November 12, 2011
Oregon 53, Stanford 30.
Based on the final score, you're probably thinking "Business as usual," which is true to an extent: Oregon's never going to turn down three touchdown passes from Darron Thomas on the same night it gets 146 yards and three touchdowns on the ground from LaMichael James. Eighty-three points by both teams even eclipsed the over/under. But it still doesn't convey how thoroughly this night belonged to the Oregon defense.
It wasn't just Stanford's worst offensive effort of the season: It was arguably the worst in nearly three full seasons with Andrew Luck as starting quarterback. Thirty points points marked the Cardinal's lowest-scoring game in two years; their output in terms of total yards (372), rushing yards (133) and yards per play (4.9) marked new lows in any game Luck has started in his career. The best-protected quarterback in America was sacked three times, a career high, hit a dozen more and forced into three turnovers — yes, another career high.
All three giveaways led directly to Oregon touchdowns, two on "drives" covering 20 yards and 12 yards, respectively, and the third on an interception return in the fourth quarter that put the win on ice. In fact, the Cardinal matched the Ducks for sustained touchdown drives — both offenses had four long marches apiece, the shortest covering 63 yards — but not nearly for opportunism: While Luck was being hounded into new depths, Oregon's offense was making it look easy. On at least a couple occasions, that's probably because it was.
Considering the competition, it may also as complete a game as Oregon has played under Chip Kelly, offensive and defensively, which is all the more notable for it coming outside of Autzen Stadium. Coming into tonight, the Ducks had defeated exactly one ranked team in a true road game over the last six years: No. 24 USC last October, from whence the Trojans went on to finish nowhere near the final polls at 8-5. As nightmarish as the trip to Eugene is for opponents, the Ducks' most high-profile road trips under Kelly had all fallen into the same genre: Horror.
At Boise State in 2009, the prolific spread offense was shut down completely in a 19-8 trouncing that wasn't nearly as close as the final score. At Stanford later that year, the Duck defense was ripped to ribbons in a 51-42 shootout that announced the Cardinal's arrival as Pac-10 contenders. In the 2010 Rose Bowl the following January, the same defense played victim to the best performance of Terrelle Pryor's career in a 26-17 loss to Ohio State. And in the BCS Championship Game a year later, the offense was manhandled by Auburn's defensive line, held to a season-low yards rushing and shut out on six different trips into Tiger territory in an excruciating, 22-19 loss on the game's final snap.
The 40-27, four-turnover pounding the Ducks took from LSU in Dallas on opening night may have been the most lopsided of the lot, and now may very well be the only thing that keeps them from a return trip to the BCS title game. But by turning the same trick to fluster the nation's most revered quarterback and end the nation's longest active winning streak, they've reaffirmed their place as reigning Pac-12 overlord and forcefully thrust themselves back into the BCS championship picture.
If it comes down to a one-loss team earning a golden ticket to New Orleans, Oregon still may not be in position to be that team. But it will be in position to make a lot of noise about not being that team, and rightfully so.