Instead, the Ducks forgot how to play defense, hold on to the ball and not commit penalties in key situations. Stanford took advantage of all of those mistakes to stun Oregon 38-31 in overtime.
Despite the meltdowns, it still looked like the Ducks would escape with a 31-28 win. But tailback C.J. Verdell fumbled the ball with 51 seconds left and Stanford recovered on the Oregon 40.
That was plenty of time for K.J. Costello to move his Cardinal offense into field goal range and kicker Jet Toner nailed a 32-yard field goal on the last play of regulation to send the game into overtime.
Oregon won the coin toss and elected to go on defense first. But the Cardinal didn’t waste time as Costello hit tight end Colby Parkinson on the first play for the touchdown.
Now it was the Ducks’ turn to answer and Oregon managed to get the ball for a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line. Four incompletions later, the game was over with Stanford celebrating a surprising victory in Eugene.
As the entire coaching staff would say, the game probably should have never have come close to a stunning loss. Oregon was up 24-7 with the ball inside the one. Two fumbled snaps later and Joey Alfieri picking up that second fumble as in many plays and going 80 yards to turn a 31-7 game into a 24-14 game and Stanford never gave up the momentum.
Even having the ball inside the 1-yard line was surprising as it looked like Jaylon Redd scored from 16-yards out, but the referees ruled Redd out of bounds when his foot hit the pylon before the ball had crossed the goal line.
It’s anyone’s guess whether that stunning reversal had any effect on the next two plays, but Oregon was an inch from going up 31-7 and 25 seconds later, Stanford was within 10
After the fumble recovery for a touchdown, the Cardinal forced a three-and-out and marched down the field 65 yards in three plays and scored on Bryce Love’s 22-yard run to make it 24-21.
To Oregon’s credit, it was able to bounce back when Herbert led an 11-play, 70-yard drive to knock almost seven minutes off the clock to go up 31-21. Cyrus Habibi-Likio ended the drive with a 1-yard plunge.
That lead was erased quickly with Stanford came right back with 79 yard on just three plays to make it 31-28 with just over three minutes left.
Missed in all of the circus that was the second half was a receiving performance for the ages. Mitchell managed 14 catches for 239 yards. Herbert finished the game 26-of-33 for 346 yards and a touchdown, the kind of numbers that are usually more than good enough to win. And despite the big miscue, Verdell racked up a career high 115 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal couldn’t have asked for a better first half from every aspect of his team. Herbert was nearly perfect throwing the ball, going 12-of-13 for 170 yards and a touchdown. The running game was clicking on all cylinders, including Verdell rumbling 48 yards for another touchdown. His offensive line was blowing Stanford defenders off the line of scrimmage and the defense was held Love in check with just 41 yards.
All of that equaled a dominating first half where the Ducks took a 24-7 halftime into the locker room.
Oregon converted on its first five third down tries and took an early 7-0 lead when Brooks-James scored from seven yards out to complete the Ducks’ first drive. The touchdown was set up when Herbert found Dillon Mitchell on a 53-yard catch for a first-and-goal opportunity.
Mitchell finished the half with six catches for 126 yards.
The Ducks took a 14-0 when Herbert hit Jacob Breeland in the first corner of the end zone to finish off a 14-play, 88-yard drive early in the second quarter.
Stanford finally cracked the scoreboard and cut the Ducks’ lead in half when Costello threw the ball up and watched JJ Artega-Whiteside outleap his Oregon defender for the catch and the touchdown.
With Stanford seemingly back in the game, Oregon was able to respond right away when Verdell broke through the line and ran 48 yard for the touchdown and the 21-7 lead.
The Duck defense held the Cardinal, got the ball back and Adam Stack ended the first half scoring with a 38-yard field goal and a 24-7 lead.
It was Stack’s first career field goal.
Now somehow the Ducks will have to put the Stanford game to bed and focus on Cal. It was going to be a tough test even before the tough loss. It’s Oregon’s first road game of the season and the Bears are 3-0 with an extra week to prepare for the Ducks. How Oregon responds next week will be a telling sign of how the rest of the season might go.
~ Don Smalley