By RALPH D. RUSSO
STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford is a breeding ground for innovators and inventors, home to the ingenious and industrious.
So it’s tempting to look at the Cardinal’s 26-20 victory against No. 2 Oregon, their second straight victory against a team that has been otherwise unbeatable over the last two seasons, and credit No. 6 Stanford (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) with coming up a with a blueprint to slow down the Ducks.
Stanford’s plan is good, but its success against Oregon (8-1, 5-1) is built on talent and toughness as much as technique.
“I think they have a lot of good players. A lot of teams have played us very similar to how (Stanford) did and there have been different results,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said Thursday night.
Stanford’s powerful offensive line churned out yards in small to medium chunks. Tyler Gaffney ran 45 times for 157 yards. Stanford had 66 rushes for 274 yards, no gain longer than 16. The Cardinal held the ball for 42½ minutes.
On defense, Stanford did a good job of limiting Oregon’s big plays, got in the backfield, played off blocks well and stayed disciplined against the Ducks’ option runs and play-action passes. The Cardinal caused two turnovers when Oregon was in Stanford territory. Linebacker Shayne Skov led the charge, along with defensive end Henry Anderson, who came back from a knee injury just in time to pick up the slack for the loss of senior Ben Gardner due to a chest injury. Defensive coordinator Derek Mason looks like a rising star.
“It’s a combination of everything,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “I think we’ve got players that fit our scheme. We’ve got very, very good players. But you have to play. You have to play smart. These guys are good. They’re dangerous, you know?”
Stanford led 26-0 early in the fourth quarter and seemed on the way to a dominating victory, but Oregon scored the final 20 to make Stanford sweat.
For team that seemed to be dominated for 50 minutes, Oregon was a handful of plays away for making this a very different game. Heisman Trophy contender Marcus Mariota underthrew a sure TD pass in the first quarter. A fourth-and-goal on the next drive resulted in no points. De’Anthony Thomas fumbled at the Stanford 2.
“We were close in so many regards whether it was an offensive mistake or special teams,” Helfrich said. “So many things that added up to more points for them.”
Stanford’s win means as much to some other teams in the national championship race as it does to the Cardinal.
Here are five things to know about the BCS chase after Oregon’s loss.
SEMINOLES SITTING PRETTY: No. 3 Florida State is looking good. The Seminoles were second in the BCS standings behind Alabama, but conventional wisdom was that Oregon, thanks to a Pac-12 schedule that is tougher than Florida State’s Atlantic Coast Conference slate, would pass FSU. With Oregon out of the undefeated mix the race becomes between Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor. That’s a race the Seminoles have a much better chance to win.
BEARS IN HUNT: Baylor isn’t going away. That was not exactly a vintage Oklahoma the Bears beat 41-12 in Waco, Texas, in Thursday’s other spotlight game, but the Sooners are solid and Bryce Petty and high-scoring Baylor overwhelmed them. The Bears still have games against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas. If they can get through unbeaten and do so with more lopsided victories, they’ll have a nice resume to matchup against Florida State’s.
BUCKEYES IN A BIND: Ohio State needs more help. The Buckeyes can blowout all the Big Ten foes they want, it’s going to be hard for them to draw poll votes away from Florida State. It’s not that the Big Ten is any worse than the ACC, but Florida State’s impressive and easy victories against ranked Clemson and Miami, compared to Ohio State’s close win against ranked Wisconsin will likely keep the Buckeyes behind the ‘Noles if both keeping winning.
TOUGH ROAD: What about Stanford? The Pac-12 from top to bottom is very good, but losing to Utah will make it tough for the Cardinal to work their way into a BCS title game even if three of the top-four (Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor all lose).
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS: And Alabama? Just win, baby. The Crimson Tide have no one to worry about but themselves, starting with No. 10 LSU on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.