A lot has been made about Stanford’s big receivers and how the Ducks have struggled with those type of athletes in the past.
But come Saturday, the outcome of this game will largely depend on who wins the battle of the bests. Oregon’s strongest part of the game is its ability to defend the run while the Cardinal are one of the best rushing teams in the nation.
For the Ducks, it all starts with sophomore nose tackle Jordon Scott. You won’t find his name in the stat sheet but his ability to plug up both “A” gaps while occupying opposing linemen is what allows his teammates to make plays.
"You have a guy like Jordon in the middle, who is unheralded because the stat line is not going to light his name up every Saturday," Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said. "What you see is a guy that's done a great job controlling the center and the A gaps, forcing things to bounce (outside).
From there, defensive end Jalen Jelks and outside linebacker Justin Hollins provide all the pressure from the edge. Combined, they have 9.5 tackles for loss and have lived in opponents’ backfields.
With Stanford running back Bryce Love being so fast and elusive, it’s imperative that Jelks and Hollins set the edge against Love and force him back to the middle where their teammates will be waiting. If Love gets to the edge, it will make the Ducks play catch up all game long and if Oregon learned anything from last year, it’s that you can’t play catchup with Love.
Middle linebacker Troy Dye is a big part of Oregon’s success in the run game, an uber-athletic linebacker that makes great reads and can run sideline to sideline. If anyone will be able to keep Love in check in a one-on-one situation, it will be Dye. He has to be looked at as the last line of defense because Love is to strong and fast to be taken down by defensive backs consistently.
Stanford will try to get Love going behind the strength of its offensive line, a typically formidable unit that’s having a slightly down year.
Center Jesse Burkett, rated the top center according to CBS Sports, is the key to Stanford’s running game. He began his 2018 season last week after missing the first two games with an injury.
"I thought Jesse played well," Stanford head coach Davis Shaw said after last week’s game against UC Davis. "He did a great job making some calls that were some difficult looks."
Guard Nate Herbig, who might be the best offensive lineman in the Pac-12, is massive brawler at 6-foot-4, 334 pounds. He does a great job of paving the way for Love and getting to the second unit to spring him for big gains.
"Part of the challenge of defending a guy like Bryce Love is the quality of the offensive line play they have," Cristobal said. "They're very big and physical — they complement that with extraordinary large and long tight end body types that are very physical as well.”
And then there’s Love himself, arguably the best returning player in college football. He’s gotten off to a slow start this year but his 22-carries, 136-yard performance against USC was a small taste of what he’s capable of. Love is known for showing up and performing in big games and as of now, this is the biggest game of the year.
This is a matchup that features the best of Oregon against the best of Stanford and the winner of this battle will go a long way into helping its team make the early-statement in the Pac-12.