A missed block here, a couple missed field goals there and a missed opportunity on a loose ball in overtime.
If the Oregon Ducks had avoided even one of these unfortunate mishaps during their showdown against Stanford last season, they likely would have taken on Notre Dame in the national championship game.
The point here is not to commiserate or complain or to declare that the Ducks deserved a national championship bid. On the contrary, Stanford beat Oregon fair and square. The point is simply just how close the Ducks were to their second title game berth in three years.
The 2012 Oregon team gave its fans one of the greatest seasons in school history and a case could easily be made for them being the best team the program has ever seen.
Nonetheless, Stanford’s elite defense and elusive quarterback Kevin Hogan remained the one obstacle that just seemed to have the Ducks’ number and it wasn’t the first time that the Cardinal managed to break Oregon’s heart.
In 2001, the undefeated Joey Harrington led Ducks were likely on their way to a showdown against Miami for the national title. That is until Stanford traveled up to Eugene and took them down in a heartbreaking 42-49 loss.
This was Oregon’s only defeat as they went on to be snubbed for a national championship berth that was instead given to Nebraska. This was despite the fact that the Cornhuskers had just lost to Colorado in the Big 12 championship game 62-36, the same team that the Ducks ended up blowing out in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 2009, the Cardinal once again upset the Ducks. Coming off of a huge win over then-perennial powerhouse USC, Oregon again fell just short in a shootout, this time in Palo Alto.
At the time of the game, the Ducks were ranked at No. 7, and were climbing quickly after their blowout win over the Trojans. A national championship was probably out of the question after a loss to Boise State during the first game of the season, but the Cardinal likely robbed Oregon of a shot to finish the season in the Top 5.
The 2012 match-up officially made this a pattern. With a similar formula to the 2009 situation, Oregon had recently out-dueled USC in a game that had been ever-hyped during the off season.
Now, enough of the bad news. Duck fans don’t need to be reminded of the numerous times that Stanford provided a speed bump in otherwise flawless seasons, onto the bright side. There is encouraging news for Oregon I noticed upon reviewing the aftermath of these three games.
In each of 2001, 2009, and 2012, the Ducks were facing a quarterback that they either didn’t expect or had not played against before. In 2001 for example, Stanford’s senior quarterback Randy Fasani left early in the game with an injury forcing backup Chris Lewis into the game.
Lewis ultimately proved to be arguably the better passer between the two and ignited the team’s 2001 come-from-behind win over the Ducks. With a strong arm and a quick release, he tossed a pair of touchdowns to keep his team close. Lewis demonstrated his clutch abilities time after time against other teams, having thrown game-winning touchdowns against both Texas and USC in 2000.
A series of late special teams blunders proved that Lewis was not the only factor contributing to the Cardinal’s win, but he did play a huge role.
In 2009, the Ducks did know who to expect at quarterback. Unfortunately, no one yet knew just how good Andrew Luck was. The freshman phenomenon put on arguably his best showing at that point in his career against Oregon, throwing for 250 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks.
The trend continued last season when Chip Kelly’s squad faced what was then a wildcard in Kevin Hogan. The slippery, dynamic freshman had only one career start under his belt, and it just so happened to have been a 27-23 victory over a ranked Oregon State team.
Hogan’s elusiveness played an enormous role in the Cardinal’s win in 2012. The Ducks spent plenty of time in the Stanford backfield, but were unable to wrap up or contain the freshman who made a habit of extending plays and getting the ball out late to his tight ends.
It is important to point out as well that Stanford’s defense played a big role in these wins. If not for these quarterback’s abilities keeping Oregon’s offense off the field it would have likely ended differently.
Now, just as the point before was not to commiserate about past losses, the point here is not to make excuses for the Ducks. Whether the play of their respective quarterbacks snuck up on Oregon or not, these Stanford teams earned each of those victories.
With that being said, the message here is meant to be an encouraging one for Oregon fans heading into the 2013 season. The Ducks dominated the Cardinal 41-14 in 2002 and had very little trouble with Luck during the 2010 and 2011 match-ups despite him being solidified as the nation’s best quarterback.
In fact, in 2010 and 2011, Oregon beat the Cardinal by a combined score of 105-61, and intercepted Luck four times after coming up with a better game plan for him.
Now that they know what to expect from Hogan, the Ducks will likely be ready to face and contain him, and will game plan accordingly. They will also be aided by the departure of all-star tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, not to mention running back Stepfan Taylor, who combined to haul in 15 of Hogan’s 25 completions against Oregon last year.
Look for the Ducks’ pattern of finding redemption in the year following a Stanford loss to continue in 2013 when they head down to Palo Alto. Oh, and get excited Duck fans, because the Cardinal may be the one thing standing between Oregon and a national championship game berth.
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