By Rick Eymer
There's no Stanford football game scheduled this weekend and that's just as well. The No. 6 Cardinal (5-1 in the Pac-12, 7-1 overall) is a little bit banged up and a tad wobbly and could use the extra few days to get itself right for No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 8-0), which visits Stanford for a special performance on ESPN next Thursday at 6 p.m.
"I think it's great," Stanford coach David Shaw said of playing on Thursday night. "It's awesome. Put it on a stage in front of people. It's a great college football experience; two great football teams going after it."
Thursday's game is also a platform for an overdue tribute for former Stanford (and NFL) great John Elway, who will have his '7' jersey officially retired.
"When I was here, Mark Butterfield was wearing No. 7 and I kept asking why was he wearing it?," Shaw said. "Don't get me wrong, Mark had a great senior year but even Toby Gerhart wearing '7,' I had to wonder."
This season, both junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery and sophomore defensive end Aziz Shittu have been wearing Elway's old number. Those days are coming to a quick end.
Shaw indicated that as long as he is the coach, no one will wear No. 12, which belonged to Andrew Luck before the Indianapolis Colts made him the overall No. 1 pick following the 2011 season.
"That jersey is still warm," Shaw joked. "It was on fire for three years."
Shaw will be honored this weekend at James Logan High, where he will be officially inducted into that school's Hall of Fame.
"I was taken back," Shaw said. "I wasn't expecting it. I feel honored. When our family moved to Fremont, we felt home right away."
Looking ahead to the Ducks, Shaw came close to saying he might use Kevin Hogan on the scout team to simulate Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. There's really no one else.
"I thought last year he was the best quarterback in the nation," Shaw said of Mariota. "Every throw is accurate. He has 20-something touchdown passes and no interceptions. He throws a pretty ball. If there is no one open, he takes off and runs the ball. If you wanted to design a quarterback, he is exactly what you would want."
With a weakened defensive line, the challenge will be even greater. Ben Gardner is out for the season with a pectoral injury, Henry Anderson may not be ready to play and linebacker Blake Lueders was recently moved to the defensive line to help stabilize the position.
"We're lucky to be in a position where this game is for all the marbles," Stanford senior fullback Ryan Hewitt said. "The winner usually goes on to win the Pac-12 championship. We have to take advantage of our opportunities. It's been a recurring theme that we've had to rely on the defense. We have been disappointing as an offense."
Stanford had 276 yards of offense in last week's 20-12 win at Oregon State, primarily thanks to Tyler Gaffney's 145 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Hogan, however, threw for a season-low 88 yards on just 8-of-18 passing.
The Cardinal also missed placekicker Jordan Williamson, who was sidelined with a leg injury for the second straight week. His replacement, Conrad Ukropina, missed an extra-point early that nearly cost Stanford the game, as Oregon State had the ball on the Stanford 7 with 30 seconds remaining but failed to score after four straight incomplete passes.
Stanford ranks seventh in the Pac-12, averaging 32.6 points a game, 23 points fewer than the conference-leading Ducks. The Cardinal does rank third, allowing 19.4 points per game but Oregon has done better, allowing 16.9 points. That means the Ducks score an average of nearly 39 more points, per contest, than their opposition.
Oregon has 2,652 rushing yards, 2,405 passing yards and out gains Stanford by over 242 yards a game.
The Cardinal does have an advantage in rushing defense, leading the Pac-12 with its 103.9 average that ranks No. 13 in the nation. No team has recorded more sacks (27) or allowed fewer (9) than the Cardinal. Stanford sacked Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion eight times.
"They take what the defense gives them," Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley said of Oregon. "One of the things they do well is they don't force things. We don't want them to get into a rhythm. The No. 1 thing is playing defense as a team and the top priority is tackling."
Easier said than done, of course. Mariota directs an explosive offense that can score from anywhere on the field.
"We don't want him to sit back and feel comfortable," Tarpley said. "But he's a great player and he will make plays. We don't want him to get into a rhythm."
Stanford defeated Oregon, 17-14, in Eugene last season, a victory that helped propel the Cardinal into the Rose Bowl.
Stanford would like to see history repeat itself.