EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Stanford’s physical, old-school offense is something Oregon’s defense isn’t used to seeing. The Ducks are well aware of the trouble that can cause.
Last year, Oregon was ranked No. 1 and was within grasp of a national championship bid when the then-No. 14 Cardinal staged a 17-14 overtime victory over the Ducks. Stepfan Taylor ran for 161 yards on 33 carries and redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan threw for 211 yards and a touchdown while running for another score in the win.
Stanford is known for a more traditional offense while Oregon, of course, has perfected the uptempo spread-option that has become all the rage in college football. As a result, the Ducks’ D is much more accustomed to facing teams that look a lot like, well, Oregon.
“They are unique in this conference. I don’t know about across the country how many teams are like them in terms of what they do,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said about Stanford. “There’s a little bit of everything when you’re getting ready for them.”
Oregon (8-0, 5-0) is ranked No. 2 this season and again vying for a shot at the championship heading into Thursday night’s game against No. 6 Stanford (7-1, 5-1) in Palo Alto.
Because Stanford figured out a way to stymie Oregon’s prolific offense last season, the outcome of the game for the Ducks may very well depend on the defense.
Oregon is ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense, allowing opponents an average of 16.9 points a game. The Ducks are ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in total defense, allowing offenses just over 359 yards a game.
“So far I think we’re averaging 16 points a game or something like that, I’d say that’s pretty good. Any time in today’s game you can hold a team — in my opinion — under 24 points, particularly with our offense, you have a chance to win those games,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
The Ducks, who were off this past weekend, are coming off a strong defensive effort in a 42-14 victory over UCLA on Oct. 26. With the score knotted at 14 at the half, Oregon’s D shutout the Bruins the rest of the way.
Oregon held UCLA’s Brett Hundley to just 64 yards passing and a touchdown, intercepted him twice and sacked him three times. The Bruins had 283 total offensive yards, with only 94 in the second half.
Safety Avery Patterson said the defense has become accustomed to seeing a point in every game where they know they’ve done the job.
“You definitely sense a breaking point,” he said. “When we’re up by almost three touchdowns and we stop them that fourth time to try to go ahead, I feel that’s the breaking point for an offense.”
So it follows that Stanford coach David Shaw said part of Oregon’s strength is how the defense has adjusted to the hyperdrive offense that former coach Chip Kelly installed.
“They talk about the offense and the points. But they can’t do what they do if the defense doesn’t play the way the defense plays,” Shaw said. “The defense is phenomenal on third down. They’re awesome in the red zone. They get turnovers. They get sacks. They limit rushing yards. They get the ball back to their offense repeatedly.”
The Cardinal scored at least 31 points in their first five games, but have averaged only 21.7 points in their last three — starting with a 27-21 upset loss at Utah. For total offense, Stanford ranks 11th in the Pac-12 with 389.6 yards per game.
The Cardinal, who also had last weekend off, are coming off a 20-12 victory at Oregon State. The Beavers’ defense was able to hold Stanford to 276 total offensive yards and Hogan completed just 8 of 18 passes for 88 yards.
Apart from all the stats that seem to point in Oregon’s favor, the Ducks also have that intangible revenge factor on their side.
Stanford’s victory last season ended Oregon’s run of three straight conference titles. In the first 10 games before that contest, the Ducks looked unstoppable, averaging 54.8 points per game and never scoring fewer than 42 points.