Wednesday, March 28, 2012

March 28, 2012
In this continuing series from Duck Sports Authority, we continue to take a "sneak peak" at the 2012 opponents for the Oregon Ducks. As the 2012 regular season nears its conclusion, the team Oregon has kept out of the Rose Bowl and beyond for the previous two seasons, the Stanford Cardinal, come to Autzen Stadium to face the Ducks.

Stanford has played the Ducks tough for 3 consecutive years. In 2009, the Cardinal upset the Ducks on the way to Oregon's first Rose Bowl Appearance since 1994. The following year, the Cardinal, behind the arm of two-time Heisman runner up, jumped to a big early lead before the Ducks charged back on their way to an undefeated season. The 2011 contest was close through the first half before the Ducks pulled away late.

The departure of Andrew Luck for the NFL will cause growing pains for Stnaford's offnse
Andrew Luck's departure. Andrew Luck will likely be the number one overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft. While Stanford has a lot of talent in many positions, it could be argued that Luck was more valuable to Stanford than any other player in the Pac-12 to their team. His athleticism, intelligence and arm made Stanford a national title contender. His departure will reverberate through the team. This will be the season where the Pac-12 discovers just how good a coach david Shaw will be for Stanford.


Returning Starters: 6

Key returners: Stepfan Taylor, 5-11, 210, RB; Ryan Hewitt, 6-4, 242, FB; Ty Montgomery, 6-2, 205, WR; Levine Toilolo, 6-8, 262, TE

Key Losses: Andrew Luck, QB; David DeCastro, Right Guard; Jonathan Martin, left Tackle

Key Arrivals: Kyle Murphy, 6-7, 275, OL, San Clemente (CA) High School; Barry Sanders, 5-11, 190 RB

Stanford lost the number one overall pick to the NFL with the early departure of Andrew Luck. But that is not all that the Cardinal lost from their extremely potent offense. Road graders Martin and DeCastro will be missed as much, if not more, as Luck. The Cardinal will be breaking in a very green quarterback, but will do so without their All-American linemen. That will make the job that much more difficult for the new quarterback; especially early in the season.

The likely replacement for Luck at the QB position is Brett Nottingham (6-4, 215) out of Danville, California. Notthingham saw very limited action as Luck's backup in 2011. Nottingham has great touch on this throws and throws a crisp ball. He had some problems with arm strength and will not provide the mobility of Andrew Luck. He has some talented players to work with, but there will be some holes to fill all over the offense.

In addition to losing the starting QB and two All-American type offensive linemen, the Cardinal lost their top three receivers from last season with the graduation of Griff Whalen, Chris Owusu and Coby Fleener. That leaves Hewitt as the leading returning receiver with 34 catches for 282 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Cardinal have a capable replacement for Fleener with the athletic Toilolo who managed 25 receptions for 343 yards and 6 touchdowns last season as a backup to Fleener.

Early Offense Prediction: Expect the Stanford offense to revert to the running game just a bot more in 2012. The loss of a quarterback who could have been playing in the NFL last season will cause the passing game to take a step back. Throw in the loss of two top linemen and you have arecipe for running the ball more. On offense, the run game may be even more dynamic if Sanders can come in and contribute early. He could be their most explosive offensive player in 2012. The loss of Whalen and Owusu will hurt their wide receiver corps, but Montgomery has the ability to become a nice deep threat for the Cardinal.

Nonetheless, with the change on offense, and the improvement of the Oregon defense, do not expect Stanford to put up the same kind of yardage in 2012 as they have over the course of the previous three games. Stanford will have a good run game and attempt to control the clock against the Ducks, but they will likely score somewhere in the 21-28 point range in this game.


Returning Starters: 7

Key returners: Chase Thomas, 6-4, 240, LB; Ben Gardner, 6-4, 273, DE

Key Losses: Matt Masifilo, DE; Delano Howell, Strong Safety; Michael Thomas, Free Safety

Key Arrivals: Aziz Shittu, 6-3, 275, DE, Buhach (Atwater, CA) High School

Stanford has a good corps of their solid defense back in 2012. Chase Thomas may be the most important of the returners for the Cardinal. All Thomas did last season was lead the conference in tackles for loss with 17.5 to go along with his 52 total tackles, 8.5 sacks and 4 QB hurries. With the return of Shane Skov from injury, the Cardinal will have some depth built in as the entire linebacker corps returns in 2012. The defensive line takes a hit with the loss of Masifilo, but the rest of the defensive line remains intact from the 2011 season.

The biggest area of concern for the Stanford defense will be in the defensive backfield as three of the four starters from 2011 have graduated leaving the Cardinal thin on experience in the secondary.

One thing that the Cardinal has not yet addressed that will be a big concern against teams like the Ducks; speed. Stanford plays a 3-4 defense and all of the linebackers on their two-deep weigh 230 pounds or more and lack the kind of speed needed to stay with the Ducks on the edge.

If Shittu is able to come in and play early and gain some experience, his presence might provide the depth that the defense will certainly need to play four quarters of football with the Duck version of "60 Minutes of Hell."

Chase Thomas led the Pac-12 in tackles for loss last season with 17.5
Early Defense Prediction: Stanford does not have the kind of beef in the middle that has given the Ducks trouble against elite defenses. Nor do the Cardinal have the kind of defensive speed that the premier teams who were able to have success against the ducks possess. Without the speed on the edge, and without overwhelming size up the middle, the Cardinal will, once again, struggled to contain the Duck offense for 4 quarters. Given the recent history between these two teams, expect Shaw to employ some different strategies on defense. If he has both Skov and Thomas healthy for this game, he may try and use one of them to "spy" Barner to contain him and force Bennett to beat the defense with his arm.

The problem with that strategy, though, will be that Bennett is considerably faster than Thomas was and can make them pay with his feet just as much as his arm. Expect the Ducks to be able to move the ball well against the Cardinal, especially through the air. Oregon should have a decent shot at scoring 42 or more points in this game.

OREGON WILL WIN IF: If Oregon can force a young quarterback into mistakes in what will likely be the most hostile environment he has seen, the Ducks could be playing ahead very early in this game. The offense needs to use the weaknesses of this defense, speed and a young secondary, to make their plays early. If Oregon is getting to the edge and completing passes, they will score a lot of points.

OREGON WILL LOSE IF: If the Ducks let a couple of plays by them early and allow Stanford to an early lead, with pressure he has not yet faced to win, Bennett and the offense then make more mistakes giving Stanford the ball back, this could be a long day for Oregon. If Shaw has a big lead early, expect him to become an old-fashioned "3 yards and a cloud of dust" coach and try to control the clock. If he can do that and keep the Oregon offense off the field, anything can happen

PREDICTED OUTCOME: Stanford has given up nearly 50 points per game in the last 3 meetings with the Ducks. In those games the Cardinal averaged 37 points per game. In 2010 and 2011 the Cardinal, with the best quarterback in college football guiding their offense, scored 31 and 30 points respectively. The team has now lost the most critical components of those offenses. Do not expect this to be a shootout like 2009 and do not expect the Cardinal to jump out to a big early lead. Stanford will take a step backwards offensively which will create some defensive mental lapses. Oregon should control this game early on and cruise to a comfortable victory at home.


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