What we saw from David Shaw’s team was perhaps the most controlled, patient, deliberate and downright effective style of football played by any team all season. The final five minutes was an anomaly. Stanford physically owned Oregon, putting itself first in line to jump into the national title game should some of the unbeaten teams slip up.
Nick Saban would be proud, to say the least.
If all goes right, Saban and No. 1 Alabama could find themselves playing Stanford for the crystal football in January. The Cardinal moved into first place in the Pac 12 North, and have only USC and Cal between them and a berth in the conference title game. But, they won’t likely move up from No. 5 when the next BCS Standings are released on Sunday unless the Crimson Tide, No. 2 Florida State or No. 4 Ohio State lose this weekend.
Still, Stanford is by no means out of the national title picture. The Cardinal were already the best one-loss team in the country, and that distinction was only reinforced on Thursday night when they cleared the third-ranked Ducks out of their path. If there is only one undefeated team remaining at the end of the regular season and Stanford wins out, there’s a good chance that the one-loss Pac 12 champ makes it into the BCS title game.
And if this performance is any indication, Stanford would be a worthy opponent for any of the remaining unbeaten teams. The question is: How much will the loss at Utah hurt their chances?
In Palo Alto Thursday night, it was Stanford dishing out most of the pain. The Cardinal’s offensive line thoroughly broke the will of the Ducks’ defense. At times, it seemed as if Stanford had eight linemen in the game. Oregon simply could not handle the beating up front as Tyler Gaffney and co. pounded out 274 rushing yards. The senior led the way with 157 yards and one TD on a school-record 45 carries, helping Stanford grind out 26 first downs and to keep possession for a staggering 42:34.
At times, you almost forgot the Ducks even had an offense because they sat on the sideline for eternities as the Cardinal marched down the field on long, sustained drives. QB Kevin Hogan wasn’t spectacular, but he managed the offense to perfection, getting the Cardinal into good plays time and again. Stanford had three scoring drives of 12 plays or more, two of which went for 96 yards.
Defensively, the Cardinal were equally impressive, limiting the vaunted Oregon offense to 311 yards, 17 first downs and only three scores. Trent Murphy and the Stanford defensive line played in the Ducks’ backfield all night, making life mostly miserable for Marcus Mariota, who threw for a pedestrian 250 yards. He had -17 rushing yards.
The most electrifying quarterback in college football was harassed into his worst performance of the season. Despite a mad attempt to lead his team back at the end, the game was no doubt damaging to his Heisman Trophy hopes.
And what about De’Anthony Thomas, who will be infamously remembered for saying Oregon would score 40 on Stanford? Other than giving away the huge fumble on the two-yard line, Thomas made little impact on the game. Stanford’s defense was suffocating, keeping Oregon scoreless until 10 minutes left in the game.
Ultimately, the Cardinal were tougher, meaner and just flat-out better than Oregon. This was one of the most all-around displays of domination over a quality opponent by any team in the country this season, and Stanford is clearly a team to watch in the national title hunt down the stretch.