EUGENE — For the past two seasons it has been the same thing for Stanford: great expectations dashed by Oregon.
So certainly the No. 14 Cardinal would like nothing better than to derail the top-ranked Ducks in their bid for another shot at the national title. Right?
“I wouldn’t call it revenge. Revenge is a strong word,” said Stanford defensive tackle Terrence Stephens. “I think in the game of football, you can’t really be revengeful, because those emotions will take you over. You’ve got be focused, and you’ve got to focus on the task at hand.”
Last season, Stanford was ranked No. 3 and looking toward its own national championship bid with quarterback Andrew Luck when then-No. 6 Oregon visited Palo Alto.
The Ducks emerged with a 53-30 victory. Running back LaMichael James, who would join Luck’s NFL draft class in the spring, ran for 146 yards and three touchdowns.
The year before, Oregon defeated the Cardinal and Luck 52-31 in an early-October hurdle en route to an undefeated regular season and an appearance in the BCS title game against Auburn.
The Ducks are the only conference team Stanford has been unable to beat in the past two seasons.
This season, Oregon (10-0, 7-0) is riding a 13-game winning streak, longest in the nation, into this evening’s game at Autzen Stadium. With a victory over Stanford, the Ducks would clinch the Pac-12 North and a spot in the conference title game. Oregon has won the past three league titles.
If Stanford (8-2, 6-1) can beat Oregon and take care of UCLA in the season finale, the Cardinal would win the league’s northern division because of the head-to-head matchup with the Ducks. The winner of the Pac-12 championship game goes to the Rose Bowl — unless that team plays in the national championship.
“This is pretty much our Pac-12 championship game,” Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas said. “We still have UCLA to play, but that’s after the fact. This is the best team in the conference that we’re going against.”
The Cardinal have recent inspiration on which to draw: former No. 1 Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M last weekend, and USC’s upset of the then-No. 4 Ducks last season at Autzen.
But while Stanford is getting pumped up, Oregon is not looking at the game as different from any other — in keeping with coach Chip Kelly’s philosophy. The Ducks are favored by nearly three touchdowns.
“It’s just another game,” Ducks offensive lineman Nick Cody said. “We’re focused on dialing it up, paying attention to film and not making too big a deal out of it.”
It will likely come down to Oregon’s quick-strike offense against Stanford’s stout defense.
The Ducks have the third-best offense in the nation, averaging nearly 563 yards per game, and the third-best rushing offense with an average of 325 yards a game. And they are scoring an average of 54.8 points a game, tops among FBS teams.
Senior Kenjon Barner, who has capably taken over for James as Oregon’s star running back, is averaging 136 yards rushing per game, putting him into the Heisman Trophy conversation.
The Ducks have scored 42 or more points in 13 consecutive games, and they have won all of those games for the longest current winning streak in the nation. Additionally, Oregon has scored 30 or more points in 23 straight games, an NCAA record.
On the other side, Stanford’s defense is allowing opponents just under 321 yards a game. But the Cardinal are best at stopping the run: They are allowing just 58.6 yards rushing on average, tops in the nation.
On offense, Stanford will again go with redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan, who will be making his first start on the road. He started last week in the Cardinal’s 27-23 victory over Oregon State, passing for 254 yards and three touchdowns.
Oregon also has a redshirt freshman quarterback, Marcus Mariota, who has surpassed expectations this season with 28 touchdown passes, a Pac-12 record for a freshman. Last weekend in a 59-17 victory at California, Mariota passed for 377 yards and six scores.
But the victory over Cal was costly for Oregon’s defense. Free safety Avery Patterson seriously injured his left knee in the second quarter and is believed to be out for the rest of the season. Patterson had taken over as starter for senior John Boyett, whose career at Oregon ended earlier this season when he needed surgery on both knees.
Senior defensive linemen Dion Jordan (right shoulder), Isaac Remington (foot) and Ricky Heimuli (right knee) were in uniform on the sidelines at Cal but did not play. As a result, the Ducks relied at times on three true freshmen — Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci — on the defensive line.
Starting nose guard Wade Keliikipi did not make the trip to Cal because of an undisclosed injury and was seen using crutches on Monday. Defensive end Taylor Hart also was hurt against Cal and wore a boot this week. Additionally, sophomore backup cornerbacks Dior Mathis and Troy Hill were absent against Cal for unclear reasons.
Because the Ducks do not disclose injuries, it is not clear who may be available to play against Stanford. But the situation had become so serious that earlier in the week there was speculation that the Ducks might use wide receiver Keanon Lowe or even multipurpose back De’Anthony Thomas on defense.
“We’re getting thinner,” Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said, “but we’ll find a way to make it work.”