It was an amazing, drizzly night at Autzen Stadium where the Oregon Ducks rarely lose. In fact, this year they were undefeated and averaged 54 points a game, tops in the nation.
The Ducks were No. 1 in most polls and favored by 21 points over No. 14 Stanford. They were just three wins away from earning a spot in the national championship game in January. The stakes couldn’t have been higher and the outcome seemed predictable.
Stanford had given Oregon a run for their money in the last two years, at least for two quarters. The halftime score last year was 22-16 Oregon, but Oregon had a big second half and won 55-30. The year before Stanford actually led at the half 31-24, but ended up losing 52-31.
Yes, most people thought they knew what to expect when the 2012 Stanford Cardinal team took the field in Eugene this week. Even if Stanford hung in there for a half, Oregon would have their way by the final gun.
Imagine the shock when the outcome was different. Coach David Shaw proved to the nation that he has a strong and gritty team. His key word all week in practice had been "resolve." He was determined to prove that this year’s team could play four quarters, not just two.
His team used the knowledge gleaned from facing the no-huddle offense of Arizona earlier this year (Stanford won 54-48 in OT). He practiced this week with two scout teams on offense against the defense. As soon as a play ended with one scout team, the other would rush on the field for the next play and the defense had to keep up.
The preparation worked, and Stanford held Oregon to 42 points below their average. Stanford’s 17-14 victory in overtime proved that Stanford was ready, could play a full four quarters and then some. The game brought jubilation to Cardinal fans and left many Ducks fans crying in the stands when it was over. They couldn’t believe it.
The result is all the more surprising given Stanford’s turnovers, which included two fumbles and one interception. Stanford’s defense, which has been superb all year, was truly outstanding once again. The offense did its part, but the defense won the game.
The first half was significant for two failed fourth-down conversions, the first of which came late in the first quarter. Oregon took about a minute-and-a-half to drive 85 yards from their own 8-yard line to Stanford’s 7-yard line. Most of that came on a 77-yard run by Oregon’s excellent freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. He should have scored a touchdown, but was knocked out of bounds at the last second by Devon Carrington.
Soon after the Ducks found themselves facing a fourth-and-two at Stanford’s seven. Coach Chip Kelly decided to go for it. Mariota faked a handoff and ran up the middle but LB Shane Skov stayed home and was there to grab Mariota and end the drive. Stanford took over on downs.
That became significant because redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan then led Stanford on a 15-play, 93-yard drive that ended with Hogan rolling out to his right on a pass play. Finding no one open, he then tucked the ball, made a nifty move to his left and darted into the end zone for a 7-0 Stanford lead very early in the second quarter. Hogan went 5-for-6 on that drive and looked very good.
Later in the second quarter Stanford drove to the Oregon 41 and faced a 4th-and-1 play. Conservative David Shaw surprisingly decided to go for it. Everyone expected a run play, but Hogan faked a handoff up the middle and then sent a wobbly pass to a wide open FB Ryan Hewitt. However, the pass was behind him and Hewitt was not able to pull it in. It could have been great, but ended up giving the ball back to the Ducks.
Oregon didn’t waste time. Three plays and just 47 seconds later Mariota threw a 28-yard pass to a slanting Keanon Lowe for a TD that tied the game at 7-7.
While Oregon did demonstrate their lightning-quick ability to score on that drive, they went into the locker room with only seven points and a tie. This was remarkable for a team that had been so dominant on offense all season.
Hogan’s Fourth-Quarter Comeback
The Stanford offense did not look good for much of the second half. Thankfully Stanford’s defense continued to shine and kept Oregon off the scoreboard most of it. The lone exception was a 95-yard, 15-play drive late in the third quarter that gave the Ducks a 14-7 lead.
Last week Hogan led a Cardinal fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Oregon State. In that game, Hogan had a good first quarter, but was quiet in the second and third quarters before rallying his team to pull out the Cardinal a victory. Could he do it again?
Stanford’s second possession of the fourth quarter began with a little over six minutes left. Starting at their own 22-yard line, this had the appearance of Stanford’s last chance. Based on the lackluster performance all second half, their chances didn’t look good. Hogan, however, showed everyone he was up to the task. He drove the team down the field with a great mix of passes and runs. The final two plays of the drive were impressive.
Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Oregon 12, Hogan handed the ball off to FB Ryan Hewitt who burst through the line for two yards. Had he not made that first down, Stanford may well have lost the game. In a highlight-reel pass that will be viewed by many for a long time to come, Hogan lofted the ball to the back of the end zone where all-american TE Zach Ertz was waiting.
