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One of the most eye-popping headlines as the Stanford Cardinal approached its Week 4 match-up against Oregon, is that they’re the only two teams left undefeated in the entire Pac-12. The reason in Eugene is mostly because of QB Justin Herbert; whereas Stanford is soaking in the Pac-12 North with QB K.J. Costello.

While the Cardinal have faced some sort of challenge with Southern Cal in Week 2, Oregon has been on cruise control. It’s been like that for Oregon, who hasn’t faced a ranked opponent through Week 4 since 2015, when they lost, 31-28, to then-No. 5 Michigan State. Since 2015, Oregon’s gone 5-3 against unranked teams in its first four weeks.

Among other news, Stanford has previously dug itself a ditch at Autzen, where the Cardinal are only 2-3 since 2008. Both wins have come under David Shaw, who was hired back in 2011.

Last 5 meetings @ Oregon (prior to 2018):

2016: Stanford won, 52-27

2014: Stanford lost, 16-45

2012: Stanford won, 17-14

2010: Stanford lost, 31-52

2008: Stanford lost, 28-35

With an average margin of two possessions that have separated previous victors, there are some notable match-ups on each side of the ball before Stanford and Oregon kicked off in 2018. For instance, Oregon’s Herbert (840 yards, 12 TD, 4 INT) and Stanford’s Costello (729 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT) have been very efficient with minor hiccups in-between, but that hasn’t slowed down ball distribution. Meanwhile, both defenses, particularly Oregon’s defensive linemen and Stanford’s linebackers, boast some top-tier talent, like Oregon DL Jalen Jelks and Stanford LB Sean Barton.

RB Bryce Love

Stats vs. Oregon: 19 carries, 89 yards, touchdown

Player notes: After a leg injury suffered against Southern Cal in Week 2, Bryce Love was pretty inefficient overall, but it’s not because of lack of skill. Oregon’s defensive scheme in Week 4 relied heavily on exploiting Love and on Stanford’s weak interior. Though he peaked at 13 carries in the first half, Love managed only 41 yards.

On to the second half and Love reminded everyone the type of ability he possesses to shed tackles and fight for first downs. In this overtime thriller, Love played an extremely critical role as a pass blocker and, probably most importantly, a leader during adversity.

Draft stock: Early first

Game Day grade: A

Week 5 preview vs. Notre Dame: Despite allowing 169 rush yards to Ball State, Notre Dame has a solid run defense and Bryce Love experienced that last year, regardless of his 125-yard performance. The Fighting Irish don’t give up a lot of touchdowns, so assume that Love will be used to set-up a great passing game for K.J. Costello.

TE Kaden Smith

Stats vs. Oregon: 6 receptions, 95 yards

Player notes: As expected, Kaden Smith was plotted on the strongside to help out Nate Herbig, but Smith excelled in the catch game, too, especially before halftime. His four catches for 53 yards in the first and second quarters were some of Stanford’s most impressive plays against a super aggressive Oregon defense. Additionally, Smith’s contribution on a 2nd-and 11 helped the Cardinal avoid a shutout.

In the second half, Smith compensated for some long-yard situations by snatching balls in-between the seams – one reception led to an Arcega-Whiteside touchdown late in the fourth, putting Stanford within three. Along with Arcega-Whiteside’s two scores, Smith proved to be very versatile and a key component in Stanford’s overtime win.

Draft stock: Early fourth

Game Day grade: A

Week 5 preview vs. Notre Dame: Kaden Smith has a good chance to have a season-best game against Notre Dame. In Week 2 against Vanderbilt, TE Jared Pinkney collected 111 yards. Last year against Notre Dame, Smith caught three balls for 65 yards and a score, which was a team-best. Again, Notre Dame is weak against defending the Y receiver, so expect Smith to exploit the 4-2-5 look from Clark Lea‘s playbook.

OG Nate Herbig

Player notes: Most notably, Stanford moved Nate Herbig to the outside to starve Jalen Jelks and Co. from pressure Costello. One of Herbig’s biggest plays in the first half was a picked-up block up the field that allowed Costello to eventually connect with Arcega-Whiteside for Stanford’s first points of the day.

At the end of the day, Herbig remains one of Shaw’s best players on offense because he not only sticks to the shoulders of others but reads incoming pressure very well, as well.

Draft stock: Late second

Game Day grade: A

Week 5 preview vs. Notre Dame: Khalid Kareem will swim and shove at every bit of Nate Herbig’s shoulders to reach Costello and Love. Kareem’s an edge rusher, but Stanford likes to kick Herbig out under the right tackle, especially if Love’s route goes that way. Lastly, Notre Dame’s pass defense has some kinks, but, as with its run defense, hasn’t given up a lot of touchdowns.

MLB Bobby Okereke

Stats vs. Oregon: 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss

Player notes: Bobby Okereke had a stellar first-half, which featured a tackle-for-loss that led to a 13-yard loss for Oregon’s high tempo offense. In the same timeframe, Okereke had the same effect in the red zone, pressuring Herbert’s super efficient arm into an incomplete pass that could’ve added another Oregon touchdown.

Draft stock: Mid-third

Game Day grade: B+

Week 5 preview vs. Notre Dame: There’s a triple threat in Bend, Indiana, that will cause Bobby Okereke to have his busiest game of the season. Jafar Armstrong, who’s 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds isn’t far off from Okereke’s stature. That said, Armstrong could be used as a decoy in 21 or 20 personnel to distract Okereke from getting to Brandon Wimbush, who leads the team in rush attempts (49).

CB Alijah Holder

Stats vs. Oregon: 4 tackles, tackle-for-loss

Player notes: In the first half, Holder held his own weight, manufacturing a tackle-for-loss against Brooks-James, while providing tight man-to-man coverage in the end zone. Teammates Malik Antoine and Alameen Murphy had a pretty shaky first two quarters – something that made Stanford fall behind, 24-7 at halftime.

Holder did slip up on an open, shoelace tackle, which created a huge gain on the ground for Justin Herbert, who, like most field generals, isn’t a natural rusher in the beginning. Overall, he was exceptional in red zone coverage, especially when he tipped the ball in overtime, which led to an interception by Alameen Murphy.

Draft stock: Late third

Game Day grade: A

Week 5 preview vs. Notre Dame: Notre Dame doesn’t have a great passing game, so expect Alijah Holder to play in a lot of zone coverage. Another aspect of utilizing Holder against Notre Dame is holding back Wimbush from running to the outside. Man-to-man coverage and maintaining leverage are never concerns of Holder’s, so Stanford should use him in zone blitz coverage.

Game Day stats provided by NCAA.com.

All other stats provided by College Football Reference.

Sports Al Dente 2019

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