Oh boy, does Oregon ever have some revenge to be exacting in Saturday's 4 p.m. road game at Stanford.
The Ducks and Cardinal have waged intense battles for the past decade-plus, some helping decide championships in the Pac-12. But recently, Stanford has pounded the Ducks to the tune of 52-27 in 2016 and 49-7 in 2017, and then last season dealt Oregon perhaps its most disappointing loss in recent memory (yes, even more disappointing than Auburn three weeks ago).
The Ducks almost led 31-7 a year ago, but Jaylon Redd's end-around run to paydirt was ruled out of bounds at the pylon. Then a bad Jake Hanson snap went by QB Justin Herbert, Stanford recovered and went the other way for a touchdown. And things got worse, as the Ducks could have sealed the win by taking a knee and draining the clock down to almost nothing, but CJ Verdell instead tried to carry the ball and fumbled it away with less than a minute left. Stanford forced overtime and won 38-31.
None of the aforementioned Duck woes register as news flashes, but something with Stanford does: The Cardinal have not been very good in 2019, and this might end up being the worst team in David Shaw's nine-year tenure as coach. The Cardinal went 8-5 in 2014 — the year Oregon and Marcus Mariota thumped them at Autzen Stadium — but they are now in danger of being a .500 team or worse.
Granted, the Cardinal (1-2) have played three good teams, beating Northwestern and losing to USC and Central Florida. Oregon also could be called a good team, and I think it'll be a 1-3 Stanford team after Saturday, unless we see something surprising out of the Cardinal.
Oregon plays good defense, as exhibited by its giving up nine points — three field goals — against outmatched Nevada and Montana and stifling Auburn at times. New coordinator Andy Avalos has made a difference, and the Ducks have been building some depth.
"We love the way they are playing," coach Mario Cristobal said. "And, the best is yet to come."
Herbert has played well, at least ballooning stats against lesser competition after the Auburn loss. He's completing 73.3% of his passes for 289.3 yards per game and thrown 11 TDs passes to no interceptions. Skill players have proven to be functional, and some others might be returning from injuries (Juwan Johnson?).
"We're evolving as an offense, and (Herbert has) taken complete ownership of it and been extremely accurate," Cristobal said.
What does the Cardinal do well? Quarterback K.J. Costello had his bell rung against Northwestern, but returned against Central Florida and helped Stanford improve in the second half after trailing 38-7. But there's not much to fear in the skill players, and top offensive lineman Walker Little has been lost for the year. The Cardinal have scored 64 points in three games (20 points in the second half at UCF, losing 45-27).
The Cardinal do have a decent tight end in Colby Parkinson and some promising young skill players, including running back Austin Jones. They also have former Central Catholic star Cameron Scarlett. Costello has to play well.
The defense, always a Shaw strength, has given up 415.7 yards (280.3 passing) and 32.3 points per game; the pass defense has struggled, even with one of the league's best defensive backs, Paulson Adebo. The Cardinal are giving up 48.5% third-down conversions. But the Cardinal gave up only 132 yards and seven points in the second half against UCF.
Stanford has to continue to tighten up against the Ducks, who have spread the ball around well.
The Ducks have the offensive and defensive lines to handle Stanford. And, if the Cardinal had a home-field advantage, I'd give them a chance to catch a spark and beat the Ducks. It's a pretty sleepy environment down there, although the Cardinal should be pretty desperate to win.
I wouldn't put it past Shaw to dial up a game plan to best Cristobal & Co., and the Ducks do have some injuries. But, barring struggles by Herbert or offensive issues, it's hard to see the Ducks losing this game. The Ducks play enough solid defense to give the offense margin for error — for years, remember, it was the other way around.
The pick: Oregon 34, Stanford 24
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