By: Ben Leonard
Oh, Stanford. Just when you think they’re on the cusp of brilliance, they break our hearts and lay an egg. Or maybe the Ducks laid it for them.
Even though it seemed like they were always on offense, Stanford made too many miscues when it mattered most, gave up too many plays, and couldn’t finish drives in a heart-wrenching 38-36 upset loss to the unranked Oregon Ducks. Who should be ranked, mind you.
But the playoff committee won’t care — Stanford lost to an unranked team at home down the stretch. I guess the Rose Bowl will just have do to. *sniffle*
It’s not like they didn’t have their chances — four drives stalled inside the thirty-yard line, forcing the Cardinal to settle for four field goal attempts, of which they made just three.
They started breaking our hearts from the opening drive, opening in typical Stanford fashion, pounding and grounding it on a beautiful six-minute drive….and settling for a field goal. Failing to cash in when they needed to was a frustrating theme of this game — and Stanford football every season. It’s not like the offense wasn’t working — they amassed 506 total yards, and only had to punt once. Kevin Hogan had a big day when he wasn’t taking snaps under center in the fourth quarter, completing 27 of his 38 attempts for 304 yards and two touchdowns. And it’s not like the Ducks locked down Christian McCaffrey, who was able to rack up 147 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. Even the oft-forgotten Michael Rector had a huge day, hauling in eight catches for 103 yards.
It’s just that those Ducks took flight. It started right away — before you knew it, Oregon had stormed out to take a 7-3 lead. It took just six plays for the Ducks to go 80 yards for the score, including a 49-yard run by Royce Freeman, who had a hole big enough to drive a truck through. Stanford got absolutely no push up front all game long, and the Ducks made them pay for it.
Both teams traded touchdowns on the ensuing drives, with Oregon proving that time of possession is useless. After Kevin Hogan capped a long, methodical drive with a 22-yard touchdown scamper, Charles Nelson immediately silenced the crowd with a 75-yard run of his own, providing a one-man, one-play drive for the Ducks. Even though Oregon only had the ball for under four minutes in the first quarter, they found themselves up 14-10 after the first quarter, a microcosm of the game. Stanford held the ball for more than 42 minutes, but never looked fast enough to keep up with the Ducks.
After going up 17-14, Stanford was handed a huge would-be momentum shifter but failed to capitalize on it. Vernon Adams Jr. fumbled it right into Kevin Anderson’s hands, putting Stanford in business at the Ducks’ 9-yard line. But the seemingly game-changing moment sucked the life out of the Cardinal when they gained just three yards and had to settle for a field goal, giving Stanford a 20-14 lead.
No lead ever felt safe against the Ducks, even as Stanford ended the half up 23-21. Stanford had no answer for the Ducks’ playmakers in space, giving up way too many big plays. The electric Ducks averaged 19.2 yards per passing attempt and 6.4 yards per carry, good for an average of 9.1 yards per play, the worst in the Harbaugh/Shaw era.
In spite of the Ducks’ dominance, taking a 35-23 lead after the third quarter, the Cardinal still had plenty of chances to hop right back in the game — until Kevin Hogan dropped the ball. Just when you thought they were out of it, they jumped right back in it, only to break your heart again.
Exhibit A: Hogan fumble #1. Stanford had charged back to within five points on a Hogan touchdown, had the ball on their own 48, and were marching down the field. But Hogan muffed the snap, allowing Oregon to extend their lead to eight points with five minutes left. But they were still in it!
Exhibit B: Hogan fumble #2. This time was an even better situation, with Stanford down at Oregon’s 14-yard line. Hogan lost the snap again, giving the Ducks the ball again. Everyone in the stadium left at this point.
Exhibit C: After forcing a three-and-out, Stanford was back in it again, on the Oregon 49-yard line with just under a minute left. Solid clock management from David Shaw, some timely throws from Kevin Hogan, and a pass interference call helped Stanford find the end zone on a four-yard pass to Greg Taboada. But of course, Hogan decided to beat our suddenly pounding hearts to a pulp. Down two points, he tried to hit his receiver in the end zone, but bounced it just below his hands. ARGHHHHH
The more you look at the numbers, the more frustrating this game gets. Stanford outgained Oregon by nearly 100 yards (506-436), had the ball for almost three-quarters of the game, and was much better on third down (12-17 vs. 2-7). If Hogan had laid off the Butterfingers and had Stanford not self-destructed inside the 20-yard line, I would be writing a recap with butterflies, Cardinal rainbows, Christain McCaffrey-shaped unicorns, and the College Football Playoff. But now, the keyboard’s almost too wet with tears to type.
Props to the Ducks. They played very well and gave us a very entertaining game. Even Devon Cajuste thought it was great:
@devoncajuste while walking off the field: “Man, I know we lost but that was a great game.” More perspective than I’d have in the moment
— R.J. Abeytia (@RJ_Abeytia) November 15, 2015
Heading into Cal, Stanford needs to find a way to make plays in space on defense and be able to run its offense with a compressed field. And maybe work on those snaps just a little bit.
Cover Image: Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) walks off the field after the 38-36 loss to Oregon in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)