Oregon at Stanford: Preview Central

Skov: Healthy vs. Oregon for first time since 2010

The moment of truth approaches. Stanford and Oregon have developed what is perhaps college football's fiercest rivalry over the past four years. Thursday's game is again absolutely critical in the national title picture. Our coverage here is stocked.



There's plenty here to prepare you for Stanford's monumental match-up with Oregon. Here's State of Stanford (dealing with Ben Gardner's injury), October defensive and offensive report cards, How to Beat Oregon, several of the possible paths tomorrow's game can take, and a look back at the Cardinal's epic win at Autzen Stadium last year. Below is a presentation of critical game factors along with loads of podcast material from the week.



Diagnosing the Oregon Defense

This is the book on Oregon's 2013 defense: The Ducks' linebackers are significantly weaker than the studly unit anchored by Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay last year, but their gargantuan defensive line and electric secondary has effectively made up for any shortcomings so far. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a first-round NFL Draft talent, will line up opposite Ty Montgomery. It's imperative that Stanford attack this talented Ducks' secondary on their own terms, and that entails a playaction passing attack that neutralizes safety help. The Cardinal can't expect it to work any other way; Oregon has proven to be too good for any approach against their back four.

Dealing with the Ducks' Length Up Front
For Stanford to attack Oregon's secondary on their own terms, they must win the battles up front and establish the run. The Ducks' linebackers may be vulnerable, but a pulling David Yankey will only be able to exploit that if the Stanford linemen neutralize Oregon's big boys up front first. Arik Armstead (6-8, 296), DeForest Buckner (6-7, 286), and Taylor Hart (6-6, 287) all take a page out of Stanford's defensive philosophy: They have long arms up front.

"This is the biggest defense we've faced in terms of length this season, even their nose tackle is 6-3," Yankey said. "They really use their technique to their advantage. They use long arms to extend off of you, and then they shed you. They're really good at getting off blocks."



Knock Them Backwards
Oregon's offense has truly struggled four times in the past four seasons, against Ohio State (2009), Auburn (2010), LSU (2011), and Stanford (2012). Those opponents all had something in common: massive, man-strong, NFL-capable defensive linemen. All four teams relocated the Ducks' line of scrimmage into the backfield.

"We need to do what we did last year and knock those guys back," defensive end Henry Anderson said. "You see a lot of teams play Oregon and just kind of catch their offensive linemen, try to play lateral with them. We're trying to knock them backwards, cut off their running lanes behind the line of scrimmage, and stop them before they get started."

Sharks Take Their Prey to Deep Water
If Stanford accomplishes that, they'll be in position to again stifle the edges with physical defensive back play and funnel all of Oregon's speed to inside linebackers Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley, both of whom are playing at an elite level right now. The Cardinal has not been shy in stating its goal of "taking Oregon to deep water." They believe that proper execution of their defensive keys (buoyed by sustained offensive drives) can again put the Ducks on the ropes in the fourth quarter. Remember, Marcus Mariota has only played one game in his career that went to absolute crunch time. Oregon lost that one, 17-14.

"Sharks take their prey to deep water," defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "That's exactly what we plan on doing."













David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.

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