My teams (Stanford, Wisconsin, and TAMU) went 3-0 this week.
Stanford’s win was the biggest and the most unexpected in terms of both the result and the way it happened. I got home on Thursday in time to watch some of an ugly OU-Baylor first half and switched with trepidation to the start of the game at Stanford stadium. The Ducks came to Palo Alto unbeaten, averaging more than 55 ppg (with the low end being 42 vs ranked UCLA), and favored by 10. So, when Duck RB DeAnthony Thomas predicted Oregon would score 40, he was arguably being conservative. Unlike TAMU, another high-flying offense, Oregon also has a good defense. And they had the revenge factor to keep them from looking past the Cardinal, as if you should ever look past a top 10 opponent. Meanwhile, Stanford had come into the season with a team built on an experienced defense and power running. The D has been one of the top defenses in the country, but I was afraid that the offense was too one-dimensional to keep the D off the field. I figured a bad day for Oregon would be in the range of the 27-28 points Washington and Utah had scored, and the Cardinal might not be able to put enough on the board to beat that.
That last bit was the only place where I was even close to right. Stanford only scored 26 for the night, but it was enough for a 26-20 win, which wasn’t as close as the final score even though Oregon had a chance to save the win at the end. Stanford completely dominated Oregon for most of the game and probably could have scored more by going for it instead of taking field goals in the second half on 4th and short deep in the red zone, or by making a late FG that was blocked and returned for a TD. The Cardinal win was fundamentally because Stanford’s D made more big plays than Oregon’s O and because Oregon couldn’t stop the Stanford running game, especially in the second half. Stanford’s offense was mostly Tyler Gaffney off tackle on the right side from a heavy package. QB Kevin Hogan sprinkled in just enough clutch runs of his own to keep drives alive.
The game didn’t look like it would be a Stanford blowout at the start. The Ducks moved on their first drive but a false start led to a punt. Stanford went 3 and out. Oregon returned the ensuing punt to the Stanford 28, and at that point I was cringing. But after getting first and goal at the 7, Oregon couldn’t get closer than the 4. Foolishly or arrogantly, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich went for it on 4th and goal from the 4. Mariota’s pass was incomplete, and the Cardinal responded with a 96 yard 12 play drive for a TD, which took the lead for good. Stanford held the Ducks to a negative yardage 3 and out, and then scored on their next possession. The first Stanford scoring drive included a beautiful 47 yard pass from Hogan to Michael Rector. The second included a horrible pass that should have been picked off in the red zone. But Stanford got bailed out on a pass interference call. Down 2 TDs, the Ducks fought back and got deep into the red zone. But Shane Skove stripped Thomas at the 2 and recovered the fumble. Stanford used up the rest of the first half with a drive that got to the Oregon 2. The Cardinal settled for a FG to end the half up 17-0.
Stanford took the second half kickoff and drove for another FG: 20-0. Oregon got to the Stanford 24 and turned it over again as Mariota got hammered and fumbled. Stanford drove and settled for another FH: 23-0. Oregon 3 and out. Stanford drive, FG: 26-0 with less than 12 minutes left in the game. Oregon finally got a typical Oregon possession and scored on a drive that took less than 2 minutes to go 60 yards: 26-7 with about 10 minutes to go. Stanford recovered the onside kick and drove to the Oregon 23, forcing the Ducks to take 2 timeouts. When Jordan Williamson lined up for yet another FG, it looked like it would completely ice the game. Instead, the kick was blocked and returned for an Oregon TD. 2 pt PAT failed. 26-13. Oregon recovered the onside kick this time and got a first and goal at the Stanford 2. When Skov sacked Mariota on third down and forced another fumble, that looked like the ball game. While Mariota recovered, the Ducks had to use their last timeout to gather themselves for 4th and goal from the 12. Mariota completed a TD pass to cut the lead to 26-20. At this point, Stanford fans were getting very nervous, as an onside kick recovery would give the Duck a chance to win with a TD and PAT… and Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado was using an onside kick method that was really, really good. Fortunately for the Cardinal, the third onside kick was recovered by the Stanford hands team.
Stanford kept the ball away from Oregon for a total of 42:34, mostly on runs. Tyler Gaffney set a school record for carries with 45 (out of a total of 79 plays for Stanford). Oregon only ran 58 plays. Total yards were 377-312, but on the ground, Stanford outgained Oregon 274-62.
The game is viewed as killing Oregon’s chances for a BCS title game, and could knock them out of a top bowl altogether if Stanford wins out. Mariota’s Heisman bid is also probably done.
The Ags and the Badgers were on at the same time on Saturday. Both won. I watched TAMU; Johnny Football is too entertaining to miss, even for the Badgers. Saturday vs. Miss State was the last home game in the current version of Kyle Field, so it was Senior Day. It’s also thought to be the last home game for Manziel and Evans. We’ve gotten so spoiled by the A&M offense under Sumlin that Aggie fans wonder what’s wrong when we don’t score on our first offensive possession. We’ve also gotten so down on the D that we expect to be behind if that doesn’t happen. Against the Bulldogs, the Ags didn’t score on their first possession, and the D stopped Mississsippi State on their first two possessions, allowing the Ags to draw first blood on our second possession. Unfortunately, this was immediately followed by a 1-play possession by MSU, as Josh Robinson went around the left side and ran 51 yards for a TD. A&M drove down the field but Manziel threw a pick as the Ags were threatening to score again. This led to the second blocked punt safety in as many weeks. This time it was 12th man Sam Moeller. The A&M drive after the free kick stretched the lead to 7-16. The teams traded scores with the Ags getting a late TD in the first half to go into the break leading 23-14.
The Ags ended up outscoring MSU 28-27 in the second half for the 51-41 final score. Manziel threw two more interceptions, but finished with 446 yards and 5 passing TDs. He also added some amazing plays his lifetime highlight reel. The D continued to cause concern, especially as the game wore on. The Ags gave up 187 yards in the first half, and 365 in the second, including drives of 96 and 75 yards (twice). One of the latter was two plays.