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Football looks to break losing streak on the road against rival Oregon
Christian McCaffrey carries the ball in space as he runs down the field in search of a touchdown. McCaffrey will be an essential piece as Stanford takes on Oregon. (RYAN JAE/The Stanford Daily)

Football looks to break losing streak on the road against rival Oregon

Stanford football (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) travels to Eugene to take on a struggling Oregon Ducks team (3-6, 1-4) at Autzen Stadium this Saturday, but, for the first time since 2008, this battle in the North will not feature the eventual Pac-12 champion.

Although the stakes aren’t as high as they have been in Stanford-Oregon games of late, the bitterness between these two teams in recent years has manifested in an unofficial but biting rivalry, with the winner generally going on to clinch the Pac-12 North. That rivalry, along with the fact that both teams cling to postseason chances, will likely give rise to another emotional episode in this series, despite the game lacking College Football Playoff or Pac-12 implications.

“Records don’t matter,” head coach David Shaw said. “These are two proud football programs that have had some exciting games over the last five-plus years. Back and forth. Big plays. Some great players in those games, and some great players in this game coming up.”

And exciting players they are.

For Oregon, an offensive threat has come in the form of Oregon-native freshman quarterback Justin Herbert, who has tied single-game school records in both passing yards and touchdowns in just four starts this season. Although Herbert, along with the entire Ducks squad, struggled against USC last week, he has established himself as a viable threat in an Oregon offense that ranks 22nd nationally in total yards per game.

“Talented, accurate and athletic enough to hurt you. He has continued to grow in that position, and I think they’re excited about how he can finish out the year,” said Shaw of Herbert.

Herbert will have a range of potential targets, with six different pass catchers leading the Ducks in receiving the past six games. Junior wideout Darren Carrington II, despite logging just 7 yards against USC last week, leads the Oregon offense in receiving yards for the season.

The Oregon rushing attack, which had been extremely reputable in recent years, has failed to meet expectations in 2016.

Although growing pains were to be expected with four new starters on the offensive line, a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback, junior running back Royce Freeman was still supposed to be the tackle-breaking beast he has been since he first touched the field freshman year. However, after a couple of injuries sustained early in the season, Freeman’s output has diminished greatly, and he has rushed for an average of only 2.6 yards per carry in his last four games, compared to his 6.5 yards per carry last season.

Despite recent unimpressive performances, however, Stanford won’t take a proven talent like Freeman lightly.

“He is a big, physical guy, and I think like a lot of the guys we’ve had, he got kind of banged up earlier in the year and came back, and you never when that week is when he is completely healthy and ready to rumble. He’s always going to be a factor for us, just because we know how talented he is,” Shaw said.

While Freeman leads the Ducks with 599 rushing yards, he is joined in the rushing attack by sophomore Tony Brooks-James, who has proven effective with eight touchdowns and 597 yards on 7.6 yards per carry this season.

The story of the Stanford defense is the same for yet another week, as it will look to keep rolling and suffocate the Ducks offense in much the same way they have done the past four weeks, holding opponents well under their scoring average.

“We’ve done an outstanding job against the run, and that has to continue to grow. Our linebacker play, in particular our inside linebacker play, has been far-and-away much better than it was at the beginning of the year,” Shaw said. “We’re playing with a lot of passion, and we’re playing together.”

After weeks of ineffectiveness, the Stanford offense should be exciting to watch Saturday as well, as it looks to build on its second consecutive stellar performance on the ground against the Beavers of Oregon State last Saturday, in which the Cardinal finished with their highest rushing yardage total since 2011. After demonstrating an impressive ability to block downfield last week, the offensive line, in particular, will look to maintain its high level of play.

“The offensive line, with all that group has been through — new starters, guys changing positions, injuries … The last few weeks have been very encouraging as far as guys getting on their blocks, staying on their blocks, not having a lot of penalties and getting our runners through the line of scrimmage,” Shaw said.

That solid play from the Tunnel Workers Union has enabled Christian McCaffrey to sit atop the Pac-12 in rushing once again, after 199 yards and one touchdown against the Beavers. He also now leads the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards.

“Now that he’s healthy, and with more consistent play up front, you’re starting to see once again what he’s really capable of,” Shaw said.

The Cardinal surely haven’t forgotten that the Ducks hold a two-game winning streak on them, including a 38-36 loss that shattered Stanford’s Playoff hopes last season, and a 45-16 trouncing at Autzen Stadium in 2014.

“Oregon is such a huge rivalry game for us … two years ago, we went up there and played Mariota and left that field with a bitter taste in our mouth,” senior linebacker Noor Davis said. “A lot of the guys on the team who were a part of that take it upon themselves as ‘let’s go get some payback’ and want to go up there and really make a statement and show who we are.”

Kickoff will be at 1 p.m. at Autzen Stadium. The game will be aired on Pac-12 Networks.

 

Contact Samuel Curry at currys ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Samuel Curry

Sam Curry '20 is a sophomore desk editor for The Daily. Most of the time, people can find him cheering for all of the teams they probably hate, like the New England Patriots and the New York Yankees. Sam is a proud native of Big Timber, Montana, where he enjoys the great outdoors with his family and friends.