STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford shook up the national-title picture with a 26-20 victory over Oregon that showcased the Cardinal's dominance at the line of scrimmage
In one of the nation's most-anticipated showdowns, Stanford took a 26-0 lead before withstanding a late rally before an over-capacity crowd of 51,424 at Stanford Stadium on Thursday night, earning a victory that was celebrated from Palo Alto to Tallahassee.
Behind the running of Tyler Gaffney, who gained 157 yards on a school-record 45 carries, Stanford (8-1 overall, 6-1 Pac-12) used a grind-it-out approach to keep the lethal Oregon offense off the field. Oregon (8-1, 5-1) came in averaging 55.6 points per game, but was scoreless until embarking on a furious fourth-quarter comeback.
Oregon scored three touchdowns in eight minutes, helped along by a recovered onside kick and a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown.
After a 12-yard fourth-down touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Pharaoh Brown with 2:12 left, Oregon’s hopes rested on its third onside kick of the quarter. This time, the ball was snagged out of the air by Jeff Trojan for his second onside kick recovery, and Stanford ran out the clock, launching a rush to the field by jubilant fans.
The result was felt from coast to coast, with schools like Florida State (No. 2 in the BCS rankings to Oregon’s No. 3), Ohio State (No. 4), and Baylor (No. 6) no doubt rejoicing over the opportunity to leapfrog the Ducks into contention for the BCS title game.
Of course, Stanford (No. 5 in the BCS) has renewed hopes as well and takes control of the Pac-12 North race with conference games remaining at USC on Nov. 16 and against visiting Cal on Nov. 23. Stanford now holds the tiebreaker over the Ducks.
“For us, it doesn't do anything,” said David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “The good teams only worry about their next game.”
Stanford’s plan was to slow down the game by sustaining long drives and keeping Oregon and its Heisman candidate quarterback Mariota off the field. The Cardinal did exactly that, dominating the time of possession, 42:34-17:26, and using scoring drives of 94 and 96 yards to build its lead.
The Cardinal running game totaled 274 yards on 66 carries and the defense, even without star defensive lineman Ben Gardner, who is out for the season with an arm injury, limited Oregon to 62 yards rushing and no offensive plays over 26 yards. Speedster De’Anthony Thomas was held to only 75 combined running and receiving yards, and San Jose native Byron Marshall was held to 46 on the ground.
A team that averaged 632 in total offense was held to 312, less than half its average.
Clearly, Stanford dominated the line of scrimmage and flexed its muscles to the rest of the nation, watching around the country on ESPN. Shayne Skov had 10 tackles for Stanford, including two for loss, forced and recovered a fumble and batted down a pass.
Gaffney broke Tommy Vardell’s school single-game record for carries by six, because he was so consistent and effective. His yards were hard-earned, but his ability to give Stanford manageable situations on second and third down allowed the Cardinal to stay on the ground and use the clock.
“Tyler Gaffney ran the ball tonight the way running backs are supposed to run the ball in this game of football,” Shaw said.
Besides Gaffney, quarterback Kevin Hogan was a key to the Cardinal ground attack, running eight times for 57 yards and a touchdown. It was his most active game of the season with his feet, and it crossed up the Ducks line.
Early in the second quarter, Hogan faked a handoff to Ricky Seale going wide and instead kept it on a quarterback draw, eventually leaping into the end zone for an 11-yard score. Later in the quarter, with Stanford pinned deep in its own territory on third-and-long, Hogan kept the ball on a bootleg, slipped, and then broke out the grasp of three defenders before completing a 12-yard first-down run.
Hogan also passed for 103 yards, with a deep ball to Michael Rector for 47 yards, setting up Stanford’s first touchdown, on Gaffney’s two-yard run. And, above all, Hogan kept the chains moving.
At one point, bridging halftime, Stanford had the ball for 18:30 to Oregon’s 3:30. Jordan Williamson, returning from missing two games because of injury, kicked four field goals, the last with 11:40 left in the game to give Stanford its biggest lead.
Stanford took advantage of two turnovers in the red zone that were pivotal. When Oregon finally appeared to kick-start its offense, early in the second quarter, Stanford’s Skov forced a fumble from receiver Bralon Addison at the Stanford 3-yard line, and recovered it.
That began the marathon, 20-play, 96-yard drive that used up the rest of the half and ended in Jordan Williamson’s 19-yard field goal with no time left in the half for a 17-0 lead.
And because Stanford received the second-half kickoff – and got a 57-yard return by Ty Montgomery – and picked up another Williamson field goal, Mariota was kept off the field for 11 consecutive minutes of the game clock.
The second turnover came early in the second half after Oregon drove as far as the Stanford 19. On first-and-15 from the 24, Mariota was hit by Jarek Lancaster as he was stripped by A.J. Tarpley. Lancaster recovered to launch another Stanford scoring drive, one that took 14 plays and 7:33 off the clock and led to a Williamson field goal for a 23-0 lead.
Stanford got a boost from the return of defensive end Henry Anderson, who had missed the past seven games with a leg injury. Anderson had five tackles and was in on a sack.
Last year, Stanford won a 17-14 overtime battle in Eugene that was crucial to Stanford's Rose Bowl hopes. This year, with few giving it much chance, the Cardinal pulled it off again.
Not too long ago, USC was the conference's dominant team, and then Oregon wrestled away that title. However, with last season's Rose Bowl victory and another triumph over the Ducks, the balance of power has shifted.Stanford, as it proved again Thursday, was the better team.