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Oregon misses too often, and likely will miss out

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Zach Ertz, Stanford tight end, goes up for the touchdown catch to tie the game late in regulation at Oregon.EUGENE — Oh, the missed opportunities, how they spelled the likely end to Oregon's national championship hopes.

A missed block. A missed pass breakup. A missed pass-play communication. A missed kick (two, actually). A missed fumble recovery.

Stanford's defense rose to the occasion Saturday night, leading the upset bid as the Cardinal beat the Ducks 17-14 in overtime at Autzen Stadium. The Cardinal held the Ducks to 14 points and 405 yards offense — or 40 points and 157 yards below Oregon's average — and Kenjon Barner gained only 66 yards on 21 carries as the Ducks' running game couldn't dictate the game.

But, Oregon had its chances. Lots of chances.

Let's review:

Marcus Mariota was running for a touchdown in the first quarter, but De'Anthony Thomas chose to run in stride with the quarterback, rather than turn around and block a pursuer or two. A pursuer caught Mariota after 77 yards. Four plays later, Mariota got stoned for no yards as Oregon turned the ball over on downs. In retrospect, not blocking for Mariota prevented a touchdown in what turned out to be a very tight game. It was a funny play to watch initially, but not funny to the Ducks after the game.

"I thought he was already out there running, and he was ready to score the touchdown," Thomas said. "I was just running straight. I was thinking he was going to outrun the dude."

Said Mariota, who went 21 of 37 for 207 yards and a TD and a pick, and added 89 yards rushing on 12 carries: "It sucks right now. But, it's a big point in the game. I was hauling. It's one of those things, you get caught from behind. (Thomas) thought I was right behind him. I'm not as fast as De'Anthony. He was out there leading the charge," against no defenders.

Stanford went on to make the game tight, overcoming some turnovers and failed drives to make the game close. Just to be tied 7-7 at halftime was a big win for the Cardinal. They had made the game shorter against the explosive Ducks.

Oregon went ahead 14-7 in the third quarter, driving 95 yards on 15 plays and scoring on Thomas' 6-yard run.

The Oregon defense played well enough to win, limiting the Cardinal to one touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, but in the clutch, Stanford executed a 78-yard drive on 11 plays and 4:53 clock time to tie the score. But, that was close.

On a play from the UO 10, quarterback Kevin Hogan lofted a pass in the direction of tight end Zach Ertz, who caught the ball against the defending Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but officials ruled he landed outside the end zone. Incomplete. Officials reviewed the play, overturned it, and Jordan Williamson's extra-point kick tied the game at 14-14 with 1:35 left.

The Cardinal prevented the Ducks from scoring quickly, forcing overtime. In overtime, which allows each team an opportunity to score from 25 yards out, the Ducks came up empty.

Mariota tried to make two plays happen with his feet, to no avail. On third down, he threw one way and Josh Huff looked the other way.

"A miscommunication on my part," Mariota said. "I didn't see the full signal (from the sideline). Totally on me."

Alejandro Maldonado had plunked an extra-point kick off the left upright and through after Oregon's first touchdown, and also missed a field-goal attempt right. On a 41-yard field-goal attempt in overtime, he kicked the ball left again, and it bounced off the left upright again and didn't go through.

"I was jammed, meaning I was too close to the ball," said Maldonado, who, coach Chip Kelly said, had beaten out senior Rob Beard in the week of practice after the USC game.

On Stanford's possession, Stepfan Taylor, who ran for 161 yards on 33 carries, gained two yards, followed by what turned out to be another golden missed opportunity for the Ducks. Hogan, who went 25 of 36 for 211 yards and a TD and interception, got caught by UO defenders on a run and coughed up the football. During a scramble, UO's Michael Clay and Ekpre-Olomu, who had earlier forced two lost fumbles, went after the ball. But a Stanford lineman, Khalil Wilkes, was able to recover the ball.

"I saw the ball, tried diving on it, didn't dive on it correctly, and slid off of it," Clay said.

"I got into the pile late, and when Mike put his hand out, (the ball) went to the other side, and their lineman was able to get underneath and get the ball," Ekpre-Olomu said.

Taylor ran for three yards on third down. And Stanford's kicker did what Oregon's kicker couldn't do, as Williamson booted home the game-winning 37-yard field goal.

Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) had suffered its first loss, and likely its national championship hopes went with it. Kansas State also lost Saturday, but unbeaten Notre Dame won, and it's likely that a one-loss Southeastern Conference team (Alabama or Georgia) would finish ahead of Oregon in the BCS standings. Then again, Notre Dame still has to play USC next week. Things are far from decided.

Stanford (9-2, 7-1) would have to lose to UCLA next, and Oregon has to beat Oregon State, for the Ducks to make the Pac-12 championship game. A BCS game remains a possibility, as does the Alamo Bowl.

Oregon's defense saw the return of some veteran defensive linemen to the lineup, and Erick Dargan played admirably — interception, fumble recovery — replacing injured Avery Patterson at free safety. The Cardinal did its part to keep the Ducks from running up yards and points, running the ball well with Taylor and Hogan and keeping the ball for 37:05 to Oregon's 22:55 in time of possession.

Give up 14 points in regulation, the Ducks usually win games with a high-powered offense.

But Stanford, led by its front seven on defense and some disguising schemes, shut down the UO playmakers. Oregon punted eight times and failed on two fourth-down conversions in the first half, including fourth-and-2 at the Stanford 7 when the Cardinal stopped Mariota — after Kelly chose not to kick a field goal.

"We're always going to take 7," Kelly said, of a touchdown try.

Oregon had torched Stanford's defense with its speed and execution in scoring 50-plus points the past two seasons. But the Cardinal have improved, defensively.

Mariota said Stanford, the Pac-12's top defense this year, would load the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and then send guys back in pass coverage, to try to fool the Ducks. So, with seven or eight guys in pass coverage, it made the UO passing game less effective. Mariota had thrown for 681 yards and 10 TDs the past two games.

"Stanford did an awesome job, they had a game plan and stuck to it," Mariota said. "They controlled the line of scrimmage, did a good job in coverage, their defensive backs breaking up passes.

"We couldn't get a first down, and we couldn't get the rhythm going."

He added: "We knew we could go out in space, and we had some success working in space. They did an awesome job of just getting into our backfield and disrupting a lot of things. Credit to them. ... We left a lot of points (out there). It's unfortunate. The ball doesn't bounce your way sometimes. Defense kept us in the game. Offensively, especially myself, we have a lot of things you can clean up."

The Ducks have been held below 200 yards rushing in consecutive games now, totaling 198 against Stanford. Kelly said the Ducks need more balance offensively.

"They just did a great job of executing their game plan," Barner said. "Guys were in the right spots at the right times."

Defensive guys were surprised their offensive guys were contained by the Cardinal. After all, the Ducks had scored 70, 62 and 59 points in the previous three games.

"When you have a high-powered offense like ours, you don't expect (them) to struggle," Clay said.

The loss stunned the Ducks. Kelly's message to his team: Things happen. "We'll find out more about this football team" versus Oregon State, Kelly said.

The elusive national championship seems to have been lost again.

"We try not to think about those things, but it still hurts," Mariota said, "because we don't live in a bubble. One game doesn't define our season."

Said Barner: "We were in a dogfight, tough game, they came out on top."