EUGENE — Multiple formations with big, fast and physical players.
That’s how Oregon coaches and players size up Stanford’s defense and how the Cardinal have climbed to the top of the Pac-12’s statistical charts.
Third-ranked Stanford leads the conference in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense heading into Saturday’s much-anticipated matchup with No. 6 Oregon.
Defensive end Matt Masifilo and nose guard Terrence Stephens lead the Cardinal up front, while Chase Thomas heads the linebacking crew.
Stanford (9-0, 6-0) lost standout junior middle linebacker Shayne Skov to a knee injury in the third week of the season. But that hasn’t kept the Cardinal from allowing an average of 324 yards per game.
“Those other guys have continue to play hard. That’s something that really stands out,” Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. “They’re impressive on defense. They were last year and they’ve continued this year.”
The Stanford defense keeps teams guessing.
Thomas can line up at defensive end or linebacker in the Cardinal’s 3-4 alignment. But he’s not the only player who can switch positions.
Stanford brings different pressure and drops into different coverages out of similar sets, so there’s no dialing up the Cardinal with what you see.
“A lot of movement, a lot of blitzing, edge-pressure type things. That’s kind of been their deal for the past couple years,” Oregon offensive tackle Darrion Weems said. “I’m expecting them to keep going with it because they’ve seen some success with it.”
Stanford allows 16.6 points per game (11th in the country) and 78.9 yards rushing (third).
“To get to that level they’re good everywhere,” Kelly said.
Added Helfrich: “It’s not like you’re going, ‘here’s the weak link.’”
The Cardinal are seventh in passing defense at 245.1 yards. But that number could be inflated by opponents trying to get down the field quickly through the air.
Stanford has defeated eight of its nine opponents by 25 or more points.
Thomas is the Pac-12 leader in sacks with 6.5, is first in tackles for loss at 12.5 and is tied for the lead in forced fumbles with four.
“He’s a kid who jumps off the film at you,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
Teammate Trent Murphy, also an outside linebacker, has 4.5 sacks and six tackles for loss. Defensive end Ben Gardner has 6.5 tackles for loss.
Stanford’s linebackers — Murphy and Thomas on the outside and Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley on the inside — have an intimidating presence.
Lancaster, filling Skov’s spot, is the smallest at 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds and Murphy the biggest at 6-6, 260.
“It’s a real physical group, and they’re all good-sized kids. They’re built for a reason,” Kelly said.