The Oregon Ducks just got beat. They didn’t give it away, weren’t screwed by the refs, and Alejandro Maldonado isn’t to blame.
As that Stanford kick sailed through the uprights at the end of Saturday night’s overtime disappointment, frustration over what could’ve been fell from the sky like seemingly every important field goal attempt Chip Kelly’s Ducks have needed since his arrival; off the mark and shy of expectation. Oregon entered the game ranked #1 in the polls, #2 in the BCS and with a clear path to the second chance they’ve been hoping to get for the better part of 2 years.
There were no more ifs, ands or buts, just win and you’re in. And they couldn’t do it.
I say couldn’t because they had their chances. From the missed block which both directly and indirectly cost them a touchdown, to the multiple failures to capitalize on Stanford turnovers, and finally with their late-game and overtime ineptitude, this season’s offensive juggernaut picked a bad game against the wrong team to put their worst foot forward. Stanford was phenomenal. That’s not to say they’re a phenomenal team, nor that they’re better than the Ducks in a vacuum, but more so that they did “them” to the best of their ability and their “them” was more than what Oregon could handle that night. They controlled the line of scrimmage, flustered freshmen phenom Marcus Mariota from the onset, and stymied the running game in which the Ducks have leaned on in hard times. It wasn’t Oregon’s night and the Cardinal took advantage of it. Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s hard to go undefeated. I think because someone frequently does it annually in the college game, people think it’s a rite of passage for every talented team who approaches such to do just that. But there’s a reason merely a team or two manages to get it done, and a similar reason even the best stumble along the way: Luck. Every good team needs a little at some point of their journey and the ones who prevail are the ones who parlay said fortune into a win they likely didn’t deserve. In spite of their loss to Texas A&M, Alabama was lucky at LSU and now finds itself in the middle of the Title hunt. Georgia got boat-raced at South Carolina and followed that up with a nail-biting victory over a subpar Kentucky team, but lost early enough and squeaked one out against an also-ran which has them alive. And Notre Dame, they’ve had several close calls and if Pittsburgh’s kicker was able to do what Stanford’s did Saturday night, they’d be on the outside looking in on a game they currently hold all the cards to. The Ducks had an out last weekend and missed their opportunity to use it.
It would be easy to point fingers and many have been doing it since Saturday night. Maldonado has been taking heat, Mariota a bit as well, and even Chip Kelly – a man with a 44-7 head coaching record and the hottest name on the NFL coaching market – and his methods are being questioned by knee-jerk-reactors feeling the sting of a very painful loss. But this loss shouldn’t be put on the shoulders of any Duck specifically, but rather on an entire Stanford team who executed at the necessary level to beat a team thought by many to be unbeatable.
Oregon had scored more than 42 points in every game they’d played this year, against Stanford…14. Oregon had averaged more than 550 yards per game prior to Saturday night, against Stanford…they had 405. And Marcus Mariota, the freshmen signal-caller who’s wowed nearly all year and thrown 10 touchdown passes over the past 2 weeks, threw for just 1 touchdown, had but 207 yards through the air, and appeared like a first-year-starter for the first time in more than 2 months against the Cardinal. While you can certainly put a bit of blame on the Oregon performance, it was Stanford’s performance that held the bulk of the responsibility.
Yes, Stanford’s last touchdown was questionable and yes, I was surprised they overturned it. Yes again, Alejandro Maldonado missed a couple kicks and yes again, they mattered. And indeed, Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota were not at their best and if they had another try they’d probably be better. But the call was overturned, the kicks really weren’t the difference, and Kelly and Mariota won’t get another chance to perfect what is now imperfection. Muhammad Ali lost fights, the Yankees have lost World Series’, and even Tiger Woods in his prime blew a tournament or two. Everyone has bad games, every team has off nights, and even the best coaches get outcoached from time to time. Oregon just got beat people, sometimes it just happens…and that’s reason enough.