A huge game in the PAC 12 headlines college football action on Saturday, as 2nd ranked Oregon hosts 13th ranked Stanford in a nationally televised game in primetime. The Ducks are looking for a place in the BCS title game, and must continue to run the table if they are to make arrangements at a Miami hotel. Stanford still has ideas of a PAC 12 title, and need a win to keep that dream alive.
If Stanford have any chance to win this game, Stepfan Taylor must have a huge game for the Cardinal. The senior running back is fourth in the conference in rushing with 1,061 yards. His low centre of gravity makes him difficult to bring down, which makes him more effective late in games. Stanford can’t afford to fall behind too quickly, which would take away their strong running game. If Taylor and company can establish the ground game, and keep Oregon’s high-octane offence off the field, Stanford could pull off the upset.
If Taylor can’t run the ball consistently, it will put more pressure on Josh Nunes. The junior quarterback has been decent this year, but he is nowhere near the class of former Stanford great Andrew Luck. Nunes has completed 52.8% of his passes for 1,643 yards, 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Nunes has to take better care of the football in this game. Oregon thrives off the turnover, and if Nunes doesn’t make correct decisions in the pocket, Oregon will pounce.
Stanford doesn’t really have a deep threat at receiver. In fact their leading receiver is junior tight end Zach Ertz. While Ertz is a fine player, catching 47 passes for 641 yards and 5 touchdowns, he isn’t a downfield threat that can stretch the Oregon defence. A lack of speed in Stanford’s receiving corps could prove to be costly.
Stanford’s defence will be under tremendous pressure to stop Oregon’s attack, but they do have Ed Reynolds as a ball hawk in the secondary. The sophomore safety shares the lead in the PAC 12 with 5 interceptions. To top that, 3 of those picks were returned for touchdowns. Reynolds will be called upon to force turnovers, to give Stanford a chance.
There is no doubt about Oregon’s offence. The Ducks lead the nation in scoring, averaging a whopping 54.8 points per game. The key to Oregon’s engine is Marcus Mariota. The freshman quarterback leads the no-huddle attack with precision and pace. Mariota is having a brilliant season for Oregon, completing 71.7% of his passes for 2,164 yards, 28 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. His quarterback rating of 177.0 is best in the nation. Remember, he’s a FRESHMAN! This kid has the potential of being something very special.
The running game isn’t too shabby either. Senior running back Kenjon Barner is a candidate for the Heisman trophy this year, thanks to his 1,360 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns, he’s put up this season. Barner is getting looks from the NFL, so this game could very well raise his draft stock, if he has another huge game.
The playmaker in the receiving corps is De’Anthony Thomas. The sophomore lines up in the backfield for the most part, but he has so much speed, that Oregon likes to use him, as a deep threat in the passing game. Thomas leads the Ducks with 37 catches for 378 yards and 4 touchdowns. Thomas can run the ball as well, gaining 521 yards and scoring 7 touchdowns on the ground. Thomas is a threat in the return game as well, averaging 18.3 yards per punt return, with one going all the way for a touchdown.
Oregon’s defence doesn’t get the publicity the offence does, but it is a fast swarming unit, that can create havoc on the field. Defensive tackle Taylor Hart leads the team with 7.5 sacks, while cornerback Avery Patterson has returned two interceptions to the house. Linebacker Kiko Alonso is all over the field, recording 3 interceptions and 1 sack. This team is dangerous on both sides of the field.
The one distraction Oregon is facing is the future of head coach Chip Kelly. There have been numerous stories in the media, linking Kelly to NFL coaching gigs in Dallas, Philadelphia, Kansas City and Carolina. Oregon will need to stay focused, despite the uncertain future of their head coach.
This is Oregon’s game to lose. A raucous crowd at Autzen Stadium is always difficult to deal with, but with the added hype of a possible National Championship appearance, the ESPN Gameday crew being at the game, and senior day in Eugene will be too much for Stanford to deal with. Might be tight early, but Oregon will find its groove and pull away in the end. Oregon wins big 52-21.
You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973