In preparation for this weekend’s matchup between the Stanford Cardinal and No. 5 Oregon Ducks, The Stanford Daily’s Winston Shi talked with Joseph Hoyt of The Daily Emerald, the student newspaper of the University of Oregon.
Winston Shi (WS): Oregon’s on the outside looking in right now for the College Football Playoff, although if the Ducks run the table, they will be playing for it all. Mark Helfrich has barely finished his 20th game as head coach in Eugene, so it’s a little silly to ask you to appraise his tenure so soon, but how do you evaluate Oregon both this season and in the years to come under Helfrich’s leadership? Will Oregon compete for national championships every season? Or is that unreasonable to expect of the Ducks?
Joseph Hoyt (JH): Mark Helfrich took over the program that Chip Kelly built and he’s handled it well. His 17-3 record in his first 20 games is tied for a Pac-12 record and he’s led Oregon to two bowl wins in the last two years. To put it succinctly: Helfrich has been a success for the Ducks.
Like you mentioned, Oregon is in a similar position to recent years past. The Ducks are on the cusp of the inaugural College Football Playoff and appear to be hitting their stride. Reaching the semifinals is within Oregon’s grasp this season.
In regard to the future, I don’t think there is any reason not to think Oregon can continue its recent success. The recruiting classes haven’t been highly rated, but players have outplayed their rankings. Also, Oregon has the longest-tenured coaching staff in the Pac-12. Life after Marcus Mariota seems bleak, but there is plenty of reason to believe Oregon can keep the trend going.
WS: People talk a lot about how Stanford has beaten Oregon two times on the bounce, but they conveniently forget that Oregon’s 2-2 against Stanford in the last four years. In fact, two years ago people were talking about Oregon “solving Stanford.” I’d assume you’d argue that Stanford hasn’t “solved Oregon,” either? And what have the Ducks been doing in order to better prepare for the Card?
JH: It seems like it’s been forever since Andrew Luck admitted that Stanford had an “Oregon problem.” The Cardinal have dominated Oregon the last two seasons, while blocking Oregon’s route to a possible national championship in the process.
Oregon practices are closed, but I would assume the Ducks have reviewed and prepared to fare better against the Stanford rushing attack this time around. DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead — who is expected to return after missing last week’s game against Cal — are giants on the defensive line. The Ducks defense has to stop the Cardinal running game if they want any chance to win.
WS: We’ve heard a lot of Oregon’s devastating injuries on the offensive line, and the Ducks did give up plenty of sacks to Arizona and Washington State. Moreover, the Ducks are averaging “only” 223 rushing yards per game. How much has Jake Fisher’s return meant for the Ducks? And come Saturday, do you favor the Oregon offense over the Stanford defense?
JH: Jake Fisher’s return has been a turning point for the Ducks. Since his return, Mariota has been kept upright and the Ducks rushing attack has been constantly improving.
However, I’m curious to see how Oregon fares against the Cardinal defense on Saturday. Stanford boasts the No. 2 scoring defense in the country, giving up about six fewer points than they did last season. Also, Mariota has struggled against Stanford more than he has against any other opponent.
WS: Nick Aliotti was one of the most respected defensive coaches in the conference. When he retired, Mark Helfrich opted for continuity and promoted linebackers coach Don Pellum. Has Pellum changed how the Oregon defense operates? And with the Ducks ranking 61st in the country in points allowed per game, is this a unit that can not only take advantage of Stanford’s mistakes but impose its will on the Cardinal?
JH: The Oregon defense has shown flashes of brilliance this season. They handled Michigan State in the second half and contained Brett Hundley and UCLA. However, consistency hasn’t been the Ducks’ strong suit. The defense looks vulnerable. However, Stanford’s offense looks equally as unimpressive. Kevin Hogan looks like he’s regressed without a lead, go-to running back. In regard to taking advantage of Stanford’s mistakes, safety Erick Dargan has been a ball hawk. The Ducks’ defense has the potential to be successful, but it needs to be consistent.
WS: Finally, do you have a prediction for the game? What does Oregon need to do in order to win? What about the Cardinal? And for the Ducks, what would beating or losing to Stanford mean?
JH: I think this one remains close until the end, but Marcus Mariota ultimately gets his first win over Stanford 24-14. Royce Freeman continues his impressive stretch of 100-yard rushing performances and the defense forces a few Kevin Hogan mistakes to win.
A win for the Ducks would be monumental. Their biggest foe would be taken out of the picture and their dreams of a national championship would be intact.
Contact Winston Shi at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.