It may be Thursday but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great college football match-up and I must say it doesn’t get any better than this. Tonight the Oregon Ducks will face-off against their Pac-12 rival the Stanford Cardinals.
Since 2009 these two teams have forged a nice rivalry, competing for Pac-12 titles, Rose Bowls and National Championship appearances and this year is no different. Coming into this game, Oregon is undefeated at 8-0 and with Florida State right there with them, they are looking to remain undefeated since any loss will probably put them out of National Title contention. When it comes to Stanford, they are entering the game with a 7-1 record and while their National Title games might be out the window they would certainly like to hurt Oregon chances and compete for Pac 12 Title.
Oregon Keys to Victory
It all starts with the run game for Oregon in this game. Every time Oregon has had success against Stanford it’s because they have a dominant day in the run game and they must continue that trend. The offensive line must control the line of scrimmage unlike last season and open up some holes for running back De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas has been on another level this season and they will need him to do the same in this game. Last season against Stanford, they did not do a great job of staying on the field offensively and they were put into a lot of third down situations. Running the ball will help with that and also allows the Oregon offense to control the tempo and play their game, not Stanford’s which is what they did last year.
Which leads me to quarterback Marcus Mariota, he must also perform at a high level in this game. Last season, he struggled to do that, he should look to take what the Stanford defense gives him and move his team down-field consistently. Mariota should start with zone read throws, read the defense and see what Stanford defense is able to do, challenge those linebackers to tackle him in open field and challenge the secondary to keep up with the speed of wide receiver Bralon Addison. Mariota must also be able to execute and get his team in the end-zone while in the red-zone, which is something they struggled with last season against Stanford. When it comes to Stanford they may not have the offensive tools to out-score Oregon, so they will do their best to bend but not break in the red-zone, Oregon must not allow Stanford to stay in this game, which is why they need to execute in the red-zone.
Defensively, Oregon has played pretty well this season, limiting teams to an average of 18 points per game. To succeed against Stanford, they must first contain the running game which includes running backs Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson. Running the ball allows Stanford to control the clock and keep Oregon offense off the field which they can’t allow. It also opens up play action opportunities, making things a little more difficult for the Oregon defense. The Oregon defense must make the Stanford offense one-dimensional and force quarterback Kevin Hogan and that receiving core to beat them.
Stanford Keys to Victory
I normally start with the offense but going into this game, it all starts with Stanford’s defense. Stanford’s defense must contain the running game, anytime they have success in beating Oregon it’s because they contain the run game and this time is no different. If anything, the plan should be to bend but not break defensively, they may not be able to completely stop this Oregon offense but if they can force them to settle for a couple of field goals instead of touchdowns it would be huge for them, just like it was last season.
More importantly they must limit the big play defensively and the way to do that is to tackle. Oregon is known to break plenty of tackles or make defenders miss in the open field which normally leads to big plays. Stanford can’t afford that, so they need to keep everything in front of them and wrap up on tackles.
Offensively, it all starts with the run game for Stanford. Running backs Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson must run the ball exceptionally well and for them to do that, the offensive line must control the line of scrimmage. Running the ball successfully allows Stanford to keep Oregon’s offense off the field and play the clock to their advantage and at their tempo. As I mentioned earlier, running the ball makes things easier for the offense and opens up some passing opportunities and play action opportunities.
Which leads me to quarterback Kevin Hogan, who must perform well in this game. Oregon is going to do their best to make Stanford a one-dimensional and its Hogan’s responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. Hogan did a solid job last season and he needs to do so again. He doesn’t need to be spectacular, he just needs to be effective and to be effective he will need the wide receivers to play their part as well particularly wide receiver Tyler Montgomery because Stanford loss some of their play-makers at tight end and wide receiver.
Most importantly, Stanford must limit turnovers in this game. When it comes to Oregon, every offensive possession is valuable, so turnovers are unacceptable. If they turn the ball over, Oregon’s defense is capable of making them pay and if they don’t, Oregon’s offense certainly will.
While I have no doubt that this will be a great game filled with intense moments, I am picking the Oregon Ducks to come out victorious in this one. I don’t think the Stanford defense will be able to contain the Oregon offense for four quarters and I worry about the consistent execution of the Stanford offense. So again, I have Oregon winning and increasing their record to 9-0.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com