The No. 2 Oregon Ducks (10-0, 7-0) return to Autzen Stadium this weekend looking to clinch the Pac-12 North Division title for the second consecutive season. Each week the stakes get higher and this week is no different as the Ducks face No. 13 Stanford (6-1, 8-2) in a contest that will have major implications in the BCS National Championship race.
Stanford comes into the game off of a hard fought 27-23 home victory over Oregon State. The Cardinal possess the best statistical rush defense in the nation and have been flat dominant for most of the season.
Oregon comes into the game fresh off of a dominating 59-17 victory on the road at Cal last week. Despite having lost their top 5 defensive lineman by the end of the game last weekend, the Duck defense stiffened to hold Cal to just 120 second half yards and only 46 after the first possession of the third quarter.
Today we continue our series looking at the match-ups on each side of the ball with our focus on the defense of both teams.
Stanford: The Cardinal use a true 3-4 defense with a nose guard in the middle and two defensive ends. Getting the nod against the Ducks at nose guard will be Terrance Stephens (6-2, 305) a senior who was a starter last year as well. Stephens has played in all ten games for the Cardinal starting six. For the season, Stephens has 9 total tackles with 3 tackles for loss and one sack. Behind Stephens will be last years reserve, David Parry (6-2, 300), a redshirt sophomore. Despite playing behind Stephens, Parry has 17 total tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack.
Oregon: It looks like Wade Keliikipi (6-3, 295) will miss some time with a lower leg injury. Keliikipi who had started 20 consecutive games had 20 tackles with 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks before his injury. Getting the nod in his place will be Ricky Heimuli (6-4, 305) who showed some promise last season. Playing in a backup role this season, Heimuli has notched 10 total tackles with one sack. Behind Heimuli this week will be Alex Balducci (6-4, 290) a true freshman who was pulled out of a redshirt season last week against Cal.
The return of Isaac Remington (6-4, 301), to the starting lineup is good news for the Duck defensive line this week. Remington has notched 14 total tackles and 4 tackles for loss and one sack. Behind Remington will be Arik Armstead (6-8, 280) another true freshman. Armstead played perhaps his finest game against Cal last weekend. Though he only recorded two tackles, he was in the backfield multiple times putting pressure on the quarterback including the play in which Boseko Lokombo intercepted Bridgford. For the season Armstead has 22 total tackles, one tackle for loss and 0.5 sacks through ten games.
The Duck defensive line has taken a hit to their depth with the loss of Keliikipi, but still have been able to manage very good numbers. The Stanford defensive tackles do not have the same production or disruptiveness as the Oregon defensive tackles.
Stanford: At one defensive end position the Cardinal will start Henry Anderson (6-6, 278) a redshirt sophomore. Anderson, a backup last season who recorded just 6 tackles in 13 appearances has played well replacing Matt Masifilo. Anderson has recorded 32 total tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks this season Behind Anderson is Josh Mauro (6-6, 277) a fourth year junior with nine appearances this season. Mauro has notched 10 total tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
On the other side will be Ben Gardner (6-4, 275), the returning starter from last season. Gardner has turned up his play a notch this season and has 37 total tackles with 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Behind Gardner is Aziz Shittu (6-3, 264) the true freshman. Though he is listed as the backup on the depth chart for the Cardinal, Shittu has yet to play this season.
Oregon: Oregon has a first team All Pac-12 defensive end hybrid in Dion Jordan (6-7, 243) who terrorized Pac-12 quarterbacks and coaches last season. Jordan has looked explosive again this season recording 36 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. Back-up Tony Washington (6-3, 244) a sophomore who has played both defensive tackle and defensive end as needed, has started in Jordan's place and is a very capable backup who has notched 15 total tackles and one tackle for loss this season.
Across from Jordan the Ducks should see Taylor Hart (6-6, 292) the junior from Tualatin. Hart has been a monster on the defensive line this season recording 27 total tackles with 8 tackles for loss and a team leading 7 sacks. Playing behind Hart will be true freshman Deforrest Buckner (6-7, 265) from Hawaii. Buckner has seen his role increased as his play has been very good early in his career. After recording 14 tackles over the last four games, Buckner has raised his season total to 23 tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack.
