- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Stanford owns the nation's top-rated rushing defense. Oregon has the league's best rushing attack. The Ducks are the only team in FBS football that averages at least six yards per carry, so the pressure is on Stanford's front seven to slow down the Ducks.
The question Ted and I have been asked is why aren't any Stanford players in consideration for individual awards? The answer is simple -- the strength of the Cardinal defense is the sum of its parts. No one guy stands out, but all are exceptional and each of them play off of each other. Ben Gardner, Terrence Stephens, Josh Mauro, Trent Murphy, Chase Thomas, A.J. Tarpley, Shayne Skov, et al. have to be at their best against the Ducks.
This is truly a matchup of strength versus strength. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Stanford holds its opponents to no gain or negative yards 38 percent of the time. Running backs against Stanford are gaining less than a yard before contact. Oregon, however, averages almost four yards before its backs are even hit and they gain positive yards 80 percent of the time.
And what happens early in the game could be telling. Stanford has only allowed 13 points in the first quarter all season. The Ducks are outscoring opponents by 154 points in the first quarter.
Much of quarterback Marcus Mariota's success has come off of play action. Following a fake or misdirection, he has 13 touchdowns to just one interception and he's completing 63.3 percent of his throws. Without play-action, he's completing just 50 percent of his throws. So while stopping the run is priority No. 1 for Stanford, discipline in the secondary will also be key.
While we usually reserve this space on Friday mornings for individual players who could be difference-makers, that's not how Stanford's defense operates. So to stop the team everyone expects to playing for the national championship, it's going to take a complete effort.