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ByronMarshall-DuckThe big day has arrived and all the talking will fade away once Oregon and Stanford take to the field. Oregon’s path to the National Championship is simple — win their last 5 games and play either Alabama or Florida State for the BCS National Championship. For Stanford, if they win their last 5 games and either Florida State or Alabama loses a game, many BCS analysts believe they have a great chance of jumping over an undefeated Ohio State who, while undefeated, has played a very weak schedule. So yes, there is a lot riding on this game for both teams.

Oregon likes to play fast and wide open while Stanford likes to pound the ball and control the clock. At the extremes Oregon could win this by 28 or more if they get a fast start and grab a 14 point lead early on. At the other extreme Stanford could, maybe, win by 14.

Oregon can come from behind. Stanford is not geared to do that. If Stanford gets behind by 14 they are in big trouble. If they get down by 17+ it is all but over.

Here is how I figure the possibilities.

25% chance Oregon wins big (28+ points).

50% Oregon wins wins a tough game that is close but never closer than 10 points in the 4th quarter.

20% that it goes to the wire or overtime.

5% Stanford wins by 10 or more.

What each team wants to do and how the other team will need to counter

Stanford

On offense they are going to want to control the line of scrimmage up front. Here is how to tell if they are succeeding. If there is no hole for their running back to go through, yet he is still gaining 3-4 yards, that is a major success. If that is the case they will then be able to control the clock and also fake the run and step back and throw to their receivers. Oregon will counter this strategy by trusting their two future NFL cornerbacks to cover the wide receivers one-on-one. This will allow them to leave a safety deep who can roam the field where needed while using the other 8 players to aggressively attack the running game and keep the Stanford QB, who is a good runner, from scrambling on passing plays. If this counter works and Oregon can routinely hold Stanford to 0-3 yards on running plats it will be up to the Stanford QB to beat Oregon with the pass. He will have to play better than he has all season for this to happen. More likely though, he will turn the ball over at least once.

Oregon

I reviewed last years game again and I believe that Stanford has figured out how to stop Oregon’s running game in part because they have a veteran group of players up front who are skilled, and smart enough, to execute a strategy that other teams can’t. They will let their linebackers — the 2-3 guys who play behind the front four lineman play 6-7 yards behind the line of scrimmage – generally these players are 4-5 yards back. They they will then quickly read the Oregon blocks and fly with abandon to the areas the Ducks are trying to open for the runner. Being further back also gives them a better angle when Oregon runs wide. It worked amazingly well last year — The Ducks had 13 designed runs outside of the tackles for a total 24 yards — and Chip Kelly acted stubbornly by continuing to try and force the issue rather than move to other options. Mark Helfrich won’t make that mistake. So what are those other options? Two options I hope to see are for Oregon to fake the run and slip their tight end off his block and throw to him. Besides gaining first downs it will force the Linebackers to hesitate before charging forward which will then allow Oregon to have some success running.

My biggest hope though is for an Oregon formation that they did not have in their playbook the last time they played Stanford but that they have had great success with since. Oregon normally has one player back with the QB. If he is to the QB’s right then normally the running play will go to the left side of the line and vice versa. This is like a double option in that the QB can hand off the ball or keep it himself. Oregon has developed a formation that now gives them a triple option. They will move to have two players back with the QB. Now they can run either right or left and if the QB keeps the ball he also has the option to pitch or pass the ball to the third player. This again can cause the defense to hesitate before they attack the play. The name of the game for Oregon is to force the Stanford defense to be less aggressive or make them pay with big plays if they continue.  To have a chance Stanford will need to pressure Mariota and get several sacks.

At the end of the day it comes down to this.

1) Oregon doesn’t have to win the line of scrimmage, but they do need to hold their own — both on offense and defense. If they do this they should eventually wear Stanford down and pull away in the second half.

2) Stanford will want to rush 4 defenders when Oregon drops back to pass so the other 7 players can try to stop the defenders. Oregon’s goal will be to give their quarterback protection against this 4 man rush. If Stanford can consistently pressure the quarterback with a four man rush they will be very pleased. Mariota needs to be quicker to tuck the ball and run or throw the ball away when no receivers are open compared to last year.

3) Oregon will get some opportunities for really big plays. They need to simply execute by making a good pass and catching the ball when it gets there. The wide receives will need to block well like they have most of the year. Last year they had their worst blocking game. Downfield blocking is the difference between a 10 yard gain and a TD.

4) Stanford’s quarterback will have to have his best game of the year for them to have a realistic chance.

Bonus Info —

1) Last year Stanford’s tight end had 11 catches including the key touchdown late in the game. This year his replacements have less than 11 catches — for the whole year.

2) I suspect that Oregon will run or throw to the sideline on occasion. Even if success is minimal this will force the Stanford players to sprint from sideline to sideline. This will wear them down and set up some big plays late in the game.

3) Watch the battle between Stanford’s #93 and the Oregon blockers. Oregon needs to keep him from getting to the QB. No small feat but one I think they are up for.

My Prediction

An Oregon win.  There are so many scenarios for this game.  If I had to predict I would say it is close at the half with Oregon getting an admantage in the 3rd quarter and pulling away in the 4th quarter.  Oregon 35 Stanford 10 and the talk will finally be about just how good the Oregon defense is.