The Oregon Ducks controlled their own destiny. The analysts all repeated that line, even after Florida State retook the number two ranking in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Ducks controlled their own destiny, and a win over Stanford would virtually assure them a game against Alabama for the national title.
There was a glimmer of hope. When Pharaoh Brown caught the touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota, there was a chance. The Ducks had come back from 26 points down to get within scoring distance.
Then the Cardinal recovered Alejandro Maldonado's onside kick, and three plays later it was over. Chip Kelly lost in his last game against Stanford, and his successor Mark Helfrich fared no better. The Ducks hope of a national title was reduced to a faint glimmer, the prayer that many more top teams would lose as well.
So what happened?
Stanford enforced its will on the ground. Tyler Gaffney's longest carry of the night was 16 yards, but the constant three and four yard rushes wore down the Oregon defense. Stanford's larger offensive line won the battle on the line, and allowed him to rush for 157 yards on a school-record 45 carries. With Stanford constantly gaining tough first downs, the Oregon offense was forced to watch from the sideline as Stanford executed their game plan, winning the time of possession by almost 26 minutes.
Conversely, Oregon never got it going on the ground. Byron Marshall was held to 46 yards, his lowest output since the Tennessee game back in September. De'Anthony Thomas accumulated just 75 total yards. Overall, Stanford outgained Oregon on the ground 274 to 62.
When the Ducks did get the ball, they watched too many opportunities slip away. Thomas had the ball stripped away on the Stanford 2-yard line. Mariota was unable to find Bralon Addison in the endzone on fourth and goal from the Stanford 4, and lost another fumble on the Stanford 18. When the offense finally got rolling, it was too little too late.
Credit goes where credit is due. Stanford executed brilliantly, and the Ducks did not. Now the Ducks have to look up, hope, and watch the standings, an uncomfortable spot from where they were 24 hours ago. Now the Ducks need to focus on their remaining games, and not let this defeat derail what has been a productive first campaign by Coach Helfrich. One that hopefully Oregon will build on to try for the title again next year.