No. 5 Stanford put a major dent in No. 3 Oregon's national championship hopes on Thursday night, overwhelming the Ducks in every aspect of the game for three-and-a-half quarters and holding off an epic late comeback attempt en route to a 26-20 win in Palo Alto. With the win, Stanford is now in control of the Pac-12 North.
For the majority of the game, the Cardinal (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball and simply didn't let Oregon (8-1, 5-1) see much of the field on offense.
Behind Tyler Gaffney's 157 hard-nosed yards on a school-record 45 carries, the Cardinal gained 377 total yards as a team, converted 14-of-21 third downs and held onto the ball for 42 minutes.
CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman summed up the story of the game:
Normally Mark Helfrich's squad wouldn't mind losing the play and possession battle like that. It normally just means the fast-paced Ducks were scoring with ease.
That was far from the case on Thursday night, though. The Ducks were able to gain a healthy 5.4 yards per play despite several sacks and fumbles, but punching it into the end zone was a completely different story.
On just the second drive of the game, Marcus Mariota and Byron Marshall quickly moved the ball down the field, but Helfrich elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 4-yard line and Stanford came up with the huge defensive stand.
With a heavy dose of Gaffney (nine carries) and 47-yard completion from Kevin Hogan to Michael Rector, the Cardinal immediately turned around and went 96 yards to take the early 7-0 lead:
From there, the tone was set.
As the Ducks offense continued to sputter at the wrong times—De'Anthony Thomas lost a fumble on the Stanford 11, Mariota fumbled at the Stanford 28—the Cardinal continued to push the ball down the field in an incredibly physical manner.
Jordan Williamson kicked a field goal to cap an overpowering, dominant 20-play, 96-yard drive that took over eight minutes and made it 17-0 at halftime. It was the first time Oregon had faced such a situation since 2006, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The last time Oregon was shut out and trailing by 17 points or more in 1st half was 12/21/2006 vs BYU #UOvsSTAN.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 8, 2013
After three more field goals gave the Cardinal a 26-0 lead, the Ducks provided some late dramatics.
Mariota found found Daryle Hawkins with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Jordan Williamson returned a block field for a touchdown five minutes later and then the Ducks recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Oregon quickly drove the field and added another score, making it 26-20 with two minutes remaining, but Stanford was able to recover the next onside kick and held on for the impressive victory.
Who will be No. 3 in the next BCS poll?
It will be compelling to see how the BCS Standings look after all of this. Alabama and FSU will remain at No. 1 and 2 (assuming wins on Saturday), but Ohio State, Baylor (which thoroughly handled No. 10 Oklahoma on Thursday night) and Stanford could round out the top five in any combination.
No matter how it shakes out, the Cardinal proved on Thursday they belong in the national title conversation.
Stanford coach David Shaw had this to say after the game (via Stanford's Twitter):
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: A-
Sure, he played the role of game manager for most of the night, delivering short throws and handing the ball off to Gaffney—who, by the way, deserves all the credit in the world himself. Hogan threw just 13 times for 103 yards.
Nevertheless, Hogan came up big whenever it was necessary. He hit Rector in stride with an absolutely beautiful deep throw to set up Stanford's first touchdown, made several critical plays with his legs and took care of the football.
His box score won't stand out, but Hogan was somewhat of a hero on Thursday night.
Marcus Mariota, Oregon: B
On the first drive of the game, Mariota badly overthrew a wide-open Josh Huff on a would-be touchdown, and that turned out to be a sign of things to come. He finished 20-of-34 for 250 yards, two touchdowns and a lost fumble, with much of that production coming during Oregon's late comeback attempt.
He made a couple of spectacular throws throughout the game and played well when things opened up at the end. But overall, he struggled throwing the ball, looked hesitant to make plays with his legs (perhaps a partially sprained ACL had something to do with that) and fumbled several times.
Mariota is still in the Heisman race, but tonight's performance hurt.
Shayne Skov, Stanford: A
He had probably the play of the game in the second quarter when he chased down Thomas from behind, forced a fumble and pulled it in with one hand.
But it goes beyond that. Skov was vital in the run game, piling up tackles in open space and plugging holes in the trenches with his well-timed blitzes.
Skov was going to be extremely important against Oregon's fast offense, and he passed the test with flying colors, improving his draft stock in the process.
Alejandro Maldonado: A
I think he just revolutionized how onside kicks are taken:
Stanford heads to Los Angeles to take on a USC squad that has been playing much better as of late, while Oregon goes home to take its frustration out on Utah.