One of the biggest home games in Stanford Stadium history is now only days away, and reinforcements should arrive for the Cardinal's ailing defensive line and inexperienced receiving corps.
A little less than eight weeks after injuring his knee in Stanford's victory over Army, redshirt junior defensive end Henry Anderson should return to the field for the Cardinal. Additionally, redshirt sophomore receiver Devon Cajuste is expected to play on Thursday.
"It looks like Henry is going to play," Stanford coach David Shaw said on Tuesday. "He's gone through a couple of days of practice and feels good. I'm not sure whether he's going to start, but I would imagine both he and Blake (Lueders) will play a significant amount assuming there are no setbacks."
"We were slow yesterday (with Devon Cajuste, but) he went full speed today and looked good," Shaw said." I would anticipate him seeing some time. I don't know how much and for how long because really for him it's a pain tolerance deal. But he felt great today. We put him through about half a practice today. He made all the cuts on both legs and did really well. I would anticipate him playing."
Stanford is also optimistic about kicker Jordan Williamson's chances of playing.
"Jordan kicked yesterday, won't kick today, and will kick tomorrow," Shaw said. "We'll probably know for sure after that. But still the arrow is pointing up. (We're) hopeful that he'll be able to kick. Possibly not kickoff, but possibly handle field goals. We'll see."
Stanford won't be completely healthy, however. Reserve safety Zach Hoffpauir and defensive linemen Ikenna Nwafor remain sidelined. Shaw said that Hoffpauir "looks like he might be a couple of weeks away".
Ducks' defense commands respect: For all of the attention paid to Oregon's dynamic offense, the Ducks' defense has been an imposing unit in its own right. Oregon is ranked No. 13 nationally in red zone defense, No. 26 in rushing defense and No. 20 in third down conversion percentage defense.
Perhaps even more impressively, Oregon's defense ranks No. 7 nationally in yards allowed per play. By comparison, Stanford's defense ranks No. 11 and allows 4.68 per play.
Shaw said much of the credit for Ducks' stout defense should go to longtime Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.
"Nobody ever talks about Nick Aliotti," Shaw said. "They talk about the offense and the points. But they can't do what they do if the defense doesn't play the way the defense plays. The defense is phenomenal on third down. They're awesome in the red zone. They get turnovers, they get sacks. They limit rushing yards. They get the ball back to their offense repeatedly. There have been games early in the season, and even not too long ago, where honestly UCLA's defense played them really well for a half and slowed them down, but Oregon's defense slowed down UCLA's offense. Oregon's defense slowed down Washington's offense. Even though they made some plays, they slowed them down and kept them at bay. And then they go on one of their runs offensively and the defense doesn't let the other team answer a score with a score."
Oregon's defense has successfully weathered the departure of a pair of top NFL draft picks in Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan, along with star inside linebacker Michael Clay. In fact, Shaw thinks the Ducks' front-seven might be better this year than last.
"Defensively, that's the thing that's hard to put your finger on," Shaw said. "Because you lose in our opinion the best defensive player in the league last year in Kiko and then Michael Clay who's a stud and the freak out there, Dion Jordan, and as a front they're probably playing better. I know Dion was hurt on and off last year, Kiko had a broken hand or thumb or whatever it was, but they're playing extremely well together. As a unit up front they're bigger. They're bigger, they're longer, they're more physical. You can't hold the ball even on a three-man rush because they end up getting back to the quarterback."
Stanford center Khalil Wilkes said that Oregon's defensive line is the best unit the Cardinal will have faced this season.
"They lost some guys but they also kept a lot of key guys for them," Wilkes said. "No. 66, Taylor Hart, has played for them for a few years. Last year their defensive line was very banged up. Their nose guard was out, Hart had an injury and Dion Jordan was hurt too. These guys are all healthy and like our coach said, this is probably the best d-line that we've faced this year. And we're up to the challenge. Their linebackers are playing really well. They're very athletic guys and on the outside they have very athletic guys. But the main thing is for us to strain through blocks against the d-line.
How to stop Oregon: Stanford's defense did a commendable job of making tackles in space and getting penetration in its 17-14 victory over Oregon in 2012. What's the key to another strong defensive performance?
"First and foremost, getting lined up," Shaw said. "They are still the fastest. I don't care what anybody says, they're still the fastest. And if you're not lined up and you don't recognize what's going on and you don't get the call, one guy out of position leads to a touchdown. And Oregon probably leads the nation for the last few years in un-touched touchdowns. Not just touchdowns, but guys that go untouched. Somebody's not in the right gap and they (get by) you and it's a track meet and you can't catch them. It's about being in position when the ball is snapped and that's huge because you can't recover. And then offensively you have to keep the ball away from them. You just have to. It's not really about time of possession, it's limiting possession. Don't give them that many opportunities. And when we have our opportunities we have to score and prefer touchdowns over field goals because they're not going to kick a whole lot of field goals."
