Saturday, November 17, 2012
Stanford comes into the game nationally ranked #1 against the run, #1 in TFL (tackles for loss), #17 in Total Defense, and a less publicized stat #9 in Yards Per Play allowed at a stingy 4.48.
Conversely Oregon comes into the game nationally ranked #3 in Rushing Offense, Passing Efficiency, and Total Offense. Oregon also ranks #1 in Yards Per Rush Attempt at 6.07.
It's obvious to see that the first order of the matchup is a lot about strength vs strength. Oregon will try and spread Stanford out and get their players one on one in space. This has worked well for Oregon the past two years beating Stanford by a combined 44 points. Stanford will try to contain Oregon and keep them boxed inside so they can get a numbers advantage and gang tackle. This approach has worked well for Stanford most of the time the past two years. The difference in this match up the last two years has been the explosion plays for Oregon. We'll see if Stanford can stop the explosion plays and the Ducks Offense this year.
The Cardinal are very tough in the front seven and have been dominant against the run game in their eight wins this year. They held USC which averages 462.9 yards per game to just 280 total yards and only 26 yards rushing. They held Notre Dame 50 yards below their rushing average and Arizona 90 yards below their rushing average.
As good as the Cardinal have been against the run they have really struggled against the pass this year. At first glance they appear much better against the pass than they are, ranked #25 in PED (Pass Efficiency Defense). However if you look closer they are allowing opponents to complete 61.5% of the passes thrown against them which would rank them #80 out of 120. Also Stanford has a relatively low interception percentage and allows 6.15 yards per pass attempt. Further proof of their struggles against the pass are the game against WSU where they gave up 401 yards passing and barely beat the struggling Cougs by 7.
If there is one thing Stanford must do to beat Oregon is stop the run. If Oregon runs the ball effectively it could be huge trouble for the Cardinal. Stanford is 1-2 when allowing over 100 yards rushing, Arizona (126 yards in OT Win), Washington (136 in Loss), and Notre Dame (150 in OT Loss).
The most similar team to Oregon offensively that Stanford has faced is Arizona which the Cardinal beat in Overtime 54-48. The Wildcats gained 617 yards in that game passing for 491 of those.
It's no secret that Oregon has one of the best rushing attacks in college football. It's similar statistically (rushing) to the dominant Nebraska teams of the mid 90's that would just wear its opponents down as the game went on and in the second half would eventually pull away no matter who it was. What makes this team more dangerous is the emergence of their passing game with Marcus Mariota. Mariota leads the nation in Passing Efficiency and has thrown 28 TD's and 5 Int's. All five interceptions came early in the season as he has not thrown a pick in the last 4 games. Mariota's threat in the passing game gives Oregon the most balanced attack in all of college football. He also runs a 4.4 40 yard dash and has shown he can take it the distance and run away from defenders in the secondary.
With all there is to be impressed with Mariota the thing that sticks out the most to me is his situational statistics and where he excels. He is best in the 1st and 4th quarters, 3rd down and 1-3 yards to go, and of course when the game is within 7 points either way. With as good as he is in those situations he is at his best when in the Red Zone with an unreal QB Rating of 249.02 with 18 TD's and 0 INT's.
Stanford's runs a pro style offense and likes to pound the ball with Stephen Taylor and then when you load the box to stop the run they get you off balance with the play action pass. The Cardinal offense ranks #84 in total offense, #57 in rushing offense, and #71 in passing efficiency. Stanford features one of the best running backs in the country in Stephen Taylor and two huge playmaking tight ends in Ertz and Toilolo. Stanford has had some trouble at QB since losing Andrew Luck last year and it has shown in the overall production of the offense this year. They have had some costly turnovers and at times have struggled to move the ball against over matched opponents. RS Freshman Kevin Hogan who is replacing Josh Nunes will make his first road start at Autzen this weekend and we will learn a lot about him this evening. He appears to have all the physical tools to be an excellent QB in the Pac 12 so it will be interesting to see how he performs.
Oregon has taken some major set backs on defense recently with injuries. They have lost many key players and last week at one point played an all freshman defensive line against Cal. After some initial set backs the youthful line held up just fine in the second half. The defense currently ranks #28 in Yards Per Play Allowed, #18 in Pass Efficiency Defense, and #47 against the run however they give up 4.06 Yards Per Rushing Attempt which is #50.
It's hard to measure the Ducks defense as they've played approximately 67% of the season as a starting unit. One thing is for certain, that Oregon struggles when they don't get pressure on the QB. The best example of this is the USC game where the Trojans torched the Oregon secondary. There were some questionable calls in the secondary however, there's no excuse good enough to explain giving up 484 yards passing to anyone.
Oregon will need to stop the Stanford rushing attack between the tackles and force them to try and outrace Oregon to the edges which would be in high favor of the Ducks speedy linebackers. Stanford lacks elite speed at wide receiver but makes up for it with solid route runners and two huge tight ends. Zach Ertz is a good router runner for his size and will be Hogan's primary target. Ertz is particularly dangerous in the middle of the field because of his size. It will be important for the defensive line to get their hands up disrupting the passing lanes when they can't get to Hogan. Hogan has above average speed and is not scared to run the ball if everyone is covered. Last week against Oregon State he showed patience and his ability to check down from his primary receiver. He extended a few key plays with his feet including a touchdown pass to Stephen Taylor who appeared to be his 3rd receiving option. Being Hogan's first road start, it will interesting to see how he deals with the noise in the "House of Loud".
