The Ducks aren’t out of the woods yet.
There’s a lot of football left to be played with zero room for error from here on out. While we may have made it past Hollywood, our Oregon Ducks football program still has to make it through a notoriously treacherous matchup down in Nor Cal with the Stanford Cardinal.
Beating Colorado was expected, just not in the fashion that our Ducks were able to muster. 42-6 is a box score we can get behind as fans of fighting for “wins” over “clicks,” and certainly can act as an ignition point for this team to take the next step as a program. Colorado still has a great program that’s been virtually resurrected by Deion Sanders and Travis Hunter, accompanied by his sons Shilo Sanders and Shedeur Sanders. Even with their new talents, though, Oregon dominated all three phases to carry as much momentum as they’ve had all season into a matchup that wasn’t necessarily marked on the calendar entering the year.
Luckily, the Ducks don’t have to worry about Stanford’s former head coach David Shaw this year, a perennial threat to great Oregon seasons in the past. With Troy Taylor at the helm, I for one feel much more confident in the Ducks being able to handle their business in the Cardinal’s house this weekend. I needn’t remind loyal Oregon fans of Tyler Gaffney and the Bryce Love eras, but the Ducks are 5-5 in the past 10 meetings with the Stanford Cardinal. Even at 1-3 on the season, Stanford’s always a tough out and should be respected as such in their house. Here are five keys to the Ducks coming out on top this weekend, and heading into the bye week with a perfect 5-0 record.
5: Grab a Two-Score Lead in the First Quarter
Taylor’s team is on a 3-game skid since their victory to open the season, and they’re eager for a win. However, Oregon is more than up to the task on offense and should be able to jump out to an early lead. The Ducks ran the ball effectively, took big shots at the endzone, and capitalized on every takeaway.
Additionally, if it weren’t for Nix’s lone interception, he practically played a perfect game. This offense is aggressive, fast, and creative, all behind ruthless trench play from the men up front. Oregon’s offensive line mauled the Buffs in pass protection from the jump over the weekend, and expect to see more of the same against Stanford. This should give Nix a prime opportunity to keep hitting some of his top targets in Troy Franklin, Tez Johnson, and Traeshon Holden, establishing chemistry that can carry into a championship run ahead.
Still, this is a road game. Sometimes even the best passing attacks take a quarter or two to get going in a hostile environment. That’s where Dan Lanning and co. can turn to a vicious rushing attack and get the Ducks humming over a rattled Stanford front.
4: Hit 150+ Yards Rushing
In the past two seasons, Oregon’s rushing attack has been as elite as it comes in college football. Bucky Irving, Noah Whittington, and Jordan James have been a complementary three-headed attack on the ground, gashing PAC-12 defenses week after week. 2023 has been more of the same, and with Nix offering his own dynamic to the rushing attack, they all provide their own skillset and versatility to the game. Irving should get the bulk of the carries early on, and if he comes out swinging the same way he did in week one, 150 yards should be a simple milestone to hit for the ultra-talented tailback.
Still, there will be games here and there like the Texas Tech meeting a few weeks ago, where the Ducks just can’t get it going between the tackles. This weekend looked more like how the Ducks played against a well-ranked UCLA squad a year ago, but Oregon could easily get stuffed early on and need some juice from the defense to start things off on the right (webbed) foot.
3: Force Stanford Out of the Run Game
If the offense sputters at all in the first half, dominant run defense has been a rising strength for the Ducks lately. Colorado managed just 40 rushing yards (a meager 1.9 yards per attempt on the season, mind you), putting Oregon’s total rushing yards allowed at 99 over the last two weeks. If the Ducks can achieve a similar outcome against a much more run-centric Cardinal team, that would bode well for the Ducks long term, and give them confidence to carry into tougher rushing attacks ahead.
Force Stanford to rely on the pass, and I can see Oregon entering the half with a 30+ point lead.
2: Keep Nix Upright
Nix has been on fire all season long. When the game has called for a make-or-break play, he’s always answered. With an 11-1 touchdown: interception ratio, he’s pacing well for legitimate Heisman candidacy. To give him the best shot at that trophy, and also finish the season with our Ducks undefeated, he needs to be on the field in every matchup. Fortunately, pass protection hasn’t been a problem since Nix arrived here in Eugene, so don’t expect anything to change against Stanford.
What’s going to be vital to his health long term is balancing out his rushing attempts and scrambles against unranked opponents. While we all love watching Nix run, availability is the best ability, and limiting risk might be a necessary point of emphasis in matchups like these.
Nix needs to be as healthy as possible for the stretch of games against ranked opponents ahead, including: Washington, Washington State, Utah, and USC. Stanford should be a run-when-absolutely-necessary scenario for Nix, with Irving and Whittington leading the team in rushing.
1: Build Road-Game Confidence
The Ducks’ last outing on the road was way closer than it should have been. We knew Texas Tech was going to be a tough out in their place, but Oregon could easily have been out of the playoff race if they were to fall to the Red Raiders. Oregon needs to prepare to get the rest of their schedule’s best, week in and week out. They’re the proverbial fox in the henhouse from here on out and have two big-time tests ahead. Beating Stanford on the road will be a great confidence boost to head up to the Huskies in a couple of weeks, and really put the season on the line.
Overall, there are times that matchups against Stanford have been trap games. This is not one of those times. Expect a similar score to what we saw against Colorado, and Oregon to convincingly roll through to their heavyweight bout with the Huskies after the bye.
Anyway, enough from me, Oregon fans. How do you think the Ducks will fair in their matchup against the Stanford Cardinal? How will the Ducks’ defensive front hold up against Stanford’s rushing attack? Who’ll be the offensive X-factor that puts this game away? Let us know in the Fishduck Forum with decorum.
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Erica Evans
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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