Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal are going to do their thing on offense in Palo Alto. But this game should ultimately come down to how Darron Thomas and the Oregon Ducks can respond on the other side with their own pass attack.
The Stanford defensive front is going to go straight at Oregon's running attack and do their best to hold down LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas. Stanford has proven they can be run upon by the better offenses in the conference though; both USC and Washington have seen Curtis McNeal and Chris Polk break out for pretty impressive performances. The Cardinal will be dedicating their front seven heavily to the run, perhaps bring in an extra safety to plug in outside and inside gaps to help shadow the quarterback.
Thus there should be opportunities for Thomas to exploit in the passing game. The problem is that the Oregon QB has yet to put up a marquee performance this season. Matt Daddy of Addicted to Quack reports.
Oregon is a run first team, built to feature LaMichael James and its tempo. Oregon imposes their will by running first and then catching you off guard with the pass. As a matter of fact, in the last 2 seasons the only two losses Oregon has had, Oregon had 75 and 95 yards rushing respectively. For a team that averages 292 yards rushing over the last two seasons, to be held under 100 total as a team, I think it's pretty clear what the cause of those losses was.
The same will hold true this Saturday against Stanford. If the Tree hope to win they are going to have to shut down Oregon's rushing game. They are going to have to stack the box, take away LaMichael's speed and advantage and force Oregon to beat them with the pass. Thomas' role once again is going to be to keep them honest. If he can convert some 3rd and longs, hit Paulson across the middle and force the linebackers to play a little deeper, get the ball out quickly to De'Anthony and force the corners and safeties to pay attention to someone other than LaMichael James, Oregon will be able to do what they do best.
Thomas had good third quarters against Cal and Washington, but struggled with accuracy throughout the game (52% completion rate). Thomas did look pretty strong against Arizona State as ASU committed to holding down the run, but got injured doing so. Thomas didn't look good at all in his first game back from injury against Washington State other than a nice deep rollout late in the first half. He was put in a no-win situation against LSU with his two top running backs banged up in the first game of the year. Oregon simply needs more from Thomas to break through.
The Oregon offensive machine isn't quite as potent as before, but they'll need a breakthrough this weekend from their signal-caller if they expect to roar into action. Stanford won't let Oregon run all over them like they did in Autzen a year ago--this team is more seasoned and ready to handle the Ducks press. It'll be up to Darron to execute and keep the Ducks on the field, just like he did a season ago, or otherwise they could be staring at their first conference defeat in two years.