Oregon's defensive line is ailing from injury's and I think Shaw will try to pound the ball early in the game with some Jumbo Sets mainly at the right side of Oregon's defensive line. If the Cardinal can establish the run early they will then run play action which could give Oregon some trouble. Stanford also has the physical ability to disrupt the Oregon run game. The problem they have is limiting the big plays. The last two years they have had success on most plays but then allow an explosion play. If Stanford can eliminate the explosion plays it increases their odds of upsetting Oregon greatly.
As good as Stanford is on defense, I don't think they have enough depth and speed in the secondary to stop Oregon's explosion plays all game long. The fact that they struggle against the pass is enough evidence for me to think Mariota will have another huge day. Oregon will find a way to exploit the mismatches and get their playmakers in one on one situations. Mariota's running ability will play a key in the run game as he is by far the best dual threat QB that Stanford will have faced this season. Last year Stanford keyed in on the running backs in the read option and several times Darren Thomas had running lanes but did not execute for whatever reason. Expect that to change this year. The screen pass was also highly effective against the Cardinal last year and expect to see more of the same today.
The Cardinal have only played one true spread option no huddle attack and that was Arizona. Stanford really struggled to stop Arizona and Matt Scott so I see no reasonable evidence that they will be able to stop Oregon. Oregon has been solid defensively this season however they have struggled more against the pro style offenses than spread attacks. I do expect Stanford to move the ball and score some points but its hard to see them scoring more than 24.
The big X Factor in this game is Oregon's D-Line and how effective they are against the Stanford run.
I expect Mariota will have another huge day with 300+ yards, look for DAT to get back on track with some big plays of his own. Also expect the Oregon defense to show up with a solid performance. I would take Oregon and the 21 points.
Ducks Big 55-21
Thanks for reading,
Sunday, November 4, 2012
The Oregon Ducks were finally tested for 4 quarters against a quality opponent on the road. The Ducks travelled to the famed Coliseum, took USC's best punch and prevailed with another victory that was 17 points until the final second of the game. The game was never really in doubt and the Ducks never trailed but USC put up a valiant fight worthy of praise. The Trojans never quit fighting but in the end they were outmatched by an opponent that is equally as athletic and superiorly coached. I would not be surprised if we see a rematch next month and I look forward to it.
USC's offense did teach us that the Ducks defense still has plenty of room for improvement. This was USC's best offensive performance in 2012 and Oregon made plenty of mistakes to help the Trojans. Oregon had 79 yards of penalties, a few questionable pass interference calls, but most disturbingly gave up almost 500 yards in the air. It wasn't just the yards, but the fact that everyone knew going in that USC was going to pass the ball. Now I'll give credit to Kiffen for creating mismatches and using Lee in a fashion he has seldom in two years.
That being said Oregon took some bad angles in the secondary, the D Line struggled not only getting penetration, but also did a really poor job of tackling overall. There were some good moments but overall USC's offensive line easily outplayed Oregon upfront. USC's receivers played well and were assisted by a few drive extending (phantom) calls but that's how it goes when you are on the road. Avery Patterson made a fundamental mistake on a deep ball to Agholor going for the pick instead of laying the receiver on his back. The mistake on that play was a TD for USC and kept the momentum going. Brian Jackson misplayed a TD by Lee but it appeared IEO failed to jam properly or there was a miscommunication in the coverage. IEO fell after initial contact with Lee but either way Jackson still had a chance to impede Lee on that play but simply let him run by and ended up getting beat badly for a TD.
On the defensive front Oregon got beat up with injury's to multiple players including Dion Jordan, and failed to force Barkley into too many bad decisions. They were able to get to him a few times and forced a INT twice but one was called pass interference. The pressure was not consistent but at the end of the day they did get the job done. This was a tough and gritty performance but Oregon will need to play better up front to compete down the stretch with Stanford and Oregon State which also have physical offensive fronts.
The biggest concern that I have is this is only the second Pro Style offense Oregon has faced and they exposed some major holes in the defense. Oregon State and Stanford both run a similar Pro Style offense and could post some major difficulties to Oregon if things don't improve. The last point of concern is Oregon has yet to play an elite run defense. Stanford ranks #1 and Oregon State #5 against the run in the FBS which Oregon will play the last two weeks of the regular season.
Here are the biggest takeaways for me from the USC Game:
1) Oregon can play at a high level offensively for 4 quarters.
2) Mariota can play on the road, question now is can he do it after a big game against a lesser opponent.
3) Defense still has room for improvement.
4) Pro Style offenses may pose a bigger challenge to Oregon than spread offenses. This may be due to Oregon's emphasis on speedy defense.
5) Defense can make key plays and deal with attrition.
6) Marquise Lee is the best college receiver since Calvin Johnson.
7) Ifo Ekpre-Olomu can match up with Marquise Lee one on one. I would say besides a few questionable pass interference calls and giving up inside leverage near in the red zone, IEO played him as good as you can.
8) USC has elite talent, just not elite coaching.
9) Barner is a legitimate threat to win the Heisman.
10) DAT is elite but maybe the 3rd best offensive player on the team.
11) Everyone is going to give Oregon its best shot, especially when the Ducks are on the road.
12) Ducks have what it takes to be a contender.
I'm not sure if the Ducks would beat Bama yet, but I'm feeling more confident about it. Bama runs a pro style offense with big running backs behind a huge offensive line. They are dominant on defense especially the front seven. Their linebackers go between 240lbs - 265lbs and can run, but LSU showed the Bama defense can be vulnerable in the latter part of the game. It would be an epic battle and I'm beginning to think Oregon could wear them down over the course of the game but it won't happen unless Oregon wins out.
Thanks for reading,