Containing Duck quarterback and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Marcus Mariota is another significant challenge. Mariota hasn't thrown an interception since Tarpley picked him off in last year's game.
"You see him so composed," Shaw said. "The ball hardly ever goes into coverage. I mean, you can't throw 7-on-7 and not throw an interception. He's gone through (eight) games and not thrown an interception. He doesn't throw it into coverage. He has such a calm about him. Even when he's getting pressured he can just kind of slide and wait and wait and throw it. Or when a guy's about to sack him he just takes off and runs and leaves him. So he has such a great composure about him. He's just a more mature version of the really good quarterback from last year."
"The closest guy to him that I've seen is Colin Kapernick. So big, so fast, so athletic, so in command. We can't even try to duplicate that (in practice). All we can do is get our guys ready to play the scheme and play their deals and show our guys where their opportunities are to make those tackles and try to get him on the ground. Because it's not going to be easy."
For all of the deserved praise lavished on Stanford's defense for its performance in last year's game, the Cardinal offense was sloppy at times. Stanford committed three turnovers and was held more than 10 points below its season scoring average.
"To tell you the truth, the thing I mainly remember from that game is how many mistakes we made," Khalil Wilkes said. "We had a lot of mistakes on offense. Our defense played absolutely unbelievable and we understand as an offense we have to play better and limit some of those turnovers that we had from the last game."
Although the offense didn't light up the scoreboard, it did control the game's tempo. Stanford possessed the ball for 37:05 compared to Oregon's 22:55.
"I think that was huge," Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey said of dictating tempo. "That's the key with an offense as explosive as (Oregon's) is not committing turnovers and being able to grind out the clock on them with being able to run the ball and maintain drives."
For the offense to have its best chance at exceeding its scoring output from a year ago, Stanford will also need Kevin Hogan to improve upon his 8-18 performance against Oregon State.
"We just need Kevin to relax and play his game and play at a high level," Shaw said. "His mobility, just like Marcus' mobility, hurts defenses. When he's taking care of the ball and he's running when he should run and throwing the ball with accuracy we believe we have good weapons that can go down the field and make plays for him. Ty's played at a high level. Michael Rector has had a few opportunities the last couple of games. We feel he's done a great job. Jordan Pratt I thought has played great. It's just the ball hasn't come his way very much… Kodi Whitfield has played great in the opportunities (he's received). We feel like we have weapons outside that can do things for him. Combine that with our running game, combine that with his mobility and hopefully we have enough."
After Oregon opened as a 7.5-point favorite, the point spread for Thursday's contest has been bet up to 10. David Shaw doesn't think that's a high enough number.
"It's only 10? I thought it was going to be higher," Shaw said. "They've played as well as anyone in the nation and we haven't. so the fact that it's only 10 I think is a huge credit to our kids. Because it should be higher."
Shaw didn't take any offense to De'Anthony Thomas' comment that Oregon should score at least 40 points against a Stanford defense that held the Ducks to 14 last season.
"I've seen them play and I have no problem with him saying that," Shaw said. "They score at least 40 on everybody. That's confidence. It's not arrogance. They've put it on film. We've played really well at times on defense. At times we haven't. So that's fine. I don't have an issue with that."
Shaw said that he has not been in touch with Jonathan Martin since the former Stanford left tackle left the Dolphins last week, but that he hopes Martin is able to eventually return to the field and pursuit his passion.
"I'm a Jonathan Martin fan, so my interest is just in him getting himself back to the point where he gets a chance to play this game that he loves again," Shaw said.
For Shaw's complete comments on Martin, Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami has the transcript.
ESPN will air a on-site edition of SportsCenter from Stanford's White Plaza on Thursday morning at 9:15, 10:15 and 11:15. In the afternoon, College Football Live will air from Stanford Stadium from 2:00-2:30. A special 90-minute pregame edition starting at 4:30 will take viewers up until kickoff.
Henry Anderson has mostly managed to maintain his strength and weight through his extended injury layoff.
"He's looked like Henry (in recent practices)," Shaw said. "You just don't know how many plays (he'll be able to play). We're not sure about the conditioning. But structurally his leg is great. It feels strong. He's squatting exactly what he was before he got hurt. And he's able to push off of it and get power. He's still right around 290 as opposed to the 295 maybe right around where he got hurt. So he's still big and physical and athletic. I don't know that he's going to be ready to play 65, 70 plays, but we're hoping to get him at his best."