Stanford appears to have found the formula for success, holding Oregon to two of its three lowest-scoring outputs since the start of the 2012 season.
Three keys for Stanford in the past two seasons have been limiting Oregon’s designed running game, pressuring quarterback Marcus Mariota, and forcing the Ducks into third-and-long situations.
Limiting Oregon’s Run Game
Since the start of the 2012 season, Oregon ranks second in the FBS in yards per rush (5.9) and rushing touchdowns (112).
Against Stanford, however, the Ducks’ rushing attack has been stymied, totaling one touchdown in the past two meetings. The Ducks have averaged 3.5 such touchdowns per game against all other opponents during that time.
When looking at designed rushes, Oregon has gained 122 and 77 yards in its past two games against Stanford; the Ducks have had at least 150 such yards in 31 of their 32 games against all other opponents.
One key to stopping Oregon’s designed run game has been funneling the Ducks inside the tackles. Since the start of 2013, Oregon is averaging 7.4 yards per designed run outside of the tackles (fifth among Power 5 schools) and 5.3 inside the tackles (16th among Power 5 schools).
Oregon was held to a season-low six carries and 30 yards outside the tackles last year against Stanford. In every other game, the Ducks had at least 13 carries and 50 yards to the outside (averaged 18 for 145). In 2012, the Cardinal were also able to funnel Oregon inside as they held the Ducks to season lows in yards (29), first downs (2) and 10-yard rushes (zero) outside of the tackles.
Marcus Mariota has a Total QBR of 67.0 in the two matchups against Stanford, compared with an 87.8 career Total QBR.
The Cardinal have done a great job of putting Mariota under duress. He has been pressured on 29 percent of his dropbacks against Stanford, and 17 percent against all other opponents.
When under duress against Stanford, Mariota is averaging fewer than 3 yards per play and has been sacked six times.
Forcing Oregon into third-and-long
Stanford has won third downs. Oregon, which ranks at the top of the conference in third-down conversions since the start of the 2012 season (47 percent), has converted 26 percent of its third downs against the Cardinal in its past two meetings.
More than the Ducks' other opponents, Stanford has been able to force them into third-and-long situations. They have needed eight or more yards on 14 of their 27 (52 percent) third downs against Stanford. Although Oregon’s average third-down distance to go is not significantly lower against other opponents (7.1 to 6.9), it has had eight or more yards to go on a much lower percentage of third-down plays (39 percent).
Given the difficult situations and the strength of Stanford’s defense, Mariota has struggled against Stanford on third down, posting a 29.7 third-down QBR and gaining a first down on 36 percent of his plays.
Can Stanford do it again Saturday? Despite losing first-team All-Pac-12 members Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov andEd Reynolds, in addition to defensive coordinator Derek Mason to Vanderbilt, Stanford’s defense still has been one of the best in college football. The Cardinal rank second in FBS in opponent points per game (12.5), second in yards per game (250.6) and first in yards per play (3.7).
The biggest difference for Stanford, however, is on offense. In their previous meetings, the Cardinal have been able to run the ball to keep Oregon’s offense off the field. They have had the ball almost twice as long as the Ducks the past two seasons, including for 42 minutes, 34 seconds in 2013. Stanford’s run game has been able to move the chains and keep the clock ticking (274 rushing yards last season).
This year, Stanford ranks 90th in the FBS in rushing yards per game and does not have a workhorse back like Tyler Gaffney or Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal were held below 3.5 yards per rush in each of their losses this season.
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