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Oregon Ducks vs. Stanford Cardinal Game Preview and Prediction

Marcus Mariota

Marcus Mariota

The annual meeting between Stanford and Oregon has played a key role in shaping the Pac-12 championship in recent seasons. Over the last four years, the winner of the Stanford-Oregon matchup won the conference title.  

And barring a significant change of events in November, this game will significantly shape the conference title once again. Stanford is 3-2 in conference play and has to beat Oregon to keep its Pac-12 title hopes alive. On the other sideline, the Ducks need to win to rank among the nation’s best in next week’s playoff poll. A two-loss Oregon team could get left out of the playoff, so every week is essentially an elimination game for coach Mark Helfrich’s team.

Stanford holds a 43-30-1 series edge over Oregon. The Cardinal has won three out of the last five meetings in this series, including two in a row and the most recent meeting in Eugene.

Stanford at Oregon

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: FOX

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Three Things to Watch

1. Marcus Mariota Versus Stanford’s Defense
Stanford has been Mariota’s biggest nemesis in his three years as Oregon’s starting quarterback. The junior is 0-2 and completed 57.8 percent of his throws – a drop from his normal 66.5 percent career mark – against the Cardinal. Stanford sacked Mariota three times last year and held the Ducks scoreless until the fourth quarter. Will this year be any different? Despite a new coordinator (Lance Anderson) and a few new faces, the Cardinal hasn’t missed a beat on defense. Stanford is limiting opponents to 3.7 yards per play and only one offense managed more than 17 points so far this year. The success of the Cardinal defense starts up front, as senior Henry Anderson (35 tackles) anchors the line and the 3-4 attack. Anderson will have to do more of the heavy lifting on Saturday night with tackle David Parry out due to injury. With Parry sidelined, Oregon may look to attack the middle of Stanford’s defensive front. The linebacking corps is Stanford’s deepest and most-talented collection of players on defense. Junior Blake Martinez is having a breakout year, and redshirt freshman Peter Kalambayi leads the team with 5.5 sacks. If the Cardinal is able to generate pressure on Mariota, this defense will have a chance to control the pace of the game. It’s critical Stanford wins the battle at the line of scrimmage to have a chance to win on Saturday.

2. Stanford’s Offense
Even if Stanford’s defense finds a way to slow down Oregon’s offense, can the Cardinal generate enough points to pull off the upset? Coach David Shaw promised to tweak the offense after a sluggish showing against Arizona State, and the one-week results against Oregon State were promising. Stanford scored 38 points against the Beavers and averaged 6.7 yards per play – its best mark in Pac-12 games this year. But winning at home against Oregon State and beating Oregon on the road is a different challenge. Sure, the Ducks have struggled on defense this year, allowing 5.7 yards per play and is last in third-down defense in the Pac-12. But what is Stanford’s identity on offense right now? With a rebuilt offensive line and no clear go-to back, the Cardinal need to ask more from quarterback Kevin Hogan. The junior is completing 62.6 percent of his throws but tossed two interceptions in a 17-14 loss to Notre Dame. Hogan also completed only 48.7 percent of his passes in a 26-10 loss to Arizona State. The bottom line for Stanford’s offense is clear: Hogan has to play better and needs to get the ball to the team’s playmakers. Receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste will have opportunities for big plays on Saturday night. And if Hogan has success through the air, it should allow the rushing attack to find lanes against the Ducks – ranked 10th in the Pac-12 against the run. Time of possession is an overrated statistic. But Stanford needs to control the pace of the game and limit Mariota’s opportunities on offense.

3. Oregon RB Royce Freeman and Stanford WR Ty Montgomery

Freeman and Montgomery are this game’s biggest x-factors. Freeman has been a breakout player for Oregon in his true freshman campaign, rushing for 748 yards and 13 touchdowns on 136 attempts. The true freshman has three consecutive 100-yard efforts and gashed Washington for 169 yards and four scores. Stanford is limiting opponents to 2.6 yards per carry and has held three Pac-12 opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Without tackle David Parry, will Freeman find room to run against this stingy defense? On the other sideline, Montgomery is one of the nation’s top all-purpose threats. The senior leads the team with 1,163 total yards, averaging 13.1 yards per touch. Considering how dangerous Montgomery is with the ball in his hands, it’s important for coach David Shaw to get the senior 10-15 touches in a variety of ways.

Final Analysis

This game was pegged by most in the offseason to be one of the biggest games of the year in the Pac-12. While this is still an intriguing matchup, this game has lost some of its appeal due to Stanford’s 4-3 record. Even though the Cardinal isn’t as highly ranked as most anticipated, there’s still plenty at stake for both teams. Stanford has controlled this rivalry over the last two years, but it’s also worth considering Mariota was not at full strength in last season’s meeting. With Mariota back at full strength and capable of running, Oregon’s offense should be more dynamic on Saturday night. Stanford will move the ball on the Ducks’ defense, but Mariota delivers with the game on the line to snap a two-game losing streak to the Cardinal.

Prediction: Oregon 34, Stanford 24