The Ducks have been banged up with Taylor Hart going down early last week against Cal and Jordan sitting out the game with a shoulder injury. With their return, if fully healthy, the Ducks would have the edge; especially given that the Ducks depth is just a tick better than the depth of Stanford. Nonetheless, the production of Stanford's starters give them the edge here.
Stanford: Trent Murphy (6-6, 261) gets the start at one of the outside linebacker spots. Murphy, a 13 game starter from last season, has really stepped up his game for the Cardinal this season recording 44 total tackles including 14.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks through the first 10 games for Stanford. Backing him up will be Kevin Anderson (6-4, 250) a redshirt freshman. Anderson has appeared in all ten games for the Cardinal but has just 5 total tackles on the season.
Starting at the other outside linebacker position is Chase Thomas (6-4, 248) a fifth year senior who leads the team in tackles. Thomas has recorded 51 total tackles with 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Behind Thomas is Alex Debniak (6-2, 240) another fifth year senior. As a backup last season, Debniak had just 10 total tackles, but has seen his production improve dramatically this season with 21 total tackles including 4 sacks.
Inside the Cardinal have Shane Skov (6-3, 242), a fifth year senior who missed all but three games last season with injury. His return this season has him second on the team with 48 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. Playing behind Skov is Jarek Lancaster (6-1, 242). Lancaster, a fourth year junior who led the team in tackles last season has 30 total tackles with 3 tackles for loss and 2 sacks this season.
At the other inside linebacker spot, A.J. Tarpley (6-2, 238), who started seven games a season ago, has not played quite as well, but will likely see his eigth start this season. Tarpley has still managed 37 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack in his seven starts this season. Behind Tarpley will be James Vaughters (6-2, 246) a sophomore with four starts this season. In his ten appearances, Vaughters has recorded 23 total tackles with one sack.
Oregon: Michael Clay (5-11, 225), the rock solid starter at the "Will" linebacker position, missed the second half of the Washington State game due to an undisclosed injury. Though he was in full gear and practiced the next week, he was held out of the Husky game for precautionary reasons. He returned against Sun Devils and has played well since. Clay now leads the team with 62 total tackles along with 6.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Behind Clay is Derrick Malone (6-2, 219) who has started twice this season and responded well with 6 total tackles in his first start against Washington. For the season, Malone now has 39 total tackles and one tackle for loss and one interception.
Alongside Clay will be Boseko Lokombo (6-3, 233). After several solid performances, Lokombo now has 22 tackles with 2 tackles for loss and one sack and two interceptions. Despite playing as the backup to Lokombo, Tyson Coleman (6-1, 222) has notched 32 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season.
Returning from an apparent wrist injury against the Trojans, "Mike" linebacker Kiko Alonso (6-4, 242) is the teams second leading tackler. Alonso has been a monster in the middle so far this season and has 59 tackles with a team leading 10 tackles for loss and one sack in nine appearances. Showing off his athleticism against the Troajans with another great interception, Alonso now has 3 interceptions this season. The reserve middle linebacker will be Rahim Cassell. Cassell (6-0, 215) who has appeared in all ten games for the Ducks this season and has 16 total tackles.
The Cardinal use a true 3-4 mainly with their linebackers being very active in the pass rush and making plays in the backfield. This gives the Cardinal linebackers more tackles for loss and more sacks per man than Oregon's linebacker corps. In Oregon's defense, though, the linebackers are more active in the pass game recording more passes defended and more interceptions than their Cardinal counterpart.
Oregon is close to full strength at the linebacker position with Alonso's return and stellar performance the last two weeks. Though the total numbers for the Cardinal look better, that is related to their using four linebackers rather than three. The Duck linebackers, though, have outperformed more tackles per person than do the Cardinal while Stanford averages more sacks and tackles for loss per person.
This looks to be an even match-up.
Stanford: The Cardinal start Terrence Brown (6-1, 178) at one cornerback position. The fourth year junior has started every game this season and has recorded 48 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 7 passes defended and one interception. Behind Brown is Wayne Lyons (6-1, 187) a sophomore with one start to his credit this season. Lyons has 20 tackles on the season with one pass defended.
At the other cornerback position will be Alex Carter (6-0, 200) a true freshman from Virginia. Carter, who has started four games in his ten appearances has 30 total tackles on the season with no passes defended. Behind Carter will be Barry Browning (6-1, 182) who has 21 tackles and 2 passes defended in five starts this season.
At strong safety will be Jordan Richards (5-10, 203) (5-11, 208) a sophomore with 45 tackles, 14 passes defended and 2 interceptions this season. Behind Richards is Harold Bernard (6-2, 189) a fifth year senior who has just 6 tackles in seven appearances this season.
At the free safety position, Ed Reynolds (6-2, 207) has been a ball hawk this season and has 31 tackles to go along with 10 passes defended and 5 interceptions. Behind Reynolds is Devon Carrington (6-1, 199) a junior with ten appearances this season. Carrington has notched 17 tackles and one pass defended this season.
Oregon: Terrance Mitchell (6-0, 189) has not seen many opportunities this season had the unenviable position of defending Robert Woods two weekends ago and held his own. Even though he has not had a lot of opportunities this season, Mitchell has played well recording 24 tackles and 7 passes defended. Behind Mitchell is sophomore Dior Mathis (5-9, 182) one of the fastest players on the team. Mathis has 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes defended and 2 interceptions in a reserve role through eight appearances.
At the other corner will be Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (5-10, 190) who appeared in all 14 games and started 2 as a true freshman in 2011. Ekpre-Olomu played well early in 2012, but had a breakout performance against Arizona recording 2 interceptions one of which he returned for a touchdown. He has followed that up with continued stellar performances. Though he had the toughest assignment in the nation covering Marquise Lee against USC, Ekpre-Olomu has still had a stellar season thus far having recorded 44 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 17 passes defended and 4 forced fumbles. His 17 passes defended rank first in the Pac-12 conference. Behind Ekpre-Olomu will be Troy Hill (5-11, 180) a sophomore who played extensively last season including 6 starts as a freshman. Hill also recorded a "pick six" earlier this season returning an interception 29 yards for a touchdown. Through seven appearances this season, Hill has notched 21 tackles with one tackle for loss, 2 passes defended and the interception.
At safety, Oregon suffered the loss of their second starter at safety when Avery Patterson (5-10, 185) went down with a torn ACL against Cal last weekend. Patterson had a breakout performance against the Cougars returning an interception for a score in Seattle and then followed that up with another "pick six" against the Huskies. For the year Patterson had 44 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss with 6 passes defended and 3 interceptions. Replacing his this week will be Erik Dargan (5-11, 205) a sophomore who has played well in a reserve role recording 38 total tackles with 3 tackles for loss, 3 passes defended and one interception. Behind Dargan is Ben Butterfield (6-0, 197) a junior special teams standout from Sherwood, Oregon. Butterfield has recorded 9 total tackles this season, mostly on special teams.
Next to Dargan will be Brian Jackson (5-10, 205), a junior who was a special teams standout last season. Jackson has played well in 2012 having recorded 48 total tackles, 6 passes defended, one sach and one interception. Behind Jackson will be James Scales (5-10, 190) a sophomore from North Carolina. Scales has appeared mostly in mop-up duty prior to last week and has recorded 5 total tackles with 1 pass defended.
Oregon has two all-conference caliber cornerbacks with Ekpre-Olomu and Mitchell. While the loss of Boyett and Patterson hurt the safety position, the Ducks still bring a very good safety, Dargan into the starting lineup. The depth certainly takes a hit for Oregon, but their defensive backs have played better over the course of the season. With a healthy defensive backfield, this would be a slam-dunk advantage, but the Ducks still maintain a slim edge with the unit thanks to their stellar cornerbacks.
Stanford: The Cardinal have a very stout run defense that gives up just 58 yards per game and 2.0 yards per carry. This is similar to last season, but the defensive ends and linebackers have been much more active this season already eclipsing last seasons tackle for loss and sack numbers through just ten games.
