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MailTribune.com
  • Running Ducks meet run-stopping Cardinal in key clash

  • The nation's most explosive rushing attack and its top run defense will go head-to-head Saturday.
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  • The nation's most explosive rushing attack and its top run defense will go head-to-head Saturday.
    An Oregon offense that averages 6.07 yards per carry, first nationally, will play unstoppable force to the immovable object that is Stanford's defense, which is allowing 2.02 yards per carry, fewest in the country. The No. 1 Ducks and No. 14 Cardinal play Saturday in Autzen Stadium at 5 p.m.
    "Best D line we've faced so far," UO senior guard Ryan Clanton said. "They scheme, they disguise blitzes — you can't tell at the snap what they're going to do. And they're physical."
    The Cardinal have allowed just 586 rushing yards; the No. 2 run defense nationally, that of Florida State, has allowed 743. But Stanford's front seven isn't just stopping the run — the Cardinal also lead the nation with 42 sacks, for 275 lost yards.
    "They're good against the run, they're good against the pass," UO coach Chip Kelly said. "It's a huge challenge for us offensively."
    This will be the second consecutive test for Oregon's rushing game, which provided 180 yards of offense in the Ducks' victory over California. That was the first time Oregon failed to rush for at least 200 yards since the 2011 opener against LSU.
    The Ducks overcame that thanks to 377 passing yards from Marcus Mariota, now the nation's most efficient passer. Stanford's secondary ranks 99th nationally in yardage allowed but 25th in pass efficiency defense, thanks in part to seven interceptions from the safety tandem of Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards.
    "I don't care if we run it, I don't care if we throw it," Kelly said. "If you're going to let us throw for 377 and six touchdowns (as Mariota did at Cal), we'll take that every week."
    Mariota overcame numbness in his left (non-throwing) shoulder to help the Ducks score the final 35 points of a 59-17 victory over the Golden Bears. He anticipates the Ducks making some offensive adjustments out of respect to Stanford's defensive front.
    "We might have to throw the ball a little more, and there's some run-game things we can do," said Mariota, adding that the shoulder issue is behind him.
    Running back Kenjon Barner also was hurt at California, suffering a thumb injury that he said Tuesday has bothered him in the past. But after wearing a splint to protect the joint Saturday after the game, he wasn't sporting any sort of protective device for a post-practice interview Tuesday.
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    OREGON'S BELEAGUERED DEFENSIVE line and secondary enjoyed some encouraging developments Tuesday.
    The Ducks' pregame two-deep for Saturday includes a starting defensive line of Taylor Hart, Ricky Heimuli, Isaac Remington and Dion Jordan. Hart was injured in the first half at Cal and wasn't in pads after halftime, and the other three dressed but didn't play because of injury.
    Oregon typically lists players with minor injuries in the two-deep, though their presence is no guarantee they'll be available. But the Ducks do remove players who have suffered major injuries that require long-term recovery, including nose guard Wade Keliikipi and safety Avery Patterson this week.
    Also, backup cornerback Dior Mathis said he should be available against Stanford, after not making the trip to the Cal game. Kelly declined to comment on reports that running back De'Anthony Thomas is being prepared for possible emergency duty at corner, but Mathis said Thomas has looked "good" and that, "He's De'Anthony; he can do anything he wants to."
    True freshman Alex Balducci is listed as Heimuli's backup at nose guard, and converted receiver Ben Butterfield is the backup to Erick Dargan at Patterson's safety spot.
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    BARNER'S 65-YARD rushing performance at California was good enough to move him up to fifth all-time on Oregon's single-season rushing list, at 1,360 yards, but he slipped in the Heisman Trophy race.
    Barner remains in strong position to be a finalist for college football's most prestigious individual award. But after showing up at second in a straw poll of Heisman voters coordinated by CBS Sports following his 321-yard performance at USC a week earlier, Barner slipped this week to sixth — tied with Mariota.
    Oregon's quarterback is drawing mention as a serious candidate from several Heisman voters this week, including Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports and Steve Greenberg of The Sporting News. ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski wrote Tuesday that he would have both Barner and Mariota in New York as finalists.
    Barner's 1,360 yards for the season trail only LaMichael James' totals from the past three seasons and Jonathan Stewart's 2007 total on Oregon's single-season record list. James' 1,546 yards in 2009 are fourth, a total Barner would reach during the Civil War, at his current pace.
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