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November 7, 2013

Ask an expert: Stanford vs. Oregon

As the Oregon Ducks prepare for their showdown with the Stanford Cardinal, Duck Sports Authority caught up with Cardinal Sports Report publisher Andy Drukarev to get a Cardinal perspective on the upcoming contest.

1. How important is this game to Stanford?

Though there is a chance Stanford could earn a Rose Bowl berth even with a loss tomorrow (Oregon would have to go to the National Championship and Stanford would have to win out), it's a huge game for the Cardinal. Oregon week has been circled on the calendar for the last four or so seasons, and this year is no exception. That ticket prices to the game on the secondary are the highest in Stanford football history for a home game only underscores that point.

2. What are the Cardinal fan expectations for this game?

There are a range of expectations. Few expect Stanford will hold Oregon to 14 points again, but I think many fans do think Stanford's defense will test Oregon's offense in a way other defenses haven't this season. Generally, Stanford fans expect that the Cardinal will be able to hang with the Ducks, at least for much of the contest, but there are questions about whether Stanford's offense will be able to score enough to earn the win.

3. What concerns the Stanford coaches the most about the Oregon football team?

Boy, what doesn't concern Stanford's coaches -- and really every coaching staff nationally -- about Oregon? On paper, the Ducks don't have many question marks, outside of perhaps their kicking game. But I do think Marcus Mariota gives any team headaches -- he's certainly been a player of much discussion this week. On the other side of the ball, Oregon's secondary will be a major test for Kevin Hogan, who's had an uneven sophomore season, as will the Ducks' defensive line, which is much healthier than it was when the teams met last year.

4. The Cardinal is one of the few teams to beat the Ducks in recent years. Does their style match well against Oregon?

I think Stanford's physical and experienced front-seven is a good stylistic matchup for the Cardinal against the Ducks' offensive line -- Stanford's penetration was a big reason for its defensive success against Oregon last year. Additionally, Stanford's secondary did a really nice job getting off of blocks and tackling in space. If those two things happen again this year, Stanford will be in good shape on defense. On the other side of the ball, the temptation is to say that Stanford's power run game matches up well against Oregon's defense that might be better equipped to handle the spread offenses in the Pac-12, but the Ducks held the Cardinal in check last season, and Oregon's defense might be better now than it was a year ago.

5. Does Stanford have any areas of concern on either side of the ball at this point in the season?

They do. Despite the emergence of Ty Montgomery as one of the best receivers in the conference, the Cardinal's passing game has been inconsistent this season. Stanford has receiver only minimal production from the tight end position, and Kevin Hogan has struggled at times. He's coming off one of the worst performances of his career, an 8-18 outing in Stanford's win over Oregon State. Defensively, Stanford's defense line depth is a problem. Despite moving their starting tight end and top reserve outside linebacker to defensive end, Stanford still only has about three-and-a-half healthy defensive linemen it trusts to play significant meaningful minutes. Against a team that operates at as fast a pace as Oregon's offense does, that could be an issue.

6. What is your prediction and why?

I've gone back and forth on this one a few times. If Stanford was completely healthy -- and I realize that few teams are this time of the year -- I'd probably lean towards the Cardinal in a close game. But I think Ben Gardner's absence and the fact that Henry Anderson will play 40-50 snaps, not the entire game (plus defensive tackle David Parry has dealt with a nagging abdominal injury for much of the season) is a real problem. Stanford's defensive line depth isn't close to what it was last year, and Oregon's tempo will exploit that. On the other side of the ball, Stanford's offense has struggled in recent weeks, and I'm just not sure the passing game has enough juice to do what it will take for the Cardinal to put points on the board, especially with No. 2 wide receiver Devon Cajuste are well less than 100 percent health-wise. So, with that in mind, I think Oregon wins 35-28.

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