Nov. 12, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford's national championship hopes lay shattered Saturday night after Oregon's dominating 53-30 victory in a pivotal Pac-12 North Division game on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 50,360 at Stanford Stadium.
Stanford committed five turnovers and failed to control Oregon's fast and dangerous spread attack. In the process, the Cardinal's national-leading winning streak was snapped at 17 and its postseason goals thrown into chaos.
"It was going to take our best game and I don't think we gave them our best game, and they took advantage of it," said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football/Head Coach.
But Shaw also made it clear about how much respect he had for Stanford's opponent.
"They're not a good team," he said. "They're a great team."
While Oregon (9-1 overall, 7-0 Pac-12) bounced back into BCS Championship contention, Stanford lost the opportunity for a Pac-12 title game appearance and its chances at the Rose Bowl are all but gone, though its BCS bowl chances remain high if the Cardinal closes with victories over Cal and Notre Dame the next two weeks.
"We still have football left, and for that I'm grateful," quarterback Andrew Luck said. "There are still goals out there for us to accomplish."
Stanford plays the 114th Big Game at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday, and Notre Dame on Nov. 26, both at home.
No one seemed sharp for the Cardinal (9-1 overall, 5-1). Luck threw two interceptions - one returned for a touchdown - and his receivers dropped several passes. The team's running game was held to its lowest total this season (129 yards) and the Cardinal struggled in third-down situations (5 of 14).
Oregon's team speed made Stanford look extremely vulnerable, and the Ducks' pounced with a series of big plays that enabled them to build a lead and maintain it enough to prevent Stanford from clawing back close enough to make it a game.
In short, it was the type of game that played out as Stanford's worst-case scenario, with Oregon's dominance at the point of attack creating space that the speedy Ducks' backs consistently exploited.
Luck completed 27 of 41 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns, but had his first multi-interception game of the season. Without injured Chris Owusu, Stanford seemed to have only one threat at wideout: Griff Whalen, who responded with nine catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.
Drew Terrell had one catch, but fumbled at the end of it. No other receivers caught a pass. And the normally reliable tight ends were inconsistent.
On his own performance, Luck said, "Not good enough to win. Worst game of the year, I guess."
The promised offensive shootout did not immediately materialize. The teams had combined for four consecutive punts to begin the game, and only one offensive yard between them.
But the defensive reign ended quickly with an Oregon touchdown off a 20-yard drive set up by a Luck interception.
Luck looked left on the pass, but threw right and apparently never saw linebacker Dewitt Stuckey, who returned it 30 yards before Luck, the last potential tackler, upended him. On third down, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas rolled right and found Lavasier Tuinei in the back corner of the end zone. The Ducks converted a trick two-point try, with tight end David Paulson throwing to snapper Jeff Palmer for the conversion.
Though Stanford answered with a Luck-to-Whalen 16-yard scoring pass, kicker Eric Whitaker missed the extra-point try and the Cardinal never drew closer than the 8-6 second-quarter deficit.
LaMichael James broke off 58-yard scoring run for the first of his three touchdowns and finished with 146 yards on 20 carries.
"One missed tackle in the open field and that's all it takes," Thomas said.
Oregon built leads of 36-16 and 43-23, but Stanford seemed to have an outside shot after Jeremy Stewart's 1-yard touchdown run with 9:37 left closed the deficit to 43-30. Oregon responded with a field goal, but the game remained a two-score difference.
But Luck's second-down pass deflected off the hands of freshman receiver Ty Montgomery, starting for Owusu, and into the hands of Oregon's Boseko Kokombo, who returned the interception 40 yards for a touchdown to ice the game.
The interception was only the beginning of a forgettable stretch that continued in sequence with the Terrell fumble and another by kick returner Usua Amanam.
The result was Stanford's worst loss since a 41-17 loss at Arizona State in 2008.
"Bottom line," said Stanford linebacker Ben Gardner, "against a great team like this, you can't make mistakes."
Afterward, Shaw remained positive.
"I expect to rebound great," he said. "We've got a lot of guys in our locker room with a lot of character. They love playing the game of football."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics