Sports

Oregon game should prove crucial to division title hopes

 

The Stanford football team has done a nice job of staying in the moment. It has won eight straight games and can claim its third Pac-12 Conference North Division title in the last four years by beating Oregon on Saturday or Cal the following week.

Any loss by the Ducks in their remaining games against the Cardinal, USC and Oregon State also does the trick.

While there is no denying Stanford -- which moved up two spots to No. 7 in Sunday's latest AP poll -- has hit the stretch run and has much at stake on its home turf the next three weeks. Culminated by its regular-season finale against Notre Dame on Nov. 28, players are focused Oregon.

Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN.

"It's not wrapped up at all," fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Hogan said after Saturday's 42-10 win at Colorado. "We're still going to get better every week. We have a big game against a Pac-12 North rival."

Stanford (8-1 overall, 7-0 Pac-12) has won two of the past three meetings with Oregon.

The Ducks (6-3, 4-2), who lost to Ohio State in the national title game last season, have been up and down in 2015. However, they looked like their old, dangerous selves Saturday night while beating Cal, 44-28. Elusive quarterback Vernon Adams, a transfer from Eastern Washington, threw for 300 yards and running backs Royce Freeman and Tony Brooks-James each surpassed 100 yards rushing. Oregon amassed an Autzen Stadium record 777 total yards.

Defensive end DeForest Buckner, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound senior from Hawaii, is a force. He ranks 20th in the country in sacks with seven and 35th in tackles for loss with 12.

The Ducks rank ninth nationally in scoring at 42.2. Stanford ranks 15th in rushing yards/game (227.7), 21st in scoring (37.1), 29th in total defense (338.7) and 30th in scoring defense (20.2).

But those aren't the most important numbers. The Cardinal ranks first nationally in time of possession (35:00), and has excelled on third and fourth down. Stanford ranks third in the nation on fourth-down conversions at .900 (9 of 10) and 14th on third down at .467.

"They're big and physical, and they're able to run it on third down and throw it," said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. "Their quarterback is so efficient at what he does. Their offensive line has stayed healthy, so you put those two combinations together and they're going to win a lot of football games."

Hogan, who once again sparked the offense with his arms and legs, led Stanford to touchdowns on five of its first six possessions. All told, the offense converted 10 of 16 times on third down.

"That's the biggest part, moving the chains on long drives because the defense wears down and it's kind of demoralizing," Hogan said. "We were fortunate to finish in the end zone on most of our drives and that's where you want to be."

McCaffrey's homecoming

Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey did it all against the Buffaloes. The Castle Rock, Colorado, native ran for 147 yards, threw a 28-yard touchdown pass and finished with 220 all-purpose yards. He remains the national leader in the latter, averaging 241.56 per game, ranks ninth in rushing yards (1,207), and 10th in rushing yards/game (134.1) and kickoff returns (28.8).

"I knew it was a big deal coming home and I had a lot family and friends here, but we came to win a football game and nothing else, so I don't think there were a lot of nerves," McCaffrey said.

He visited with several Colorado players afterward.

"It was awesome," said McCaffrey. "So many of those guys I've grown up with and known for a very, very long time. To see them postgame and to see the support that we have for each other was something that was really cool."

McCaffrey threw a touchdown pass in high school, but it was his first attempt in college.

"We had run it in practice and coach gave us the go-ahead," he said. "Hogan said, 'Hey man, don't throw it if it's not wide open' and (Austin) Hooper kind of nudged me and said, 'Throw the ball.' He made a great play in the end zone."

Heisman watch

McCaffrey's name continues to be mentioned in the Heisman Trophy discussion. Veteran columnists Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman of FOXsports.com rank him No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in their latest projections.

Asked if he has thought about the award, McCaffrey said, "I haven't. I've tried to limit all of that talk and focus on becoming 1-0 each week."

Injury update

Fifth-year senior wide receiver Devon Cajuste and sophomore cornerback Alijah Holder left Saturday's game with injuries.

"Both guys look like they should be okay," said Shaw.

Honorary captain

Former Stanford running back Stephan Taylor, the school's career leader in rushing yards (4,300) and attempts (843), served as honorary captain. He now plays for the Arizona Cardinals, who had a bye week.

Extra Points

Senior inside linebacker Blake Martinez ranks 13th nationally and first in the Pac-12 in tackles/game with 10.4 . . . The Stanford defense limited Colorado to only 2 of 11 third-down conversions . . . After intercepting only one pass in the first five games, Stanford has picked off six in the past four . . . Hogan ranks 13th in the nation in passing efficiency (163.0), 17th in completion percentage (.662) and 21st in yards/completion (13.77) . . . Senior Conrad Ukropina is sixth in the country in field-goal percentage (.917) and has converted 11 of 12 attempts.

Quotable

"He gets from zero to 60 as fast as anybody I've been around." - David Shaw on speedy freshman running back Bryce Love

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