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Let’s be honest, the Oregon Ducks haven’t quite looked like the No. 3 ranked team in the nation in three of their four games so far this year.
The reached the mountain top in their Week 2 victory over Ohio State on the road, but in home wins over Fresno State, Stony Brook, and Arizona, the Ducks struggled at times and played down to their opponent. Through four weeks of the year, they rank 51st in total offense, and 103rd in total defense. Despite this, they are undefeated and have an inside track to the College Football Playoff.
How you ask? By making plays when it matters and finding a way to get the job done. It may not be the identity that a championship-contending team wants, but it’s good enough to get by at the moment while the stage continues to be set for late-season football.
Despite the early struggles, Oregon will face one of the biggest tests of the season this week as they travel down to California to take on the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford is 2-2 but has an impressive win over USC, and a close loss to No. 24 UCLA. The Cardinal are a big and powerful team that is absolutely worthy of giving the Ducks a test on the road.
After a handful of uninspiring wins, Oregon fans may be a bit warry of the Ducks’ ability to go on the road and stick it to the Cardinal. However, we’re here to offer you some confidence. Here are 4 reasons that we think Oregon will find success this weekend in Palo Alto:
The Big Game Narrative
There are a lot of things that we don’t really know about this Ducks’ team, but one thing that has become clear over the first four weeks of the season is that they get up for big games, and tend to play it cool against mundane opponents. There is no doubt that Stanford has been circled on Oregon’s schedule, despite their non-ranking in the Top-25.
Stanford is a good, extremely physical team that is well-coached and capable of knocking any team off if they aren’t ready. Look at USC earlier in the year. Look at UCLA last week. David Shaw is surely going to have his team ready for the Ducks this week.
Fortunately, we can be 100% confident that Mario Cristobal will do the same with his squad. We saw how prepared this team was for a big test against Ohio State early in the year, and we witnessed the fire and intensity that they played with in the ‘Shoe. This Oregon team is one that shows up when people are watching, and they prove that they are as talented and disciplined as almost any team in the nation.
After a few subpar performances, there will be eyes on Oregon this week to see if they can take care of business and assert themselves as the top team in the Pac-12. I have very little doubt that they will do so with authority.
Up Next: The Return of Kayvon…
If we are to believe what head coach Mario Cristobal says, then Oregon’s defensive star Kayvon Thibodeaux will be healthy and ready to go for a full game on Saturday against Stanford.
Thibodeaux suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 against Fresno State and sat out the three weeks following that. He got some limited work last week against Arizona, but didn’t record any stats on his pitch count night. On Monday, though, Cristobal said that Thibodeaux is expected to play this weekend, and he has confidence that No. 5 will be able to play for the full game.
That is huge news for the Ducks defense, which has struggled to get much pressure on the QB since his departure in Week 1. The secondary has done well to force turnovers, but it’s scary to think about how much more impactful they can be if the opposing quarterback is under duress and forced to get the ball out or take a sack. We can expect a lot of errant throws if KT is able to get pressure, and that seems like a given at this point, assuming he is even 90% healthy.
Remember how dominant the defense looked in those first few drives against Fresno State before Thibodeaux was injured? That’s what we can expect this week, and it’s incredibly fun to think about.
Up Next: CJ and Travis are Rolling…
The Verdell and Dye Train
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Through four games this season, both CJ Verdell and Travis Dye have combined for 620 yards on the ground, and 9 total touchdowns. We came into this season expecting that they would be one of the best running back duos in the nation, and they haven’t disappointed thus far.
The reason this gives us so much confidence on Saturday is because Stanford has one of the worst rushing defenses in the Pac-12, giving up an average of 209.0 yards per game.
Translation: CJ and Travis are going to have a feast if the Ducks gameplan around them and give them the ball.
So far this year, we have no reason to believe that Oregon would be planning to do anything different, either. The RB duo has shouldered a majority of the rushing load, with only QB Anthony Brown taking a notable number of carries away from them. If the two can stay healthy and pound the rock, Oregon should have no problem on offense in this one.
Up Next: Defensive Depth is Back…
Relying on Reinforcements
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
It’s a little bit shocking how hampered the Ducks were with injuries early on in the year. We saw star players like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Justin Flowe, Dru Mathis, Mase Funa, Adrian Jackson, Kieth Brown, and Bradyn Swinson all miss time with injuries at some point in the first four games.
The good thing is that a lot of those players are back and ready to go. While we are still expecting Flowe to miss the rest of the season, and Swinson has been ruled out for this game, the return of Funa, Jackson, and Brown last week was big for the defense. Cristobal said on Monday that he saw quite a bit of rust from those players on the tape from Saturday, but we can feel confident that they will have things cleaned up and be ready to go for a big game against Stanford’s physical offense.
The past several weeks, Oregon’s defensive has been carried by a combination of Noah Sewell and the dominant secondary, but now some reinforcements have returned, and we should be able to see the earth-beating unit that we envisioned before the season.