How did Stanford upend Oregon for the second consecutive season? Let's take a look.
A Trojan Saves Stanford
While the offense possessed the ball interminably and the defense had the best performance of any defense all year, the unspoken hero of this game was special teamer and wide receiver Jeff Trojan. The senior likely will not play in the NFL, and may not even see the field at his position, but last night, he saved the game for Stanford. He caught two insanely difficult onside kicks. Admittedly, he missed one, which resulted in seven points and an ephemeral resurgence from Oregon, but the other two resulted in long, clock-running drives.
His two onside kick recoveries helped burn more than nine minutes of the fourth quarter. In the six other minutes, Oregon managed to score 20 points despite being shut out previously. Oregon knows how to turn a game around in minutes, and if Oregon put up 20 in six minutes, imagine what they could have done with more time.
Many viewers missed the second-most important moment. It was on the third drive of the game. Oregon handled Stanford, moving down the short field. Then Stanford stopped Oregon on the goal line. Mariota had been stumped for the first time this year, perhaps the first time since he played Stanford last year. That quarter alone worsened his Heisman chances.
Instead of Oregon finding the end zone and their rhythm (something that every Oregon opponent fears), it unwillingly handed the ball to Tyler Gaffney.
Then something amazing happened. Mariota did not get the ball. Stanford possessed the ball for 42 minutes and 34 seconds of the football game. Stanford kept Mariota on the sideline as they rushed up the gut of his defense. He was powerless as he watched his team lose.
Mariota may have managed 250 yards passing, but Oregon never got anything going on the ground and only had 62 yards after averaging more than 300 per game. Kudos to this defense for stopping Oregon for three quarters.
Josh Huff’s Tears
It was tough to watch him cry on the sideline in only the third quarter. The Stanford was performing water torture with game clock. The poor kid was broken mentally and eventually physically — he left the game with an injury.
What Stanford did to Huff was exemplary of the whole Oregon team. Stanford played patient on offense and defense. It never got ahead of itself and made the upset feel like the longest game Oregon has ever experienced. Oregon's omnipotent offense sat and watched while Stanford moved the ball in four-yard incriments (Gaffney averaged 3.7 yards per carry).
Stubborn On The Ground
Following the four-and-out on the third drive, Stanford moved the ball 96 yards in almost six minutes for a score. They capped the drive with four consecutive rushes for the first touchdown of the game.
Tyler Gaffney went on to carry the ball a school-record 45 times. Kevin Hogan threw the ball only 13 times, connecting on seven for 103 yards. Hogan did what he needed to do to win. Could he have passed for 200 yards against this secondary? Maybe, but he knew the best way to win was with his and Gaffney’s legs. Some may criticize his game, saying he’s not a good enough passer.
Who cares about his draft stock? All he does is win. It doesn’t matter how.
How Real Was Oregon's Fourth-Quarter Rally?
Very real. I saw it coming the whole time — everybody was waiting for it.
I mentioned at the top that Oregon put up 20 points in one quarter despite just six minutes of possession. If this game had a fifth quarter, I believe Oregon would have won. But Stanford didn't game-planned for four quarters and executed that plan cleanly. It won the game by getting up early and coasting to the finish despite late heroics (as seen in its games against ASU, UCLA and Oregon State). Stanford was comfortable the whole time.
This game was a painful reminder of the cliché: You can’t score if you don’t have the ball.