Ertz was well covered, but held onto the ball as he fell backwards onto the defender and then rolled on his shoulders out of bounds. The officials initially called it incomplete thinking that Ertz was out of bounds, but the replay officials reversed the call to a touchdown. Stanford had tied the score with a little over a minute left in the game.
Ertz, by the way, had a spectacular game including 11 catches for 106 yards. He was the go-to guy for Hogan, and padded his credentials as the best tight end in America. He was good.
After the Ertz TD, the defense thwarted Oregon’s last attempt to get into scoring position before the end of regulation, sending the game to overtime.
OT Redemption For Williamson
Sophomore kicker Jordan Williamson has been much maligned since his famous miss of a short, game-winning field goal at the end of last year’s Fiesta Bowl. Since then he has been spotty, hitting on just 12-of-20 attempts this year. In the fourth quarter of this game he missed a 43-yard attempt. He has plenty of leg, so that is not the issue. He has simply missed several field goals he should have made. His chance for redemption was at hand.
Stanford won the toss in overtime and naturally chose to start on defense. The defensive unit did its thing again. After three non-productive plays, the Oregon field goal kicker missed a 41-yard attempt. Note that he had only attempted one field goal prior to this game the entire season. The Oregon offense had been so effective his skills had not been needed. His skills were needed here, and he failed.
That opened the door for Williamson. In Stanford’s overtime possession, it ran twice and fumbled once. The ball bounced out of an Oregon defender's hands, and was recovered by Stanford. That set the stage for Williamson to attempt a 37-yarder. To the delight of all Cardinal fans, the kick was true, barely. It went just inside the left goal post. That was good enough to make Williamson a hero, to completely mess up the bowl and national championship picture and provide Stanford with a classic upset win for the ages. This one will be remembered for a very long time.
Multiple Heroes on Defense
The description above mentions the names of several offensive players. Make no mistake about it, though, this game was won by the defense. Their performance was fantastic by just about any measure. There were multiple heroes, of course. Some are mentioned below.
- LB Shane Skov had one of his best games of the year, including 11 tackles.
- LB A.J. Tarpley was all over the field and caught the interception that represented Oregon’s only turnover of the game.
- S Ed Reynolds has been a star for several consecutive weeks now.
- CB Alex Carter is a freshman but has come into his own as a star in recent weeks.
- DE Henry Anderson continues to demonstrate speed and aggressiveness that is surprising for a guy who is 6’6” and 278 pounds.
There are more—the defensive front seven was excellent. Excluding Mariota’s 77-yard run, Stanford gave up just 121 yards rushing. Oregon is third in the nation in rushing, averaging 325 yards per game. Stanford held them well under that. Oregon has two big running stars in Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas. Barner ended up with only 76 yards on 21 carries while the speedy De’Anthony Thomas had just 46 yards on 7 carries.
Stepfan Taylor Watch
RB Stepfan Taylor’s Stanford career is rapidly coming to a close, but he continues to chase multiple records. He was strong again in this game. Even though he was targeted by Oregon’s defense throughout, he still ran for 161 yards on 33 carries (a 4.9 yard average). That put him over 4,000 yards for his career, and brought him within just 41 yards of becoming Stanford’s all-time leading rusher.
He always seems to get stronger as the game goes on, churning his legs play after play for extra yards. It’s a delight to watch.
While unrelated to football, it was a remarkable weekend for Stanford for another reason. Less than 24 hours prior to Stanford’s football victory, the women’s basketball team recorded a huge upset over No. 1 Baylor. This was the same team that beat the Cardinal in the Final Four last year. In fact, all five starters from last year returned for Baylor, while Stanford lost its All-American mega-star Nnemkadi Ogwumike. This was a surprise victory, and ended Baylor’s 42-game winning streak.
UCLA Once Or Twice
Stanford’s last regular season game next Saturday, Nov. 24 is against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. UCLA is basking in the afterglow of its big victory this week over USC. That gave the Bruins the Pac-12 South championship. UCLA will play in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday, Nov. 30.
If they beat Stanford next week, their opponent will likely be Oregon. UCLA has two conference losses (to Oregon State and Cal) and did not have to play Oregon during the regular season.
If Stanford beats UCLA, however, Stanford will then become the Pac-12 North champions. That means UCLA would have the privilege of playing Stanford twice in six days. The second game would be played at Stanford Stadium, not at the Rose Bowl.
The bowl game announcements will come on Dec. 2. The last few weeks of this 2012 college football season promise to be exciting and rewarding. Stanford should get a very good bowl game and many Stanford players should get significant national recognition.