It’s early, I get it. Why are we talking about Stanford playing Oregon when it’s August and the Cardinal just played Rice? Quietly, the Stanford Oregon rivalry is one of the best in the Pac-12 and the Ducks in Eugene are going to do anything they can to avoid another dreadful season as they had last year, so we need to take a peek even before games have kicked off.
The matchups between the Cardinal and the Oregon Ducks are some of the best games that we’ve seen in recent history. The Pac-12 rivalry that doesn’t get as much street cred as the one from across the Bay, but it seems as though every time the Cardinal and Ducks faceoff there’s something major to lose by the end of the game.
The tide began to turn back in 2009 with Andrew Luck, and it seems that every year no matter how many Vegas lines you read on who’s likely to win, it never goes quite like you’d imagine.
So, let’s take a look inside of Oregon’s program and see how the Ducks stand up against the Cardinal.
- This will be Stanford’s Reunion Homecoming game-Alums rejoice
- The Ducks will not wear a different uniform combo every week per the new direction under Head Coach Willie Taggart
- This will be a head to head match-up of two African American head coaches at Power 5 programs and the only 2 head black coaches in the Pac-12
- No preseason ranking for Oregon in the top 25 for the first time in 10 years
- Pac-12 Poll projection: 4th in North Division (but who can ever trust that poll anyway?)
New Coach- Willie Taggart’s Breakdown
After what was a down year for Oregon in 2016 going a mere 4-8, this is Oregon’s first external head coaching hire in forty years, but something drastic had to happen. Taggart worked under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford starting in 2006 as the teams running backs coach (the mastermind behind Toby Gerhart) and he’s been known in the football world as another son to the Harbaugh family. This will be a bittersweet reunion facing off against Coach Shaw back in Palo Alto.
Taggart then left Stanford in 2010 to become the Head Coach at is Alma Mater, Western Kentucky. He took the team from 2-10 to a respectable 7-5 then was hired as Head Coach to the USF Bulls at the end of 2012. His last year with USF he went 10-2 with his high scoring offense (averaging above 40 points per game) and a reputation as a good recruiter and a “players’ coach”.
Taggart is now looking to bring his high yards per play to Oregon- right up Oregon’s alley in terms of offense-but could he follow the formula that previous Oregon coaches have left with high powered offenses and mediocre defenses?
Other New Coaches
Taggart has hired a good staff including co-offensive coordinators, Marcus Arroyo (previously at Oregon State) and Mario Cristobal (previously at Alabama). He’s also got Jim Leavitt coming from Colorado as his d-coordinator, who made quite the turnaround for that program last season.
Regularly Scheduled QB
The Ducks will start with Justin Herbert at quarterback who took over mid-Oct last year with 1,936 yards and 19 TD’s. Herbert will be a nice change of pace for the offensive, instead of wondering who will start at QB this year or what transfer will come in. Taggart will be able to build off Herbert from last season and refine him.
Run Game Strong
Herbert will be able to rely on the most experienced running back on the field come October in, Royce Freeman. Returning from last year instead of going into the draft, Freeman will be looked upon as a leader in the locker room and on the field for Oregon. He’s also 936 rushing yards away from tying the No. 1 running back in Oregon history, LaMichael James with 5,082. Freeman is for sure the key for Oregon if they want to try and make any headway against Stanford’s stellar defense returning in 2017. In 2016 Oregon finished second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards.
They also have Tony Brooks-James a redshirt Junior, returning for the season who had 771 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 101 carries as a red-shirt sophomore in 2016. There are also a mix of younger guys, including freshman who are expected to see reps and playing time.
Receivers Are the Biggest Question
With Darren Carrington no longer in Eugene, the offense will be looking for guys to step up and make themselves a target for Herbert. Charles Nelson, Sr. will be a top target having 54 receptions for 554 yards in 2016. The team has also moved Brenden Schooler from safety to receiver as well for the first time as well as Taj Griffin who played running back. I’m sure a few things will shift around before this game kicks off which makes preparing that much more difficult for Coach Shaw and his staff. Taggart has stated throughout the off-season and camp that there will be freshman that get quality playing time this year. Don’t be surprised to hear the name Johnny Johnson III a freshman, who’s been making waves at camp.
Leavitt is looking to continue his reputation for building defenses. He’s got his hands full as last year Oregon allowed over 40 points per game. At Colorado, Leavitt’s defense improved from 114th in total defense in 2014, to 17th this past fall and Colorado won the Pac-12 South. Leavitt has said he wants sophomore Troy Dye, the leading returning tackler, to be on the field as much as possible, the linebacker is projected to be more inward in Leavitt’s 3-4 base defense.
Leavitt has much of the same players as last year but he’s changing the culture in Euguene on defense and making sure his players understand how to read and call out plays. Look for another freshman to make a difference for the Ducks in Jordon Scott at nose tackle.
Depsite the back and forth, we can’t see Stanford’s solid defense letting the younger players from Oregon come into Palo Alto and ruining what should be a very good season this year for the Cardinal.
Between the Cardinal’s experienced secondary, good runs from Bryce Love and hopefully even more experience under Chryst, I’d make my bet on the Cardinal with the win in October.