Stanford Week: It’s Gut Check Time

Let’s be frank. I hate Stanford, you hate Stanford, we all hate Stanford. If we’re being honest, our hate comes from respect more than anything else. For whatever reason, Stanford has been a thorn in Oregon’s side recently. The Ducks have lost a total of seven games (excluding bowl games) dating back to the 2009 season; three of those losses have come at the hands of the Cardinal.

The last two losses have been absolutely heart wrenching.

Let’s revisit the 2012 season. Oregon was a juggernaut, and that’s no overstatement. Heading into the Stanford game Oregon was 10-0. It was the nation’s highest scoring team, putting up a shade under 55 points per game, and the average margin of victory was a hefty 32.5 points per game. The Ducks were ranked No. 1 in the country, and the BCS Title game appeared to be all but imminent.

Just a season prior, Oregon smashed Stanford (undefeated at the time, and the No. 3 team in country) 53-30 in Palo Alto. But things were about to change, and they were going to change for the worse. Oregon could simply not get it going, and when opportunities arose, the Ducks didn’t capitalize. On Oregon’s second drive of the game, Marcus Mariota broke free on a run and dashed down the Ducks’ sideline. De’Anthony Thomas was a couple of steps in front of Mariota, and he started celebrating prematurely. Mariota was brought down from behind on the Stanford 15 after a pick up of 77 yards. Had Thomas stayed back and picked up the last defender Mariota would haved glided in for the score. Stanford forced Oregon into a 4th-and-2, and the Ducks couldn’t convert. 0-0.

Oregon v. Stanford in the 2012 battle

Kevin Cline

Oregon vs Stanford in the 2012 battle.

Stanford took over on its own 7, and proceeded to march down the field 93 yards for the first score of the game. Oregon scored three drives later on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to Keanon Lowe. At the half, the score was a whopping 7-7. For the first time all year Oregon looked human. These were uncharted waters for the Ducks, for they had yet to be challenged by an opponent all season.

Oregon struck first in the second half. After forcing a Stanford punt Oregon took over on its own 5 yard line. For a moment it appeared that Oregon had regained its form. Mariota took Oregon 95 yards in 3:20, converting two crucial third downs along the way, and Oregon was up 14-7 after a six-yard touchdown run by Thomas. The Ducks came up huge again on the Cardinal’s next play from scrimmage. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu made a prime time play stripping Cardinal wideout Kelsey Young of the ball and falling on it for the recovery. Ducks ball on the Stanford 39.

But Oregon couldn’t convert. When faced with a 4th-and-6 from the Stanford 25, Coach Chip Kelly decided to attempt a 42-yard field goal. The Ducks’ kicker, Alejandro Maldonado had only attempted one field goal the entire season: a successful 26-yarder the week prior in a blowout against Cal. Maldonado missed this one.

The score remained 14-7 deep into the fourth quarter. The Cardinal started on its own 22 with 6:48 remaining on the clock. Oregon couldn’t stop the Kevin Hogan-to-Zach Ertz combo. Hogan found Ertz on four different occasions on plays of 12, 22, nine, and 10 yards; the last one going for a touchdown. (Oregon’s fan base will swear that Ertz’s shoulder was out of bounds when he came down with the game-tying catch.)

Stanford's Zach Ertz on the controversial game tying touchdown catch.

Kevin Cline

Stanford’s Zach Ertz on the controversial game-tying touchdown catch.

The Ducks didn’t fare well in overtime. Oregon only gained one yard on its first three plays and was forced to attempt a field goal once again — this time from 42 yards out. Again, Maldonado missed. Stanford kicked the game-winning field goal on its possession. Stanford, 17 – Oregon, 14.

Just like that, Stanford spoiled Oregon’s season.

Similar circumstances were in play when Oregon took on Stanford last season. The Ducks were No. 2 and had been demolishing the opposition by an average score of 56-17. But the Cardinal was once again the Ducks’ kryptonite. Last season’s outing wasn’t nearly as close as the 26-20 score suggested. Stanford shut Oregon down in the first three quarters and led 26-0 early in the fourth quarter. Oregon needed an onside kick recovery and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown to make the score look respectable.

The Ducks weren’t the same team following the loss. Thomas told the media, “We already won a Rose Bowl, it’s whatever.” Wide receiver Josh Huff reiterated the same sentiment. “I don’t mind playing in the Rose Bowl, playing for the fans and my teammates, but deep down I don’t wanna be a prep game for the national championship game,” he said. Two weeks later Oregon was blown out 42-16 in Arizona. The Ducks did not participate in a BCS Bowl game for the first time since the 2008 season.

The College Football Playoff is at stake for Oregon when it hosts Stanford this Saturday. It’s common belief that if the Ducks can win out, they’ll be in. Don’t let Stanford’s 5-3 record fool you; the Cardinal boast the nation’s second best defense (only allowing 12.5 points per game), and it has proven in the past to be the one team that can throw Oregon off its game. This Saturday will be a true testament to what type of squad Oregon has.

Top photo by Craig Strobeck

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