The Oregon-Stanford game this upcoming season will surely be one of the best games of the year between two of the best teams in the country. An early prediction: the Ducks will win.
Now, there are a million reasons why this result might happen. Maybe Stanford suffers a bunch of costly injuries leading up to the game. Maybe Oregon will be better than they were last season while Stanford takes a step back. Hell, maybe both teams are as good as we expect them to be come November 7, and the Ducks simply play better that night. Or catch a few more breaks. These last two reasons are why the Cardinal narrowly beat the Ducks in 2012.
Thanks to the kind YouTube user “thornsx”, the entire 2012 Oregon-Stanford game is available for public consumption. If you’re a self-masochistic Ducks fan, go ahead and click on that link. Otherwise, I have selected a few key plays from that game to talk about below. This piece might feel like I’m pouring lye on a wound, but trust me, there will be enough vinegar to neutralize the burning when it’s over.
When re-watching close games like this one, it’s incredible how so many small moments can alter the course of a series and, ultimately, the entire game. For instance:
In this hard-to-watch play (for Ducks fans, at least), Marcus Mariota only has to beat Stanford safety Devon Carrington to score a touchdown, and he has De’Anthony Thomas running right beside. But for some reason, Thomas doesn’t block Carrington, allowing the safety to tackle Mariota and prevent the score.
While this is obviously a play people point to when discussing why the Ducks lost, Mariota’s run still got them into the red zone. Of course, any possibility of Oregon faltering this close to the goal line would’ve been eliminated had Mariota scored, but they were still in great position to find the end zone. Unfortunately…
Here, Thomas receives a pass just two plays after his infamous missed block. He makes the catch, but his right knee is touching the ground, making it a three-yard loss instead of what would have been a first down (possibly even a touchdown).
The Ducks failed to get a first down on the next play or the one after that (on fourth down), so they came away with zero points after coming so close to having seven. If Thomas eliminated just one of those mistakes, the Ducks score. That’s not meant to chastise Thomas, it’s meant to show just how close Oregon was to putting up points. The Ducks hardly ever made errors like these before this game.
Stanford immediately took advantage of Oregon’s mistakes, driving 93 yards for a touchdown. Here’s the scoring play:
In this shot, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) looks to be dead in his tracks yet manages to juke multiple Oregon defenders and scramble for a touchdown. He seemingly did this the entire drive, converting several third downs and making positive plays out of nothing. It would be understandable for a viewer to forget Andrew Luck was no longer at Stanford and think he was on the field. That’s how good Hogan looked. Eventually, Hogan came down to earth, but his early performance left a huge imprint in this game. If he didn’t make these plays during this drive, Stanford doesn’t take an early lead.
Mariota and his receivers just were not themselves during this game, failing to connect on several passes like this one:
Keanon Lowe just flat-out missed this open catch, leading to a fourth down punt instead of what should have been a first down. Mariota later missed a wide open Colt Lyerla on a fourth down pass attempt, resulting in Oregon’s second turnover-on-downs of the game. The Ducks have consistently converted fourth downs over the past few years, so their struggles during this game were shocking to everyone.
Oregon’s coaching staff clearly had these failures in mind during one sequence at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Ducks had the ball on 3rd and 5. Mariota handed it off to Kenjon Barner who gained four yards, setting up a 4th and 1. Instead of going for it, Chip Kelly elected to punt, and who could blame him? Stanford’s “D” was controlling the line of scrimmage and hounding Mariota all game. The Ducks did have a 14-7 lead at that point and were in their own territory, but if they had converted at least one fourth down attempt earlier in the game, there’s a good chance they would’ve gone for it this time. Stanford’s defense played incredible in this game, but they also were extremely fortunate that Oregon made so many uncharacteristic mistakes.
Oregon, in fact, was the better team and was actually outplaying the Cardinal that night. During Stanford’s drive at the end of the fourth quarter, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was about as close as a player can get to intercepting a pass. That turnover would have all but sealed the victory for Oregon. Instead, the ball fell incomplete, and Stanford promptly drove the field and completed a touchdown pass, which many Duck fans still believe was the wrong call. The Ducks needed one — just one — of those plays to go differently, and they would’ve beaten Stanford.
As good as Stanford was that night, they were undoubtedly lucky. Lucky on that game-tying drive. Lucky that Thomas made those two first-quarter mistakes. Lucky the Ducks missed multiple passes. Lucky the Ducks never scored off of Stanford’s three turnovers. If Oregon had caught those breaks, they would have won handily.
On November 7 this year there’s a good chance the luck will even out. The Ducks will also probably be more prepared since they’ll have last year’s painful and costly loss ingrained into their collective brains. It’s obviously hard to be definitive three months in advance, but many early signs are pointing in Oregon’s direction.
Featured Image at top of article: Kevin Cline
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