Ducks plot how to stop Stanford's Luck, match up with Cardinal power
EUGENE - An hour before Oregon faced Washington on Saturday night, Dubs, Washington's live mascot, stood on the Husky Stadium track looking out at the field as players from both teams warmed up.
With soft fur and a warm tongue to go along with sharp, impossibly white teeth, the Alaskan Malamute looked both cuddly enough to snuggle next to a toddler and ferocious enough to rip out a man's throat.
At halftime, with Washington trailing just 17-10, Dubs was shown over the video scoreboard, smiling and wagging his tail.
By the end of the game, Dubs was nowhere to be seen.
Against Washington, Oregon did everything it has become known for over the last few years: Win.
With their best defensive effort of the season, a solid offensive performance and an explosive third quarter, the Ducks defeated Washington 34-17.
Almost as soon as the game was over, Dubs and Washington were in Oregon's rearview mirror. The Ducks' attention turned to the Stanford Cardinal and the biggest Pac-12 game of the season at 5 p.m. Saturday.
'We'll enjoy this for about three or four minutes and then we'll wake up in the middle of the night and start thinking about Stanford,' defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
While Washington was a formidable opponent, the Cardinal will present the Ducks with their biggest challenge since the opener against LSU.
Stanford (9-0, 7-0 in the Pac-12) will come into the game with a national title shot quite possible. Oregon (8-1, 6-0) still has an outside chance at the title game. With the conference restructuring and a Pac-12 championship game at the end of the season, the game at Stanford ill put the winner in the driver's seat for at least a Rose Bowl berth.
Story lines abound for the game. Stanford is riding a 17-game winning streak, the longest in college football. The last team to hand the Cardinal a loss was Oregon in 2010. Stanford is the only conference team to defeat Oregon since Chip Kelly took over the program in 2009.
'The only game we've lost in conference play in the last three years is at Stanford,' Kelly said. 'Unfortunately the same kid is playing quarterback, so we've got to go back and play him again.'
That kid is Heisman Trophy front-runner Andrew Luck, who has completed 194 of 272 passes for 2,424 yards, 26 touchdowns and five interceptions this season.
'Maybe the best quarterback in the world,' Aliotti said, of Luck, then adjusted his statement. 'Maybe one of the best quarterbacks to play college football in a long time.'
Oregon's defense against Washington was stellar. The Ducks allowed the Huskies just 278 yards of offense, intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble.
The Cardinal offense will be far more potent than Washington's, though.
Adding to Luck's deadly air attack, the Cardinal have a power run game led by Stepfan Taylor that has averaged 247.7 yards per game this season.
'They're a downhill, power running team, which opens up the play action,' Aliotti said. 'We'll have our hands full.'
The Ducks have been increasing their turnover numbers in the last few games, which is good for them, because stopping the Cardinal offense will become much easier for the Ducks if Stanford does not have the ball in its hands.
Getting turnovers "is really important,' said Ducks cornerback Terrence Mitchell, who had a strip against Washington. 'If we can keep them from scoring and get more turnovers, that's only going to make us better. Just in the past couple of games, we're starting to force more turnovers, so as we continue to do that, it's going to be easy to us.'
The Cardinal defense is as good as its offense. This season, it has allowed opponents just 342 yards and 16.6 points per game.
Oregon's offense - by its own standards - was pedestrian against Washington, gaining 381 yards.
But running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas are starting to find their rhythm after each missing games due to injury.
'As the game progressed, I got stronger,' said James, who rushed for 156 yards and a TD at Washington. 'I'm just fine. I did some great things tonight. I'm really happy with the outcome of the game.'
Against Washington, the Oregon offense was rather vanilla, with no trick plays. Running backs De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner did not even touch the ball in the first half. With Oregon known for its innovative offense, one wonders whether the coaches were saving something for Stanford.
The Cardinal defense is as power-oriented as its offense. In the battle between Oregon's offensive speed and Stanford's defensive power, Darron Thomas said the Ducks will be just fine.
'We can match up well with those guys,' Thomas said.
Oregon lost its season opener to No. 1 LSU. Stanford's hardest game this season came against USC, which the Cardinal defeated 56-48 in triple overtime.
'LSU out of the gate, I don't want to say it was the toughest schedule, but it was a tough little schedule,' Mitchell said. 'And with that we are ready. I'm not saying they (Stanford) haven't played anybody or anything, but ...'
Perhaps the biggest factor in Saturday's game is that it will be played on Stanford's turf, where the Ducks lost in their last visit.
'We've got to go down there,' Aliotti said. 'I wish we were playing at Autzen. But we're not.'
Kelly said he does not think that winning in Seattle gives the Ducks a big advantage when they travel to Stanford.
'Going on the road is never easy,' Kelly said. 'But in any situation, we use it as a learning experience, and hopefully we can build from it.'
Kelly said the Ducks like playing in tough games with their season hanging in the balance. With the table set for an epic clash, Stanford will give Oregon everything the Ducks' coach says they want.
'They want to play in these situations, but we'll see' Kelly said. 'Next week is going to be a big test again. If they want (tough situations), they're going to get them.'