Why Oregon Will Beat Stanford
By John Baker
While most of the country was agog at the Florida State-Miami matchup last week, the West Coast was saving its passion for this Thursday night. Oregon travels to Stanford for the biggest game out West this year — and the contest that is starting to turn into a heated and exciting little rivalry.
A year ago, Stanford escaped with a win that left Oregon on the outside looking in at the national championship game. The ill-fated foot of kicker Alejandro Maldonado not only cost the Ducks a win in regulation, but couldn’t bring them a tie in overtime. Hey, it happens.
As the Ducks and Cardinal get set to tee it up, the conditions are eerily similar to a year ago. Stanford has one loss to a team it should never have lost to (last year Washington, this year Utah). The Ducks have run the table, putting up huge numbers on the scoreboard and the stat sheet.
The results will be different this year and it will swing on the play of the two guys who were central to last year’s battle: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Stanford signal-caller Mark Hogan.
Hogan outplayed Mariota a year ago, never mind the statistical outcome.
Hogan repeatedly killed the Ducks defense with huge third-down conversions and timely runs. And when he wasn’t making killer plays, the Stanford running game was gashing Oregon for key big runs and chain-moving first downs.
Those are two factors that will change Thursday night.
Hogan’s play this year has been spectacular at times, but steady would be the best way to describe it. He’s looked rattled when pressure has gotten around him and has not made nearly as many plays as a year ago.
His counterpart, Mariota, has taken his game up a notch since last year’s defeat and has thrust himself into the Heisman race. This isn’t about completion percentages or touchdown passes, this is about who has elevated his game in this, the second season as a starter. Clearly, that’s Mariota. He’s so in command of the Oregon offense that in the midst of the chaos around him, he’s as calm and cool as the Hawaiian mountains he climbed as a boy.
A year ago, Hogan was the clear winner in the quarterback battle. This Thursday, Mariota will reclaim the crown, and as he goes, so go the Ducks.
Secondly, Stanford’s running game, which punished the Ducks a year ago, may feel a little punishment dealt back. Oregon’s last game was a big win over a physical UCLA team. The Bruins worked hard to run the ball between the tackles against Oregon and found that the Ducks defensive line can slap back when pushed. Oregon’s run defense has always been a bend-but-don’t break sort of group, capable of giving up big rushing games to quality offensive lines and backs, but also capable of rising up when needed.
A year ago, Stanford’s offense line imposed its will on the Ducks defense and that made things easier for Hogan in play-action. This year, the Ducks need only point toward the UCLA game as an example of not being afraid to go facemask-to-facemask up front.
Look for Oregon to win most of the battles up front against the Stanford offensive line and to make things much hotter for young Mr. Hogan this year. Additionally, they’ll do a much better job containing Stanford’s quarterback than they did a year ago.
Stanford’s offense has sputtered the last three games compared to earlier in the season, putting up 21 points in the loss to Utah, then 24 and 20 in close wins over UCLA and Oregon State. Oregon’s offense can put that up in less than five minutes. And don’t be fooled by talk of Stanford’s defense being able to run and hit. The Bruins run and hit with the best of them in the nation and Oregon hung a big number on them.
No, last year’s loss was an aberration, one of those games you can point to make a point, but not something that is anything close to a pattern. Oregon is better than Stanford at every skill position, faster than Stanford as a whole and certainly looking for payback for last year’s loss. Stanford may keep it close for a while, but if Hogan struggles or the Cardinal turn it over, Oregon could turn one of the nation’s most anticipated games into a track meet by the second half.
Look for De’Anthony Thomas, Bralon Addison, Byron Marshall, Keenan Lowe and the Ducks stable of other playmakers to be too much for the Cardinal in this one. Mariota will lead the way and when the rest of the Ducks follow, the ball gets into the end zone a lot.
Sorry Stanford, you had your moment in the sun a year ago. Oregon will regain its rightful spot atop the Pac-12 with a fairly good beating Thursday.
Oregon 42, Stanford 24