Game of the Week: Stanford hosts Oregon with title hopes on line
Stanford's last loss was to Oregon; Ducks' last conference loss was to Cardinal
Andrew Luck will be without two of his favorite receiving targets against Ducks
If Oregon can get an early lead, it can put Stanford in an uncomfortable position
|The Mandel Initiative Podcast|
|Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck discusses this week's showdown with Oregon. Stewart and Mallory discuss the deepening scandal at Penn State.|
The Game of the Century is behind us. Now, we move to the Pac-12 Game of the Year and the seventh battle of Top 10 teams this season. No. 6 Oregon visits No. 3 Stanford in the biggest game at Stanford Stadium since Dan Marino and Joe Montana battled in Super Bowl XIX. Stanford has won 17 straight games, with its last loss coming to Oregon; the Ducks have won 18 straight league games, with their last conference loss coming to the Cardinal. Both squads have separated themselves from the rest of the Pac-12 and are legitimate championship-caliber teams. Stanford has a very realistic shot at the BCS title game with a win, while Oregon has an outside shot. It will be Stanford's power versus Oregon's speed on The Farm, where College GameDay will make its first visit to see two of last season's Heisman finalists, Andrew Luck and LaMichael James, square off for likely the final time as collegians.
1. Will the Ducks have any luck stopping Mr. Luck? Luck could be without two of his main weapons Saturday. Starting receiver Chris Owusu is out with a concussion, while tight end Zach Ertz is doubtful. Freshman Ty Montgomery, who has seven catches this season (five versus USC), will start in Owusu's place. The key will be whether Oregon can pressure Luck, especially without blitzing. The Ducks are sixth in the nation in sacks and recorded six in a 34-17 win over Washington last week, with five coming from defensive linemen. Stanford, on the other hand, has given up just four sacks all season, with Luck's ability to scramble and get out of trouble a perfect complement to the line's protection skills. Oregon knows blitzing Luck too often could mean trouble. "What sets (Luck) apart, besides his athletic ability, is his smarts," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said this week. "He sees everything."
2. James likes playing Stanford: Oregon's 2010 Heisman finalist has enjoyed two big outings against the Cardinal, and the Ducks will need him to have a third. Two years ago, James had 214 total yards and a touchdown, while last season he ran for 257 yards and three scores. When Oregon's run game in the spread option is clicking, it opens up the play-action passes for quarterback Darron Thomas, who can usually find open receivers beyond a secondary focusing on the run. Thomas has dealt with injuries and has not played as well as he did a year ago, so it's paramount that James and Kenjon Barner keep the pressure off Thomas and the Stanford back seven focused on the run.
3. Oregon needs to be ready to play from the get-go: Stanford has not trailed at halftime since 2009 and has scored first in 21 of its last 23 games. The Ducks managed to rally against Stanford last season in a 52-31 win after falling into a 21-3 hole, but that task will be much more difficult on the road. If the Ducks can score early and take a lead, the Cardinal will be out of their comfort zone and the pressure of an undefeated season will become increasingly real. Stanford did pass a huge test at USC, coming from behind late to force overtime, but its offense is so used to playing from ahead and leaning on the run that any sort of cushion the Ducks can put up early may disrupt Stanford's game plan and rattle a team that has been very composed all season.
Stanford enters as a three-point favorite. Stanford has covered the spread a remarkable 12 straight games. Oregon is 5-3-1 against the spread this season. The Ducks are 3-1 against the spread in their last four trips to Stanford and Chip Kelly is 0-1 as a road dog, losing the 2009 opener to Boise State.
Stanford has averaged 47.6 points per game in Pac-12 play, while Oregon has averaged 43.7.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup. Earlier this season, Pauline profiled Stanford's Luck and Jonathan Martin and Oregon's James and Carson York.
G David DeCastro, Stanford: The junior lineman is universally graded by scouts as the top draft eligible guard in the nation. DeCastro possesses a great combination of power, smarts and nastiness. He's also very effective blocking in motion. Expect DeCastro to enter the draft and get selected in the bottom third of the first round. Grade: First-round prospect.
TE Coby Fleener, Stanford: Fleener is one of Luck's favorite weapons and a terrific pass-catching tight end. He has the speed necessary to get down the field and creates mismatches in the secondary. Though Fleener gives effort blocking, it's not his strong suit. The senior projects as a move tight end in the NFL. Grade: Third-round prospect.
DE Dion Jordan, Oregon: Jordan moved from tight end to defensive end prior to his sophomore season in 2010 and has taken his game to another level this year. Long and lean, he displays natural pass rush skills and a lot of athleticism. Jordan's upside has scouts excited and he has a chance to prove how far he's progressed against the tough Stanford offensive line. Grade: Fifth-round prospect.
There really isn't much to dislike about this Stanford team. The offense is a seemingly perfect blend of run and pass, the quarterback will be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, the defense has allowed the fewest points in the Pac-12 and the kickers have missed just one field goal all season. Stanford is 54-for-54 in the red zone and ranks No. 3 nationally in red-zone defense. That doesn't guarantee a Cardinal victory, however. Oregon's speed advantage on offense is very real, as its 626 yards against Stanford last year demonstrates. Stanford has admitted to not playing its best defense of late, while Oregon's seems to be on the upswing. If Oregon can get an early lead and force Stanford to play from behind with Luck missing his second- and third-best receivers and feeling the pressure of a perfect season, another unbeaten team could bite the dust. OREGON 45, STANFORD 42