The Stanford Daily (TSD): In SoCal last week, the Ducks seemed simply overmatched by the streaking Trojans and their newfound star running back Ronald Jones II, who ended the night with a career-high four touchdowns. Against a Stanford offense that ran 29 run plays to close out the game against your rivals from Corvallis, what will be the biggest factor for the Ducks in their defensive attempt to stop the Love-McCaffrey machine in Eugene?
Jonathan Hawthorne (JH): Oregon’s defense at times this year has struggled to find its identity. Under new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, the results have been mixed. The Ducks had perhaps their best showing in Pac-12 play against ASU but showed that they aren’t quite where they want to be in giving up 45 points to USC. The Ducks have inserted new players on defense after injuries, like Jimmie Swain and Kaulana Apelu, but I don’t expect the Ducks to take a giant step forward against Stanford. However, there’s no doubt that Hoke would like to see his squad show up well in its final home game of 2016.
TSD: Oregon’s historically powerhouse offense has looked stagnant so far this season, with the Ducks being outgained in total yardage both on the ground and through the air as they prepare to host a hot Stanford defense that has held its opponents to fewer than 15 points for four consecutive games. Who on the Oregon offense could provide a key performance and ultimately crack Shaw’s highly touted defense?
JH: As the season has gone along, more questions have arisen in Oregon’s backfield. With Royce Freeman not looking like his old, productive self, the Ducks have turned to Tony Brooks-James at tailback. Wide receiver Darren Carrington, another key contributor for the Ducks on offense, did not start against USC. Carrington and Freeman have historically been the driving forces for Oregon’s up-tempo offense, but their uninspiring performances have seriously affected the Ducks this year.
True freshman quarterback Justin Herbert is still trying to find consistency, though he showed against ASU that he certainly has the tools to be Oregon’s future signal caller. The Ducks know that he’s the future, but he’s not quite a seasoned veteran.
TSD: Stanford’s offensive success in its past two wins have come with lackluster performances from newly named starting quarterback Keller Chryst. How can the Oregon defense take advantage of Chryst’s inability to effectively create a threatening pass attack on Saturday?
JH: Earlier this year, the Ducks allowed Colorado quarterback Steven Montez, also a freshman, to pass for 333 yards at Autzen Stadium. He was making his first career start. It will be important for Oregon to put the pressure on Chryst early in the game, not allowing him to get into a rhythm. It’s no secret that the Ducks defense has struggled this season, but true freshmen Brenden Schooler and Troy Dye have impressed Oregon fans. Schooler is tied for the Pac-12 lead in interceptions.
TSD: Freshman Justin Herbert tied school single-game records for touchdown passes and passing yards in his two previous starts, yet only tossed one touchdown for 162 yards in Oregon’s loss against USC last weekend. Against another stout secondary in the Cardinal, how can Oregon create more opportunities for its young quarterback and their passing offense in order to reclaim victory at home?
JH: I think the key will be adjusting to the changes in the Oregon backfield. The Ducks need to establish a run game early and allow Herbert to get comfortable against a historically stout Stanford defense. I’d look for Taj Griffin or Tony Brook-James to have breakout games, but if Royce Freeman shows that he’s healthy again, the Ducks could be in business.
TSD: Last weekend’s loss against USC ensured the first losing season in conference play in a decade for the Oregon Ducks, with another three games left to play. After covering the Ducks this season, what will be the biggest takeaway for you from this mediocre year, and what would excite you the most as you watch the last few games of the season?
JH: There aren’t too many positive takeaways from this season. The Ducks have their future quarterback in Herbert. Much of the offensive line is composed of redshirt freshmen, and the Ducks have found a couple leaders on defense. There are positives, but I don’t think many in Eugene or Oregon could have predicted just how far the Ducks would fall this year. There’s speculation that Mark Helfrich could be shown the door after this season. A victory over Stanford will go a long way towards his cause.
Contact Lorenzo Rosas at enzor9 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Jonathan Hawthorne at jhawthorne ‘at’ dailyemerald.com.