Though the Cardinal run defense has been extremely stingy this season, the pass defense, despite the hefty sack numbers has been only average allowing 262.1 yards per game on 61.5 percent completion ratio. Though Ed Reynolds has been stellar with 5 interceptions this season, the rest of the team has just 6 interceptions as Stanford ranks ninth in the Pac-12 with 11 total interceptions.
Stanford has struggled on fourth down allowing their opponents to convert 56 percent of the time. In the red-zone, the Cardinal allow their opponent to score 80.6 percent of the time. Despite some of these numbers, Stanford is giving upa conference low 17.2 points per game.
Oregon: Oregon, meanwhile, had been playing exceptional defense most of the season prior to the USC game. You may not be able to tell by looking at final scores, but it has to be understood that a lot of the yards and points that finish the totals occur against players far down the depth chart.
Despite using a makeshift defensive line last weekend, the Ducks held Cal to just 120 yards in the second half and only 46 total yards after the first possession. With all of the talk about how much the Ducks yield on defense, it might be surprising to find out that Oregon gives up the third fewest points in the conference allowing just 22.3 points per game. Though they are allowing 377.7 total yards per game, many of those yards happen in the fourth quarter as teams sling the ball all over the field trying to overcome big deficits on the scoreboard. The run defense for the Ducks has struggled some as the defense is now giving up 147 yards per game on 4.1 yards per carry.
The Ducks lead the conference with 19 interceptions on the season.
The Ducks are also third best in the conference allowing just 30.3 percent of third down conversions while they are also second in the conference in fourth down conversion rate allowing just 34.8 percent to be converted. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 in red zone defense allowing just 62.5 percent for scores and 45 percent touchdown rate in the red-zone.
The Ducks also rank second in the conference in pass efficiency defense.
Stanford has been very stout against the run and have made teams play slow and ugly at times. They are susceptible, nonetheless to teams with quick backs and speed to the edge as they allowed Storm Woods to gain 94 yards on 15 carries last weekend. The Ducks defensive line has taken some hits to its depth and has struggled some in run defense over the past few weeks. Oregon's pass defense, though, has played very well for most of the season, save for the USC game when Lee and Agholor were able to make big plays in the passing game. The Cardinal, though, do not possess the kind of deep threat that can create problems for the secondary.
Stanford will play their game; they will run the ball with Stepfan Taylor and use the more mobile Kevin Hogan to try and break down the linebackers to create space for their tight ends. Hogan seems to have a good connection with Zach Ertz and will likely look to him early and often to relieve the pressure Nick Aliotti is sure to bring.
Oregon, meanwhile, will look to take use their speed advantage to wear down the Cardinal defense. Much has been made of the stout run defense of the Cardinal looking to use the Cal "game plan" to stop the Ducks rushing attack. Expect some early play action passing to back the linebackers off of the line. Colt Lyerla will be pivotal early as a go-to receiver down the middle.
Josh Huff has come on strong as of late and will look to take advantge of a defensive bacfield that gives up a lot of yards this season. With the threats of De'Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner out of the backfield, Huff will likely see plenty of one-on-one opportunities to make plays.
Stanford has big physical linebackers that average 6-4, 247 so expect the Ducks to use a lot of quick passes side to side to get the linebackers running to the sidelines early. They will use a mixture of inside reads and outside reads to keep the Cardinal defensive line guessing and begin to wear down the defense.
Expect the running game to get better as the game wears on and the Cardinal defense begins to tire. While they have better depth than last season, they are still not quite deep enough to run with the Ducks. Oregon's offensive team speed will create a lot of problems for the Stanford defense.
When the Ducks are on defense, with a healthy Remington, Hart and Jordan, the Ducks should be able to hold their own. The problem that plagues the defense of Stanford also plagues the offense; a lack of speed. There are no big play threats on the offense for Stanford so the Duck defense can afford to gamble to make plays in the backfield with the run game and then look to put the Cardinal offense into predictable third down situations allowing Nick Aliotti's combination coverages and blitzes to begin to rattle the freshman Hogan, who has never played in a truly hostile environment.
As the Ducks begin to pull away and Stanford has to rely on the passing game, the Duck defense should be able to really begin to dominate.
Final: 45-27 Oregon
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