With the nation’s two most potent offenses in action Thursday night (Baylor and Oregon), it was assumed that the scoreboard operators would be in a full sweat by halftime, waiving the white flag in a similar weekly ritual.
That's not what happened.
While Baylor and Stanford operate with two unique styles—each on the opposite end of the football spectrum—both proved yet again that defense is not dead in college football.
Baylor took care of business just as the oddsmakers anticipated, winning 41-12 and covering the two-touchdown spread with ease. Stanford, meanwhile, derailed Oregon for the second consecutive season, doing so as a double-digit underdog in the evening’s main event.
The 26-20 final score was not an accurate representation of how the game unfolded.
Down 26-0 in the fourth, Oregon blocked a field goal and returned it for a touchdown. The Ducks recovered an onside kick and quickly turned their run of good fortune into another score. The next onside kick from Oregon didn't materialize, and Stanford ran out the clock.
Stanford limited the Oregon machine to 62 rushing yards on 24 attempts, good for a 2.6 yards-per-carry average. The Cardinal forced two turnovers and limited the Ducks to 312 yards overall.
Oregon running back/wideout De’Anthony Thomas tossed out "40 points" as an acceptable threshold earlier this week, and Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov let him hear it after the game:
Ummm I'm havin trouble counting? How many points was that? U know what we'll give ya half— Shayne Skov (@ShayneSkov11) November 8, 2013
Injured Cardinal defensive end Ben Gardner—ruled out for the year with a torn pec—also had thoughts, and he shared them in 140 characters or less:
Last year 14 pts. This year 14 pts. Combined? 28. Still waiting on those 40 pts from the Oregon offense. So proud of my dudes tonight— Ben Gardner (@BennyG49) November 8, 2013
In Waco, another feared offense struggled to get going. Baylor did not look Baylor-esque in the early portion of the game, and the 5-3 Oklahoma lead in the second quarter felt like some sort of joke.
As the Bears offense struggled to find rhythm, the defense held its ground. From historically bad to incredibly underrated, Baylor’s most overlooked unit delivered when the team needed it most. Eventually, Baylor’s offense hit its stride, and the Bears blew out Oklahoma.
Not 65-58 or 47-44, but 41-12. The offense eventually came, and the defense never left.
Oklahoma was limited to 237 yards of total offense and turned the ball over twice. The Sooners rushed for 87 yards on 34 carries, which averages out to—you guessed it—2.6 yards per carry.
Call it a coincidence, but if you hold your opponent to under three yards per carry, you’re going to win a lot of games.
Stanford has made a habit out of dominating the line of scrimmage. Baylor, not so much. On Thursday, both operated with the same blueprint, and the results arrived.
The night began with expectations that the offenses would dictate results. Baylor’s offense eventually did enough, although the defense was the story. Oregon’s offense got it going late, but the lack of production early on set the tone.
The last time Oregon was shut out in a first half -- Oct. 10, 2009 vs UCLA (trailed 3-0 at half. Won game 24-10)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 8, 2013
In an era where scoring an obscene amount of points happens every week, the sport was reminded just how valuable good defense can be.
Baylor’s chances at a national championship remain alive and well, while Oregon’s are all but toast. Stanford put itself back in the conversation despite having one defeat on its resume, although—like Baylor—it will need help to get there.
En route to altering the plans of others, an unfamiliar path was followed. There were no shootouts on Thursday night, no basketball scores with the season on the brink. The nation's elite scoring machines were operating at a much different pace.
While the outcomes were different, one constant remained: Defense still matters in college football.