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Oregon Football

Oregon Football Defensive Keys to Victory: Stanford

September 18, 2019

Stanford’s offense has been a thorn in Oregon’s side the past four years. Since holding the Cardinal to 16 points in the 2014 matchup in Autzen -- Stanford’s worst year in the past decade -- Stanford has scored 36 (2015), 52 (2016), 49 (2017) and 38 (2018) points against the Ducks. All but the first total led to an Oregon loss.

Much of the Cardinal's success was due to Oregon’s defense -- or lack thereof. After ranking 114th and 126th in points allowed in 2015 and 2016 and having nowhere to go but up, the defense improved to 77nd (2018) and 63rd (2018). Not great, but not terrible either. 

Still, the past four years have seen a combination of Stanford’s power offense and Oregon’s less-than-imposing defense leading to lopsided numbers on the scoreboard. 2019, however, is shaping up to be different.

Through three games, Stanford’s offense ranks toward the bottom of the pack in yards per game (T-101st), rushing yards per game (105th) and points per game (T-103rd). Senior quarterback K.J. Costello already has suffered one injury that kept him out of a game. Star left tackle Walter Little is out for the season. And Cardinal running back Cameron Scarlett has been unable to make an impact.

Oregon’s defense, meanwhile, is making a statement. Andy Avalos' new scheme and playmakers across the board have so far risen to the occasion.

For the first time in a while, we can say the Ducks' defense has the advantage on Stanford’s offense. That is a testament both to the Oregon's development  and regression -- and injuries -- on Stanford's part.

That said, here are three keys for the Oregon defense against Stanford ahead of Saturday’s game on The Farm.

Be the Bully

If Oregon fans feel apprehensive about how the defense matches up against Stanford’s offense, they aren’t to blame. Like Oregon’s vaulted offense, Stanford has established a reputation. Known for a power run game complimented by a pro-style passing attack, the Cardinal is well-known for its ability to impose its will against opponents.

At least in years past. 2018 showed the first signs of Pac-12 defenses acclimating to Stanford’s offense. Defensive linemen got bigger, teams shifted to the 3-4 and the bullies no longer looked so big.

Now in 2019, the Oregon front seven needs to go into this matchup as if THEY were the bullies. Be confident, be physical and be imposing.

Stanford played three freshmen on the offensive line against UCF, and one -- Branson Bragg -- went down with an injury. This isn’t the time for Oregon to assume it is the less physical of the teams -- because it's not. It can push around Stanford’s inexperienced front, create penetration and wreak havoc on the Cardinal.

Moreover, it’s time for the front seven to know the secondary has their back. They can play with greater force and tenacity knowing Oregon’s corners and safeties can lock the Stanford receivers down.

Expect Avalos to throw as many looks as possible at Stanford's young offensive line. The more pressure, the better.

Colby Parkinson, Meet Oregon’s Nickel

Stanford tight ends have the habit of shredding the Ducks. In fact, they are known for shredding all of college football. Current Cardinal tight end Colby Parkinson is no exception.

Leading the team in receiving through three games, Parkinson is a massive target at 6-7 and 250 pounds. Against Oregon’s former defenses he presented a big problem, and in Saturday’s matchup he likely still will. But the expanded presence of a nickel back in Oregon’s secondary helps mitigate some of Stanford’s tight end advantage.

In three games this year, redshirt freshman Verone McKinley III is tied for fourth on the team in tackles and has proven more than adequate at the position. Backup senior Haki Woods Jr., meanwhile, is a more physical presence who certainly be matched up against Parkinson whenever practical.

Given the speed and physicality necessary to stop Parkinson from dominating the Ducks, the tight end/nickel matchup in Saturday’s game will be critical to Oregon’s success.

Have a Day, Mase Funa

No position better fits freshman Mase Funa than the Stud. In his first games as an Oregon Duck -- and the first for the young defender in nearly two years -- he has made his name known.

Against Stanford, the Ducks should let Funa loose. More importantly, however, they need to let him play free, especially after an outstanding performance against Montana.

Playing the bulk of Stud snaps due to Bryson Young's injury, Funa built on his performance against Nevada -- three solo tackles and one sack. The freshman now has three sacks in the past two games and could be in for a big day against Stanford.

If the Ducks are to emerge victorious over Stanford for the first time in four seasons, Funa must continue to elevate his play. Young is expected back, but he will be nursing an injury.

Oregon needs its Studs to apply consistent pressure on Costello and keep the Cardinal off balance. If they don’t, Costello could gain the confidence necessary to showcase his NFL-level skill set for the first time this year.

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