For the second year in a row, Stanford has upset the BCS apple cart.
The No. 6 Cardinal used a powerful run game and a physical defense to beat No. 2 Oregon in Palo Alto, 26-20.
With the win, Stanford moves to 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the Pac-12, while Oregon falls to 8-1 and 5-1 in league play.
For about three-and-a-half quarters, this game was the province of the Cardinal ground game. Running back Tyler Gaffney carried the ball a career-high 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown as Stanford punched the Ducks in the mouth over and over again. The Cardinal rushed for 274 yards and converted 14-of-21 third down conversions while holding the ball for an unbelievable 45:30.
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan was efficient and killed the Ducks with timely scrambles. He was 7 of 13 for 103 yards and rushed for 57 yards and a score. The Cardinal didn’t need him to do much more since they were in control for most of the game.
Ah, but what about the end?
When Cardinal placekicker Jordan Williamson hit his fourth field goal of the game to put Stanford up 26-0 with 11:40 to play, it looked like the Ducks were going to go quietly into the Northern California night. There was even talk of blanking Oregon, something that hasn’t happened since 2007.
But Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who struggled most of the game, suddenly came to life. He led Oregon on a 60-yard drive that culminated in a 23-yard touchdown pass to Daryle Hawkins. That made it 26-7 with 10:11 to play.
Oregon’s onside kick failed and Stanford drove the ball to the Oregon 23-yard line and then Williamson lined up for his fifth field goal of the night. But the attempt was blocked and Rodney Hardrick returned it 65 yards for a touchdown and it was suddenly 26-13 after Mariota’s 2-point conversion attempt failed.
The Ducks lined up for another onside kick and this time it worked. Oregon recovered and, seven plays later, had a first and goal at the Stanford 2-yard line with almost four minutes to play. It looked like Oregon had a chance to pull off a miracle comeback.
But this is where the Ducks’ hopes died. While Oregon eventually scored on a fourth down play to make it 26-20, the Ducks ate up valuable time on the clock and, with one time out left, it wouldn’t be able to get the ball back unless its next onside kick worked.
It didn’t. Wide out Jeff Trojan recovered it and Stanford ran out the clock. Afterward, Stanford students stormed the field.
And it no doubt set off celebrations in Tallahassee and Columbus, as both Florida State and Ohio State’s odds of making it to the BCS title game improved substantially tonight. When Sunday’s BCS standings come out, we’ll see FSU holding on to its spot at No. 2 behind No. 1 Alabama.
For Oregon, it’s back to the drawing board. On the bright side, it won’t have to face a Stanford defense of this caliber anytime soon as 15 of the 22 players on the Cardinal’s defensive two-deep are seniors. Mariota’s Heisman hopes took a big hit, though the late rally mitigated the damage somewhat, but he’s going to need some help down the stretch to win his school’s first Heisman.
As for Stanford, it’s now in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12 North and has an outside chance at crawling back into the BCS title hunt. If Alabama loses to LSU, Ohio State loses to Michigan or Michigan State and Baylor drops a game in the next month, it will be well-positioned to give the title tilt a physical presence — from the Pac-12, no less.