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Five Keys To A Stanford Cardinal Upset Over Oregon Ducks

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Five Keys To A Stanford Upset

Stanford Cardinal
Cary Edmondson - US PRESSWIRE

The college football landscape is missing a lot of big games this weekend with it being FCS weekend in the SEC. That makes it easier to name the game of the week as a matchup out west on Saturday night when the No. 2 Oregon Ducks host the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium.

Many people have picked the Cardinal to end the Ducks’ run towards a perfect season and a BCS national title game appearance. History is not on their side, as Oregon has won nine of the last 10 meetings against Stanford. Last season, Stanford was 9-0 and led by their Heisman Trophy candidate Andrew Luck before running into Oregon and getting beaten up at home in a 53-30 loss.

Head coach David Shaw hasn’t let his team forget about it and routinely uses Oregon as a motivating tool in practice. Stanford hopes they can change history this time around and win the Pac 12 North with a win today and a win next week against the UCLA Bruins.

For Oregon, they have been unstoppable on offense this year with a blazing fast offense led by Kenjon Barner, Marcus Mariota and an underrated defense. They lead the nation in scoring, averaging 55 points a game, and have had the chance to empty their benches in most of their games this season, choosing not to play their starters in blowouts.

Stanford presents the most physical challenge that Oregon has faced all season, which is what gives them confidence that they can pull off the upset. In that vein, we look at the five keys for Stanford to pull off a win against the Ducks.

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5. Kevin Hogan

Kevin Hogan
Ed Szczepanski - US PRESSWIRE

Redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan has impressed the Stanford coaches all season long and gradually overtook Josh Nunes as the starter. It was made official two weeks ago after Hogan got significant playing time in the team’s win over the Colorado Buffaloes. He led Stanford to a win in his first start last week against the Oregon State Beavers using his lethal combination of athleticism and a strong arm.

Now he makes his first road start in one of the most hostile environments in the Pac 12. The Ducks have a fast defense that feeds off the noise of a raucous home crowd. The young Hogan will need to block out the noise and distractions and overcome some barriers to communication with his offense to put in another quality game. The challenge is ramping up in a hurry for Hogan, and how he responds will go a long way in determining Stanford’s fate.

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4. Win The Turnover Battle

Stanford interception
Cary Edmondson - US PRESSWIRE

The Oregon Ducks feed off momentum and quick change opportunities. They force opponents into bad down and distance situations and then capitalizing by forcing turnovers. On the other side of the ball, Mariota has been so good at protecting the football and hasn’t thrown an interception in over a month.

Stanford will need to flip that trend. Hogan can’t get fooled into bad choices by the aggressive Nick Aliotti defensive schemes. The Cardinal need to protect the football and make the Oregon defense earn every stop. On the flip side, if Oregon makes a mistake on offense, Stanford has to capitalize. Gang tackling and going for strips, catching balls in the air and not letting Oregon off the hook for any possible mistakes they make.

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3. Stepfan Taylor

Stepfan Taylor
Ed Szczepanski - US PRESSWIRE

The Stanford running game, and Stepfan Taylor in particular, are going to be key for any success that Stanford finds today. Using their size and strength to push around an Oregon defensive front that is banged up will help Stanford on both sides of the ball. On offense, they’ll be able to get into a rhythm and control the clock, opening up the Oregon defense to play-action pass over the top for a few big plays.

More importantly, the running game will be the best defense Stanford has against the high-powered Oregon offense. The best way to contain an unstoppable offense is to keep them off the field and shorten the game with the running game. The longer Mariota stands on the sideline watching Taylor eat up yards and clock, the harder it will be for Oregon to get into their fast break offense.

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2. Contain The Run

Stanford defense
Matt Cashore - US PRESSWIRE

The Oregon offense is fueled by their running game. Whether it be Barner, Mariota, De’Anthony Thomas or any other number of weapons, the read-option is the bread and butter play for Chip Kelly’s blur offense. Barner is one of the top running backs in the country gaining yards and is tied for the most rushing touchdowns on the season.

It will be up to Stanford’s defense to contain that explosive running game by setting the edge, staying disciplined in their lanes and making tackles when they have the opportunity. If the Cardinal let Oregon get to the edge, open up the cutback lanes or miss tackles, the Oregon offense will run wild all over them. The test won’t be over if they’re able to do if for one play, or one drive, or one quarter. They need to contain this running game for all four quarters to keep Oregon from gaining momentum and breaking the game open.

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1. Dictate The Line Of Scrimmage

Stanford running
Ed Szczepanski - US PRESSWIRE

On both sides of the ball, Stanford must be the team to define the line of scrimmage. On offense, they need to push the line of scrimmage up the field to get their running game on track. Pushing back the Oregon defensive line will be key in controlling the clock with their running game and keeping the Oregon offense off the field.

On defense, Stanford has to move the line of scrimmage into the backfield. Penetration is the biggest weapon against Chip Kelly’s read-option run that has been used to carve up defenses all season long. Forcing a faster decision at the mesh point and forcing the playmakers of Oregon to break tackles in the backfield while the rest of the defense rallies to the ball is the only way to bottle up the Oregon rushing attack.