STANFORD, Calif. — The Ducks have endured a painful Stanford problem this decade.
Oregon’s road to the national championship game was detoured by crushing losses to the Cardinal in 2012 under Chip Kelly (17-14 in overtime) and 2013 under Mark Helfrich (26-20).
But coach Mario Cristobal’s team created its own set of problems in 2018.
An overturned touchdown, jaw-dropping turnovers and questionable clock management allowed a 24-7 lead to evaporate in the second half as Oregon’s losing streak in the series was extended to three games.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Justin Herbert lamented after the bitter 38-31 overtime defeat to Stanford last year at Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks (2-1) begin Pac-12 play motivated to atone for last year’s Cardinal sins.
No. 16 Oregon faces Stanford on Saturday at Stanford Stadium (4 p.m., ESPN).
“With the circumstances from last year, I don’t think we need much motivation from a slogan standpoint,” wide receiver Jaylon Redd said. “I think the motivation is really internal. So everything we’ve got going on is inside.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time for this.”
Oregon, the slight preseason North Division favorite, can essentially eliminate the Cardinal (1-2, 0-1) from Pac-12 championship contention with a road victory.
“This game means a lot to us, especially the seniors. We’re all coming with bad memories, I would say,” said tight end Jacob Breeland, whose touchdown catch last year gave the Ducks a 14-0 lead over Stanford. “We were pretty depressed after that game. We’re going to come after it this year.
“We’ve got a chip on our shoulder. We’re ready.”
Herbert threw for 346 yards in the previous meeting, including 14 completions for 239 yards to Dillon Mitchell.
Oregon’s senior quarterback has been spreading the wealth so far this season. During nonconference play, 15 different players had at least one reception with nine different players catching a touchdown pass.
Stanford, which has allowed 45 points in consecutive losses at USC and Central Florida, is giving up an average of 280.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 109th in the FBS.
“When teams play at home, especially in conference play, you might as well just wipe the slate clean as it relates to anything before that,” Cristobal cautioned. “They have all the makings of a great football team. We have to be at our best.”
Wide receiver Johnny Johnson has broken out of his sophomore slump with a team-high 19 receptions for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
Redd has added 14 receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns as the Ducks wait for Juwan Johnson, Mycah Pittman and Brenden Schooler to get healthy.
Redd had a touchdown reversed by replay against Stanford last season that would have given Oregon a 30-7 lead with an extra point pending. Moments later, linebacker Joey Alfieri was scooping up a fumble for an 80-yard touchdown to begin the improbable comeback by the Cardinal.
“I think about that every day, man,” Redd said. “If I could have just got that ball inside (the pylon) or that situation could have went differently.
“The circumstances didn’t go my way, but right now we’re just staying blessed and going to work.”
Oregon’s running attack is still a work in progress after the first-team offensive line struggled to open up holes in the first half of blowout wins over Nevada (77-6) and Montana (35-3).
Co-starters Travis Dye and CJ Verdell have combined to average 100.4 yards per game.
Stanford ranks 62nd in rushing yards allowed (135.3 per game) and 94th in total yards allowed (415.7 per game).
Verdell rushed for 115 yards in last year's game, but his lost fumble at the Stanford 40-yard-line with 51 seconds remaining in regulation opened Cristobal up to criticism for his questionable clock management and led to a game-tying field goal by Jet Toner.
“I don’t think that exists with our guys and the way our guys are built up and the way we train,” Cristobal said when asked if Verdell, who was not made available to the media this week, had a mental hangover from the meltdown. “If there’s anything lingering, it’s nothing but motivation.”
Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello was 19-for-26 passing for 327 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against Jim Leavitt’s defense, including the game-winning touchdown to tight end Colby Parkinson in overtime.
After missing the USC game while recovering from a concussion, Costello passed for 199 yards with one touchdown and one interception during the Cardinal’s 45-27 loss at UCF.
Stanford is expected to start freshmen at each offensive tackle position. Projected first-round NFL draft pick Walker Little suffered a season-ending knee injury during the win over Northwestern in the opener.
“He’s a guy that can definitely sling the ball,” safety Brady Breeze said of Costello. “We have to stick to our coverages and have good eye discipline. They’re a really good team, and we definitely can’t take them lightly.”
Oregon’s defense has not allow a touchdown in back-to-back games for the first time in 31 years (Oregon State in 1987, Long Beach State in 1988) and has kept two consecutive opponents out of the end zone in the same season for the first time since 1972 (San Jose State, Oregon State).
First-year defensive coordinator Andy Avalos’ Ducks are 14th in the FBS in points allowed (12.0 ppg) and 22nd in yards allowed (272.3 ypg).
“I’ve been thinking about this game since last year,” senior linebacker Troy Dye said. “No one likes to lose, especially the way we lost last year, especially to this team because it’s a Pac-12 team, especially because it’s Stanford. It’s a big game.
“We dropped it last year. We should have had it. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. But I’ve been thinking about our freshman loss when they came here and beat us (52-27). I think about all the losses.”
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