Oregon Ducks coach Mario Cristobal and quarterback Justin Herbert have huge challenges in front of them at Stanford, taking on the Cardinal in the Ducks' Pac-12 Conference opener.
The Ducks have lost three in a row to the Cardinal with the most painful in overtime last year when Oregon blew a big lead in the second half. The Ducks fumbled three times on offense and the defense could not make a stop when it counted most.
Cristobal mismanaged the play clock and play selection in the last minute of the game, and the Ducks fumbled on a running play instead of falling on the ball, allowing Stanford to kick a last-second field goal and force overtime.
The Ducks have been horrendous on the road the past three years (4-12). This must change as they have USC, Washington, Arizona State and Stanford on the road this year. To contend for the North Division title, Oregon needs to win three-of-four games.
Herbert has never defeated Stanford and has a losing record in Pac-12 games. He is off to a good start this season, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. He has been helped by creative play calling. It will be interesting to see if Cristobal relies on Herbert’s athleticism, or if the game is tight, his playcalling becomes conservative.
Herbert threw for over 300 yards against Montana, throwing accurately on all throws except on deep balls down the sideline. A pro scout told me that one knock on Herbert is his accuracy as he misses receivers when he tries to throw too hard, and on streak routes, he throws the ball too much online.
Watch to see if Herbert puts some air under the ball when he throws deep down the sideline; that is, if he puts more arc on the pass to keep it away from the defender to give the receiver a better chance to judge the ball. Too many of Herbert’s passes come down out-of-bounds because his aiming point seems too close to the sideline while it should be about five to six yards from the boundary.
The Ducks’ secondary needs to show they can cover receivers who are taller than they are, and that was a deciding factor last year. Stanford also takes pride in its pad level on the offensive and defensive lines. They've dominated the Ducks on the line of scrimmage in the past three wins. It will likely be a deciding factor in who wins this game as low man wins on the line of scrimmage.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He conducts a weekly coach's corner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the 6th Street Grill.