No. 23 Stanford Cardinal, Oregon Ducks: Preview, game time, outlook

By Jake Curtis, The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 10, 2017 at 5:59 PM
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Oregon and No. 23 Stanford, who face each other on the Cardinal's home field on Saturday night, have switched places over the past few weeks.

The Ducks (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) won their first three games and were ranked No. 24. They lost to Arizona State, then lost starting quarterback Justin Herbert for at least six weeks with a broken collarbone suffered in a win over California in their fifth game.

They were still the highest-scoring team in the nation heading into Saturday's home game against Washington State, but true freshman quarterback Braxton Burmeister struggled in his first start and Oregon got hammered by the Cougars 33-10. The usually supportive crowd at Autzen Stadium booed the Ducks.

First-year Oregon coach Willie Taggart expects Burmeister to improve with experience.

"I think he feels a heck of a lot better now, knowing what it's like," Taggart said following Sunday's practice.

Nonetheless, Burmeister, who threw two interceptions and lost a fumble against the Cougars, might not start against Stanford.

Fifth-year senior Taylor Alie is back after missing Saturday's game with a concussion, and he will compete with Burmeister for the starting job.

"We'll let it go through the week and see how the week goes," Taggart said. "Make sure the guy that gives us the best chance to win will be in there to play. We'll see."

Taggart is certainly familiar with his foe because he and Stanford head coach David Shaw were Cardinal assistant coaches under Jim Harbaugh.

While the Ducks are slipping, the Cardinal (4-2, 3-1) are on the rise. Stanford began the season 1-2, losing to USC and San Diego State, falling out of the rankings. But three straight victories, including Saturday night's 23-20 road win over then-No. 20 Utah, have put Stanford back in the Top 25 and back into the Pac-12 North race.

"Please, call somebody on the East Coast and let them know what happened in the second half," Shaw said, "because I guarantee they missed it."

Most are getting the word on Cardinal running back Bryce Love, though.

"Their running back is tremendous," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after the game. "We held him well below what he usually gets, but not enough."

Despite being bottled up for much of the game, Love had runs of 39 yards and 68 yards that were pivotal to Stanford's victory.

"We knew with enough opportunities Bryce Love is going to break one or two of them out, and he did that," Shaw said.

Love has had at least one run of 50 yards or more in eight straight games dating to last season, and his eight 50-yard-plus runs this season are more than any other team in the country except Notre Dame, which also has eight.

"He doesn't need a big hole," Taggart said. "This kid can find the smallest hole and get through it."

Love leads the nation in rushing with 1,240 yards, but Oregon will provide a test because the Ducks rank fifth nationally in yards allowed per rushing attempt, giving up just 2.73 yards per carry.

"It thought our defense played well," Taggart said after the Washington State game. "I didn't think we did enough offensively to show how well they played."

The Cardinal need Love's big-play potential because they are still unsettled at quarterback. Redshirt junior Keller Chryst and redshirt freshman K.J. Costello shared the quarterback snaps against Utah, and Shaw did not say whether that pattern will continue or which player will start Saturday.

Though neither was spectacular against Utah, the Cardinal did not commit any turnovers or allow any sacks in that game.

"Both guys played OK, played pretty well. Give them both about a B-minus," Shaw said.

Defense has been a Stanford calling card in its rise to national prominence, but the Cardinal ranks 101st among 129 FBS teams in total defense this season.

Making the defensive chore more difficult this week is the fact that two key defenders -- defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and linebacker Peter Kalambayi -- must sit out the first half against Oregon after being ejected for targeting in the second half against Utah.

This all may give Oregon's quarterback a better chance for success. In addition, the Ducks are likely to have starting wide receivers Charles Nelson (ankle) and Dillon Mitchell (concussion) available for the Stanford game after both sat out against Washington State.

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