When things are going well for the Stanford Cardinal, their opponents often die a death of 1,000 dull spoons. Nothing the Cardinal does on either side of the ball is particularly flashy. You won’t see them in florescent uniforms or chrome helmets. The don’t have a uniform coordinator. What they do have, however, is arguably the best coached football team in America, one that will by happy to take advantage of your weaknesses if there is even the slightest letdown.
Stanford did just that in holding off the Oregon Ducks 26-20 in front of an amped-up crowd of Cardinal faithful in Palo Alto. It’s a huge win for David Shaw’s team, who just as easily could have been a part of the National Championship this season had a perfect finish not been derailed by what now seems a fluke loss to the Utah Utes on the road a few weeks ago.
The Cardinal were excellent on both sides of the ball, creating pace on offense through the outstanding running back Tyler Gaffney (who had 40+ carries) and setting the tone of physical defense through the play of Shane Skov and the dynamic and aggressive Stanford linebacking corps. The most amazing stat of the game is the one that usually bores people to death. Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota was pedestrian. Apart from a few solid drives in the fourth quarter comeback attempt, he looked like just another quarterback, not like one who many previously believed could be one of the first selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Of all the dominance though, there was one shocking, primary takeaway:
Stanford held Oregon to zero points — zero — through the first three quarters of football.
The Oregon defensive line was handled all evening long in the trenches by a Stanford offensive line that’s again proving to be one of the better units in the country, something that should surprise no one given the number of NFL caliber players the Cardinal have churned out in the trenches the past few seasons. It was all about push on both sides of the ball, and Stanford got it all night long at will.
A fourth-quarter comeback attempt by Oregon showed some heart, but ultimately even the breaks of a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown and a recovered onside kick which led to another wasn’t enough.
In short, Oregon’s chances at a National Championship have flown out the window with their struggles in Palo Alto and the dreams of teams like the Ohio State Buckeyes and Baylor Bears have been given some new life, although they’ll now both need plenty of help from some unlikely heroes to truly be a part of the mix. Any notion that Oregon deserved to be a part of the conversation as one of the nation’s best teams is now dispelled.
Mark Helfrich’s squad still has plenty of football left to play, but 2013 won’t be the season where the Crystal Ball finally makes its way to Eugene. It’s almost a certainty now that honor will belong to either the Alabama Crimson Tide or Florida State Seminoles.
For David Shaw, it’s yet another quiet, workmanlike win for a coach who so often flies under the radar but is deserving of recognition as one of college football’s best. Don’t be the least bit surprised to hear his name batted about as a candidate for several openings which are already present and those that will be when the season comes to an end.
He’s a gem and one Stanford had best be ready to pay to keep on their tree-lined campus.
Kris Hughes is a Senior Writer, Business Analyst and College Content Coordinator for Rant Sports.