By REED NELSON
ESPN College GameDay has come to Eugene! Again! We have Herby and Lee and Des and Russilo and no more Erin Andrews in town, as of right now.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the incredibly cliché’d principle involving an unstoppable force and an immovable object. This was in regards to the (now)dated mystique surrounding a potential National Championship showdown between Oregon and Alabama, and went along the lines of pitting an “unstoppable force (the Duck’s O) against an immovable object (the ‘Bama D).”
Then came Johnny Football, an awesomely indignant post-game press conference from Nick Saban and a BCS Top 3 sans an SEC team. But this cliche is like a cockroach — it survives everything, even an SEC post-apocalyptic fallout — and now reads “What happens when an you pit an unstoppable force (the Duck’s O) against an immovable object (the Cardinal D).
Oregon’s offense is the fastest thing moving below 30,000 feet, and Stanford’s defense would hit an opposing quarterback in the student union on a Tuesday.
Oregon puts up 562.6 yards a game (2nd in the nation), and their nation-leading 54.8 points per game average is 10.5 points higher than the next closest FBS school not named Louisiana Tech. Oregon’s 325.1 rushing yards a game is the highest total of any team that doesn’t consistently have three options in the backfield.
And even if one does manage to curtail Oregon’s torrid rushing attack, Marcus Mariota is, just, you know, the nation’s most efficient passer. The freshman threw for 377 yards and six touchdowns against Cal last week, while a banged up Kenjon Barner managed just 65 yards on 20 carries.
(Here lies the gross, lumpy “but” for Oregon fans.)
But, as with every game from here on out, Oregon’s previous production can only be taken at a certain percentage of face value. They are a shell of their former selves, as injuries have ravaged the Ducks like termites on wet wood. Barner ran the ball 18 times after retreating to the locker room clutching his right hand last Saturday, and all 18 carries went to the left side. Not good. The big guys have seem to hit a bit of a wall. Their secondary trades crutches on the sidelines like they’re Pogs.
And Stanford comes into this game hot. They’ve won four straight since the Notre Dame fiasco, and are coming off a good win over Oregon State. Their defense (immovable object, in case you’ve forgotten) is ranked 12th in the FBS in points against, surrendering just 17.2 points a game, and it only gets scarier. The Cardinal lead the nation in rush defense, allowing just 58.6 yards a game on the ground, 16 yards less than their closest competition (Florida State gives up just 74.3 yards a game on the ground) and they lead the country in sacks as well, as Matt Barkley’s grassy facemask could attest to.
Stanford also packs a punch on offense, and in a refreshingly old school ground-and-pound kind of way. Stepfan Taylor has rushed for 1,061 yards this season, averaging 4.7 yards a carry. While Barner’s numbers would man-handle Taylor’s in a back alley, Oregon’s defense has been notoriously soft against the run (they allow 147 yards a game) and Taylor is the type of back who doesn’t mind staying on the field for five minutes at a time.
Don’t be. Oregon is still Oregon. Their defense, while often porous against the run, forces more mistakes than cheap vodka, averaging 2.9 takeaways a game. Take away Avery Patterson’s three picks, and Erick Dargan steps in with two to his name already. While the wildly deep Ducks are starting to thin out at this juncture of the season, they still have enough talent in the stable to get by. And, to compound matters for the Cardinal, they’re starting a freshman quarterback, Kevin Hogan, in Autzen — two things that go together like Generation Y and the opera.
David Shaw is a fantastic coach, but Chip Kelly could sneeze in the direction of an NFL franchise and it’d lead SportsCenter. Advantage, Oregon.
Sure, Stanford’s desire for taking down quarterbacks has been, up to this point, insatiable, but Marcus Mariota isn’t one to go down easily. The kid improves every single week. Last week, against Cal, he threw plenty of noteworthy balls, but the one’s he chose not to throw were just as impressive. Will he make a mistake against Stanford? Probably. He’s young. But he’ll probably negate it with a play that makes you wish you were in a venue with an 80-inch television and DVR.
If this game looks like one between perfect foils, it only looks that way because it totally is. But what it should come down to is execution: Stanford will look to slow down the pace, extend drives past four minutes and hit Mariota in the mouth. Oregon will try to do everything exactly the same as they have been all season.
But even if they play at 75 percent Blur capacity, that should be enough to keep the Natty dreams alive.
My pick: Oregon 51, Stanford 38
Around the rest of the Pac-12 (moneyline picks highlighted in bold):
#25 Washington (-20.5) at Colorado — This is going to bite me in the ass, but for whatever reason, I like Colorado with the slim cover. But please note, I’m betting 10 whole dollars on this game, so my word is worth like two beers at the bar (tip included). My pick: Colorado (+20.5).
Washington State at Arizona State (-22.5) — Normally, I’d take a shot on the Pirate and his scurvy crew. But given the recent events in CougarTown — and the notion that his scurviest mate, Marquess Wilson, just quit the team then went postal with abuse accusations — I’m laying the 22.5 on the bunch that didn’t just deal with whatever it is that the Cougs are dealing with. My pick: Arizona State (-22.5).
#18 USC (-4) at #17 UCLA — I’ll keep it short: Between the Rock and the Hard Place, I’ll take the Rock (which, in this case, is Jim Mora, Jr.’s workhorse RB, Jonathan Franklin). My pick: UCLA (+4).
#13 Stanford at #2 Oregon (-20.5) — For all the reasons listed in the preview, I’m taking Oregon to win, Stanford to cover. My pick: Stanford (+20.5).
Arizona at Utah (pk) — For whatever reason, this game has been pulled from my books, but I got Utah at a pick ’em on Tuesday. Call it a homer pick (because it totally is) but taking Arizona on the road is like leaving your car unlocked in the Bronx: You can do it, but you have only yourself to blame when you get got. My pick: Utah (pk).
Cal at #18 Oregon State (-14.5) — Jeff Tedford’s crew is playing for his job, which doesn’t matter at all at this point (as they sort of have been all season). I’d take cynide before I’d take the Bears to cover in their current state. It doesn’t mean they won’t, it just means that I have zero reason to make that bet. I could care less about being the guy who took the 14.5 on the road and beat the Beavers. My pick: Oregon State (-14.5).