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Stanford's revelatory win over Oregon State sets up pivotal showdown with nemesis Ducks

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The renewed vigor in the Cardinal offense makes Saturday's contest infinitely more compelling

Brian Bahr

A week and a half ago, this game looked like a balloon slowly leaking air.

Stanford fell out of the top 25 by sleepwalking to a loss against Arizona State, while Oregon hammered Washington to put together back-to-back wins over UCLA and the rival Huskies.

Sure, there would still be intrigue in the Stanford-Oregon game, but the battle would be more Zoolander and Hansel than Foreman and Frazier.

But then - a heartbeat! - Stanford's offense looked capable, real, and not exasperating against Oregon State. And suddenly here we are again, late in the season, eyeing a conference-altering game between the Cardinal and the Ducks.

The Stanford offense was more efficient - 6.7 yards per play and 9.6 yards per pass - than any other game this season. Kevin Hogan used his legs early in the game for a touchdown. Christian McCaffrey graduated from offensive curio to centerpiece. Ty Montgomery racked up 147 total yards and added a touchdown on a punt return.

While the offense did bog down in the garbage time second half, Hogan threw two woeful interceptions, and there were still penalties and mistakes on early downs, the offense that David Shaw called "streamlined" made sense and it worked. The Cardinal became, well, a little more like everyone else in the Pac-12. Fewer ogres and elephants, more screen passes and perimeter runs. And that's okay. It better suited the offensive personnel, the coaches didn't have to stray too far from what they were doing beforehand, and most importantly, it worked. The hail of questions David Shaw had to answer about the offense finally were addressed, at least for one game.

Now the question is a different one: can Stanford's offense continue to trend in that positive direction? There's reason to doubt it was a one-week aberration because of what David Shaw said before and after the game, and he does deserve to be credited for piloting the Cardinal out of the doldrums that he had piloted it into.

While it's too late to salvage a truly special season, the offensive awakening was better late than never, and - perhaps more importantly - better before the Oregon game than at any point in the season.

For a little extra background information, let's first examine this week in Football Outsiders' S&P rankings, a metric that attempts to aggregate the quality of a team into one number:

snp

Oregon and Stanford, side by side. The Ducks with the number 3 offense in college football and the Cardinal with the number one defense. Stanford's offense stands 57th, but the Ducks defense is down at 26th.

Does that look and sound a little familiar?

Indeed, the the Ducks offense still operates at a high level, but their defense is a cause for concern. They've allowed 30 or more points in four of the last five games and are 122nd in the nation in allowing plays of more than 10 yards.

That could be a problem when facing an offense that just might be living up to its potential for the first time all season.

So now, on the doorstep of November, here we are once again. Stanford and Oregon. And even if it's not Foreman and Frazier, styles do make fights.

Does that feel familiar?