The Oregon defense has been good at times, but also shaky throughout stretches of games this season. Oregon will face by far the best offense since they faced Ohio State this week, and they'll need to be ready for the physical style that always comes with facing a David Shaw team.
Here are three keys to the game to look out for on Saturday for Tim DeRuyter’s defense.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux being 100% healthy
Mario Cristobal has said Thibodeaux looks ‘good’ and should be able to play in his typical capacity against Stanford, and if that's the case then that's a massive development for the Ducks.
The domino effect of Thibodeaux being on the field and healthy is massive. The obvious part is the best player in college football being on the field, but that also improves your depth at a spot that is thin right now without Bradyn Swinson - who will mis his second straight game with an injury.
With all eyes focused on Thibodeaux, other pass rushers should have a great chance to step up and contribute. Furthermore, if Oregon can find a consistent pass rush, something they haven’t been able to do without Thibodeaux, that will change the dynamic for the secondary as well, forcing more errant throws and allowing the defensive backs to make more plays on the ball.
2. Hold Tanner McKee to under 200 yards passing
Stanford’s new quarterback Tanner McKee has been one of the more impressive Pac-12 quarterbacks since he took over the starting duties in the middle of the Kansas State opener for the Cardinal. So far this season he's completed 67% of his passes with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
A very impressive stat line for a guy who saw very little action before this season. Last year he saw the field briefly against the Ducks with Davis Mills out due to COVID protocols, so the Ducks have seen him before, albeit a small sample size.
But this is a new kid with more confidence than ever. If Oregon can limit the passing game to under 200 yards, a mark McKee has eclipsed in all three games he’s started so far this season, I love Oregon’s chances of leaving Palo Alto with a victory.
3. Continue to force turnovers
Oregon’s ability to force turnovers has been downright incredible to start this season. With three fumbles vs. Fresno State, a key interception vs. Ohio State, and nine turnovers forced in the last two games vs. Stony Brook and Arizona, this is an amazing start. However, turnovers are somewhat luck-based and Tanner McKee hasn’t thrown an interception so far this season.
This leads me to believe that turnovers will be much harder to come by this week than in weeks past. If the Ducks can't get a substantial pass rush, forcing takeaways becomes that much more difficult, which leads us back to our first key above.
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But, if Oregon can continue this trend of forcing their opponents to make bad decisions that will always be a great recipe for victory.
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