Some thought it was to be the exclamation point to the Oregon Ducks’ campaign for consideration into the BCS Championship. For others, QB Marcus Mariota’s signature moment for the Heisman Trophy. After Thursday night’s thrashing of the No. 3 Ducks at the hands of a much more physical Stanford Cardinal team, it ultimately turned into a swan song for both.
For most of the night, the high-flying Ducks were grounded by a combination of great defense by Stanford, which allowed only 62 rushing yards, and a pounding Cardinal ground game that kept the ball away from the Ducks’ offense, as Stanford dominated time of possession, 42:34 to 17:26.
Despite everything that went wrong for the Ducks, and a 26-0 deficit with 11:00 left in the fourth quarter, they still managed to give themselves a chance to win in the final minutes. It took their high-octane passing offense to get going, as Mariota threw for two touchdowns, as well as a little luck, with a blocked field goal attempt by Stanford returned for a 65-yard touchdown. Ultimately, the Cardinal recovered a final onside kick by Oregon to run out the clock and end the Ducks’ BCS title hopes, with a final score of 26-20.
For Stanford, it was the second victory in a row against their Pac-12 North rivals. They used an old-school playbook of smash-mouth football against Oregon, and it worked to perfection: they used RB Tyler Gaffney to the tune of 45 carries, a school record in rushing attempts, 157 yards and a touchdown to control the clock. With the holes his offensive line was opening up as the night progressed, Gaffney was capable of a 200-yard day. Oregon’s defensive line had no answers, and the Cardinal ran the ball at will. Head coach David Shaw drew up the perfect game plan to slow Oregon down and spoil their BCS title hopes for the second year in a row. While they were aided by Mariota’s apparent leg injury that hindered him for most of the night, Stanford nonetheless showed they deserved to be among the best teams in the nation.
Coming away from the game, however, both teams have questions. For Oregon, with Mariota’s recently diagnosed MCL sprain, what does it mean for him, as well as the team, moving forward? While they don’t face a ranked team for the rest of the regular season, Ducks fans must wonder how they will play if Mariota is forced to sit out – especially if any of their remaining opponents (Utah, Arizona, Oregon State) employs the same game plan against them.
As for Stanford, I’m sure there are many in their camp – as well as the punditry of sports media – that are today wondering aloud how this team, that dominated the No. 3 team in the country so soundly, could have possibly lost to a middling Utah team currently at 4-4, earlier this season. If not for that stumbling block, it would most definitely be the Cardinal, and not current No. 2 team, Florida State, that would be in line to play Alabama for the National Championship in January.
In any case, we know another team who will no longer get that chance, and college football nation can thank one team residing in Northern California for that.