For most of the 2012 college football season, Oregon has looked unstoppable on offense. The Ducks had passed the eye test and garnered a top ranking. But Pac-12 rival Stanford reminded us Saturday night how human Chip Kelly's offense can be against a top defense.
The Cardinal won the line of scrimmage, largely stopped Oregon's rushing attack and managed to hold the second-ranked Ducks to just 198 yards on the ground—127 below their season average—in their 17-14 stunning road win.
And as soon as the Stanford players wake up on Sunday morning, they can revel in the fact that they proved that defense wins championships.
At the end of the night, the Cardinal layers rushed the field to celebrate kicker Jordan Williamson's 37-yard field goal in overtime. It was eerily similar to the last time the Ducks were the No. 2 team in the country and fell all the way back in 2010.
The last time we saw the Ducks turned away multiple times in the course of a game was the 2010 national championship game against Auburn. They only scored 19 points in that game and looked average until a late surge helped make things interesting.
As ESPN's Ted Miller noted back in 2011, the Ducks got whipped in the trenches against Auburn. The stats don't suggest it, but that was part of the reason Oregon got upset on Saturday night yet again.
For most of 2012, the argument about Oregon is that the defense doesn't have to be any good when the offense is clicking on all levels. Oregon's wins over USC and even Washington State featured some troubling signs. But as long as the offense was scoring at will, it didn't matter if 11 clowns were lining up for them on defense.
That philosophy is proving to be dangerous yet again.
Stanford was able to get a big red-zone stop in the first quarter, holding off Oregon on the goal line on fourth down. They stood up again later and managed to keep the Ducks from converting either of their otther two attempts on fourth down.
Kenjon Barner averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, ending his Heisman campaign. Redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota finally played like one, tossing an interception and failing to put his team in position to win both late in the game and in overtime.
Ultimately, Stanford saved us from the kind of whooping Alabama, the rest of the SEC or possibly even Notre Dame would have put on the Ducks. All season we've been clamoring to crown this offense as the best in college football, yet defense again prevails—as it always seems to do this time of year.
ESPN's Merril Hoge had a colorful tweet during the game Saturday night, squashing speculation that the NFL needed to adapt Oregon's offensive philosophies as soon as possible.
This Oregon offense would get smoked in the NFL!!
— Merril Hoge (@merrilhoge) November 18, 2012
Are the expectations too high? Oregon had 405 yards of total offense and several highlight-reel plays from Mariota, yet managed just 14 points, the team's lowest output since 2009 against Boise State (8).
Bottom line—the Stanford defense made life tough for Oregon. Despite our preconceived notions that nothing can slow down the Kelly train when it's on the track, Stanford coach David Shaw had an impeccable game plan that was executed nicely by his players.
So it's back to the drawing board for Oregon. With one conference loss and Stanford poised to claim the bid to the Pac-12 Championship Game, it seems unlikely that voters would give a one-loss Oregon team the chance to take on a top defense.
We've seen Oregon on that national stage against a stiff defense multiple times, and they continue to disappoint.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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