tyler Gaffney is not a new key for Oregon defenders, it's more important than ever to disrupt an quarterback and running back few have been able to get their hands on
Almost every week, Stanford coach David Shaw delegates a backup quarterback to the scout team in practice who can best simulate the upcoming opponent.
Not this week.
Shaw's search for somebody on the roster to mimic Marcus Mariota and Oregon's up-tempo offense was deemed a lost cause. There's nobody who could even come close.
"We have to sign somebody," he joked.
Slowing down Mariota will be the top priority when sixth-ranked Stanford (7-1, 5-1 Pac-12) hosts No. 2 Oregon (8-0, 5-0) on Thursday night in a matchup of the winners of the past four conference championships.
In 21 starts, the Heisman Trophy hopeful has put up video game-like numbers against nearly every team he's faced. That is, except for Stanford.
The Cardinal handed Mariota the only loss of his career last season, 17-14 in overtime in Eugene. Stanford's victory ended then-No. 1 Oregon's three-year run as conference champion and dashed the Ducks' national championship dreams - not to mention Mariota's chances for college football's most prestigious award.
"If our guys use last year as a motivational factor to practice harder ... we'll take it," coach Mark Helfrich told Oregon's official website. "Any external motivation that was used to prepare, great."
Duplicating last season's performance might be even tougher for Stanford.
Mariota has thrown for 2,281 yards and 20 touchdowns and run for 587 yards and nine TDs this season. He's completing 64.0 percent of his passes and, perhaps most impressively, has not thrown an interception. The last time he was picked off was during last season's meeting with the Cardinal.
"I thought last year he was the best quarterback in the nation, and I feel the same way this year," Shaw said. "I don't care about stats. Stats don't mean anything. You watch the film, you see a kid that makes every throw. Every throw is accurate. Twenty touchdowns and no interceptions? Every ball is perfect, every ball is in stride, every ball there's no wobble on it. Everything's pretty.
"As a former receiver, you always appreciate that, a guy that just throws a pretty ball. And then when nobody's open, he just takes off and outruns everybody. You're designing a quarterback, that's what you want."
The secret to Stanford's success against Mariota remains somewhat of a mystery.
The Cardinal credit a physical, gap-plugging 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who emphasizes the most basic fundamentals: tackling and discipline. Since losing 27-21 at Utah on Oct. 12, Stanford has shut down Brett Hundley and UCLA (10 points) and Sean Mannion and Oregon State (12 points) in back-to-back victories.
Now the Cardinal hope to make it three in a row with Mariota up next.
"He's a great player. He's going to make some plays. But we can't just let him take the ball, read what we're doing," said linebacker A.J. Tarpley, who intercepted Mariota last season. "We want to try and mix it up a little bit, whether that's attacking him, try to show something that looks like something but it's actually something else. We'll mix it up. We don't want them to get in their rhythm. Because once they do that, you can't stop them."
In the first 10 games before last season's meeting, the Ducks seemed unstoppable under Mariota. Oregon led the FBS with 54.8 points per game and never scored fewer than 42.
Mariota completed 21 of 37 passes for 207 yards, one touchdown and the one interception against Stanford. Besides a 77-yard run in the first quarter, Mariota netted only 12 yards rushing, often looking flustered under heavy pressure.
"I think a lot times we were hesitating a little bit and we were unsure of some of the fronts we were seeing," Mariota said. "That's the stuff we're really going to have to clean up."
One of the staples of Stanford's defense also is what Mariota avoids most: turnovers.
Stanford has forced a turnover in 33 straight games, the second-longest streak in the country. Being the first team to make Mariota throw an interception this season is a challenge Stanford knows will be difficult, but it's also one it will embrace.
"It's time," cornerback Alex Carter said, "for him to throw one."