The Stanford Cardinal are looking to repeat history this week. Four years ago (to the day on Thursday), the Cardinal upended the Oregon Ducks in Palo Alto in the last game that the Ducks’ have lost on the road. Last year, Stanford repeated the upset effort in Eugene and handed Marcus Mariota his only loss as a starter in a physyical overtime win. With the Pac 12 North and a possible BCS National Championship berth on the line this Thursday, can Stanford do it again?
If they do, they will need to execute a very Stanford-like gameplan by limiting offensive possessions for Oregon and grinding down the clock with the running game. Last season, they did just that to perfection, running the ball 46 times for 200 yards, led by Stepfan Taylor and his 161 yards on 33 carries. They weren’t dominating runs, just solid gains all night long that wore down the Oregon front that eventually opened up the play-action pass later in the game and kept the Stanford offense on the field while keeping Mariota and the Ducks’ offense getting cold on the sideline.
That means that Stanford must commit to feeding Tyler Gaffney throughout the game. The Cardinal offense has looked out of sorts when they’ve gotten away from the power running game and tried to have Kevin Hogan throw the football out of the shotgun. Since that formula failed them in their upset loss to the Utah Utes, Stanford has gone back to what works and fed Gaffney early and often to grind out wins. Against the UCLA Bruins, Gaffney led the way with 36 carries for 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns in an effort he described as a “cloud of blood and dust.” The next week, he did it again against the Oregon State Beavers, carrying the ball 22 times for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
On Thursday, that will have to be the type of effort that Stanford gets out of Gaffney. The Cardinal can’t afford to get into a track meet type of game with the Ducks. Oregon has too many athletes and too many playmakers for Hogan to keep up in the passing game. This team can’t try to match tempo, they must change the tempo by taking the air out of the ball with their rushing attack.
David Shaw appears to have rediscovered the “Stanford formula” of grinding out wins in the last two weeks and he’ll need to run that formula to perfection once again to get past Oregon on The Farm this week.