Two ranked teams. Two star players. The game between No. 7 Stanford and No. 20 on Saturday has plenty of hype.
And deservedly so.
The implications of the big game at Autzen Stadium could stretch beyond this weekend. I may play a part in the Pac-12 North, the league championship and — just maybe — the college football playoffs.
Oregon is undefeated but hasn’t been challenged all that much with nonconference wins over Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State.
Quarterback Justin Herbert has fared well against those opponents, throwing for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s also spread the ball around, finding seven different receivers for TDs.
“It starts with Justin,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “It starts with him, a big, strong arm athletic quarterback. I don’t know how many drops he’s had over the course of the year, but he’s thrown the ball extremely well. He’s thrown a lot of touchdowns and there could have been a lot more. This guy is putting the ball on target.”
Stanford is also undefeated, but with a resume that includes a 17-3 victory over USC two weeks ago.
Running back Bryce Love is expected to return on Saturday after sitting out last week against UC Davis to heal some minor ailments. Love has been held to 165 yards rushing in two games this season but he has yet to break a long TD run against stacked boxes from opposing defenses.
“We expect it. Bryce Love is one of the best football players, regardless of position, in America. He has to be the focal point,” Shaw said. “That’s been our challenge to say when people are trying to stop us with the run, we have to take advantage of it.”
The Ducks are aware of the challenges in Stanford’s offense, which also features JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who has five TD receptions for the Cardinal through three games. That’s good for tied for third in the nation.
“They’ve got great skill. If you try to bottle up the run game solely, you’re going to have some issues outside,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said.
HISTORY: Stanford has won the last two meetings, including last year’s 49-7 victory in Palo Alto. Love, who was a Heisman finalist, ran for a pair of touchdowns within the first five minutes of the last meeting and finished with 147 yards. But Oregon was missing Herbert, who had a broken collarbone.
STELLAR D: The Cardinal entered the season with questions about their defense. The unit has answered those so far this season, leading the nation by allowing only 7.7 points per game. Stanford allowed a TD in the first quarter of the opener against San Diego State, then didn’t allow another until the final play of the third game against UC Davis.
DUCKS D, TOO: Oregon’s rush defense is ranked ninth among FBS-level teams — and tops the Pac-12 — allowing just 77.0 yards per game. The Ducks are allowing opponents an average of just 1.98 yards per carry, fifth in the nation.
SPECIAL MATCHUP: One of the key matchups could come in special teams where Stanford punter Jake Bailey will try to keep the ball away from Oregon’s dangerous returner Ugo Amadi. Amadi is averaging 25.3 yards on his four returns so far this season. Bailey has a 39.1 yard net average for punts and is skilled at directional punting.
“It’s a battle within a battle,” Shaw said. “Jake for a couple of years has been one of the best punters in America. That’s a big challenge this week.”
IMPLICATIONS? The Pac-12 North is crowded right now with three ranked teams. Joining Stanford and Oregon is No. 10 Washington. The Huskies at 2-1 with a season-opening loss at Auburn. Looking ahead, Oregon has Washington at Autzen on Oct. 13, while the Huskies host the Cardinal on Nov. 3.
SHUTTING OUT NOISE: The game is getting plenty of attention as one of the premier matchups on Saturday. There are just two games that feature ranked opponents on both sides.
So yeah, avoiding the hype is not so easy, Cristobal said.
“Of course, it’s something you think about, and you know is real. It’s why you come to Oregon, to have an opportunity like this,” the coach said. “We told the players yesterday, ‘Look, we created this opportunity for ourselves by playing good football.'”
Source: The Associated Press