Week 12 isn’t the strongest slate in the 2012 college football season, but the Pac-12 features a couple of matchups that could have national title implications. Thanks to Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M, Oregon ascended to the No. 1 spot in the human polls and ranks No. 2 in the BCS behind Kansas State. If the Ducks win out, there’s no question they will play for the national title in early January.
Although Oregon is a heavy favorite in Saturday’s matchup, Stanford is a team built to give the Ducks problems. If the Cardinal can win in Eugene, they will have an opportunity to clinch the Pac-12 North title with a victory over UCLA on Nov. 24. Despite the departure of Andrew Luck to the NFL, Stanford has remained a factor in the Pac-12 title race, with its only two losses coming by four points against Washington and by seven in overtime against Notre Dame.
Oregon has won nine out of the last 10 meetings in this series. Stanford won 51-42 in 2009 but has lost by at least 20 points in each of the last two matchups.
When the Oregon Ducks have the ball:
Speed versus power. That’s the main battle in this game. Oregon is one of college football’s fastest teams, while Stanford is arguably the Pac-12’s most physical team. The Ducks have scored at least 50 points in each of the last two meetings against the Cardinal, and the 2012 version of Chip Kelly’s offense could be even deadlier than the one Stanford played last season.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota has emerged as a Heisman contender this season, throwing for 2,164 yards and 28 touchdowns, while adding 516 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The redshirt freshman has thrown only five interceptions. Mariota was banged up in the win over California but is not expected to be limited in any way against Stanford. Mariota doesn’t have a standout No. 1 receiver, but he’s surrounded by plenty of capable targets, including Josh Huff, Colt Lyerla, Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe.
Mariota isn’t the only weapon in the backfield for Kelly, as running back Kenjon Barner ranks among the nation’s best with 1,360 yards and 19 touchdowns so far this year. The senior injured his wrist in last week’s win but is not expected to miss any snaps. Sophomore De’Anthony Thomas isn’t going to match Barner’s 20-25 carries a game but is the team’s top breakaway threat on offense.
Stopping Oregon is no easy task. The Ducks have scored at least 30 points in 23 consecutive games and rank first nationally with an average of 54.8 points per contest so far this season. The Cardinal has to find a way to slow down Barner on early downs, while limiting Mariota’s big plays through the air. Not only is stopping Oregon difficult, but Stanford has to find a way to keep up with the Ducks’ quick pace.
Stanford’s rush defense ranks as the best in college football, allowing just 58.6 points per game. The Cardinal also lead the way in sacks per game, averaging 4.2 each week. Linebackers Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas are two of the best in the nation and have to be active around the line of scrimmage in order for Stanford to slow down Oregon’s rushing attack. If the Ducks struggle to get their running game on track, there should be plays to be made in the passing game, especially since the Cardinal ranks 99th nationally against the pass. Although Stanford’s physical approach works well against most of the teams on its schedule, the speed of Oregon will be very difficult to match up against.
When the Stanford Cardinal have the ball:
Replacing Andrew Luck has been no easy task for coach David Shaw. The Cardinal turned to Josh Nunes for the first nine games, and he threw for 1,643 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, Nunes was benched in the win over Colorado, and Shaw elevated Kevin Hogan to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. The freshman responded well in his first start, throwing for 254 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 49 yards on the ground against Oregon State. Hogan’s emergence should give Stanford more balance on offense over the final few games.
The biggest problem for the Cardinal offense is a lack of playmakers at receiver. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are two steady options but there’s not much at receiver to help Hogan. Drew Terrell, Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Ty Montgomery are the team’s top three options and this trio needs to step up this week, especially with a banged up Oregon secondary.
When Stanford has the ball, expect to see a lot of Stepfan Taylor. The senior ranks 22nd nationally with 106.1 yards per game and has to have a big game for the Cardinal to have any shot at a victory. The offensive line isn’t as good as last season’s group, but this unit is physical and can clear plenty of lanes for Taylor and Hogan.
The matchup in the trenches favors Stanford, especially considering the injuries to Oregon’s front seven. The Ducks allowed 236 rushing yards to California last week but expect a couple of contributors to return. Linemen Dion Jordan, Isaac Remington, Ricky Heimuli and Taylor Hart are all nursing injuries but all could play on Saturday. If the Ducks are shorthanded, stopping the run will be a real challenge against Stanford’s physical offense.
Even though the Ducks have some injuries on defense, it’s going to be a tall task for Stanford to win in Eugene. The Cardinal has to control the tempo and keep Oregon’s on the sidelines. If Taylor and Hogan are able to chew up the clock, expect this game to be decided late in the fourth quarter. However, Stanford manages to keep it close for a half, but the Ducks make the right adjustments at halftime and pull away in the final two quarters.
Prediction: Oregon 45, Stanford 27
by Steven Lassan
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