Because of how the BCS works, this game functions as Stanford’s audition for the National Championship game. Oregon is currently seventh in the BCS with their only loss coming to #1 LSU. Undefeated Stanford sits at #4 after the computers decided they still preferred Alabama. In order to be taken seriously for a shot at the title, Stanford has to win. Lucky for us fans, it could actually happen.
1. Speed vs. Power – Stanford and Oregon differ on their ideological approach to the game. The Cardinal focus on controlling the line of scrimmage and barreling ahead with sheer force. The Ducks instead look for big plays in space, spreading the field horizontally. That is not to say that Stanford has no fast people or that Oregon has no big people. They both have great athletes. They just prize different traits.
2. Tackling in the Secondary – A point of emphasis for the Cardinal this week has been on tackling. Stanford has some sure tacklers but they struggle against the smaller, shiftier targets. Oregon’s team is made up of such people. Stanford will have to limit yards after the catch (YAC) as much as possible. Last year, Stanford did a fairly good job in the half of slowing Oregon down. They could not, however, contain them in the second half.
3. The Track Meet – Stanford lost 52-31 last year. All of Stanford’s points came in the first half and most of Oregon’s points came in the second. The Cardinal will need to keep scoring. The offense cannot just stop in the way it did last year. Oregon does possess a playmaking, fast defense. To combat that, quarterback Andrew Luck will need to be efficient on third down and the running game will have to be a big part of the offense. Coach Shaw emphasized the need for balance. That will be even more critical this week if for no other reason than to protect the defense. I agree with ESPN blogger Ted Miller, the team which runs more plays will likely win. Two years ago, Stanford won because they just refused to be stopped. I hope defense plays some role in this game but a shootout is the most likely scenario.
4. Thomas vs. Luck – I always find it fascinating when two people are rivals in high school and when that rivalry continues in college. Darron Thomas and Andrew Luck have been playing against one another for years now. During their times at quarterback, Oregon and Stanford have been the runaway favorites in the conference. Experts made a big deal about Luck vs. Barkley and that was pretty much a wash. Thomas vs. Luck? That matchup is going to feature some fireworks. Don’t be surprised if they both make huge plays all on their own.
5. Injury Front – Tight end Zach Ertz has a knee injury and has been ruled “Doubtful” for the game. Wide receiver Chris Owusu has not been cleared to play at all. Both players are playmakers. Their loss hurts the overall diversity of the offense. However, the team proved last week that they can still be efficient. Colby Fleener and Levine Toilolo will still be available. Also, Ty Montgomery has flashed as a receiver. Stanford should be fine but the Cardinal might find themselves in trouble if the game comes down to a few one-on-one matchups late in the game.
I feel this game will not be in the same mold as the LSU-Alabama game. There will likely be much more scoring. Like with the USC game, plenty of points will be scored in the second half, meaning the game will never quite be over, even if one team has a sizable lead. The homefield advantage makes me think that Stanford will emerge with a narrow victory in a very high scoring game. Win or lose, I just hope my heart can take it.