On a night where legendary former Stanford quarterback John Elway had his number retired, some might have forgotten that there was a midweek clash of national powers about to kick off.
The Oregon Ducks, ranked third in the nation, traveled to Stanford Stadium looking to avenge the 17-14 loss that they had last season to the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal.
Stanford owned the first quarter, allowing Oregon just 57 yards. The Cardinal were able to get on the scoreboard first when running back Tyler Gaffney rushed into the end zone from two yards out with just over two minutes remaining in the quarter.
The second quarter nearly mirrored the first quarter, as the Cardinal were able to take a 17-0 lead into halftime. Stanford scored its second touchdown of the half when Kevin Hogan had an 11-yard touchdown rush nearly four minutes into the quarter. Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson also added a 19-yard field goal as the first-half clock expired.
The third quarter went nearly the same way as the previous two. Stanford scored with a pair of field goals from Williamson (34, 26) to enter the final quarter with a 23-0 lead.
The highlight of the quarter was when Oregon quarterback and Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota was sacked, fumbled the ball and Stanford recovered at its own 28-yard line. This was Oregon’s second fumble of the game in Stanford territory.
Stanford scored on its first possession of the fourth quarter when Williamson hit his fourth field goal of the game, this time from 30 yards out.
As things looked to be over, Oregon made a late comeback attempt.
The Ducks started their drive at their own 40-yard line but quickly drove up the field. On a 2nd-and-11, Mariota was able to find Daryle Hawkins for 22 yards in the back of the end zone for Oregon’s first score of the game.
On Stanford’s next drive, it was forced into a fourth down at the Oregon 23-yard line. The Cardinal brought Williamson out for his fifth field-goal attempt of the game, but this attempt would end up being disastrous for Stanford.
Oregon blocked the field-goal attempt, and Rodney Hardrick returned the blocked kick 65 yards for a touchdown. Oregon went for two points after the touchdown and failed. The score at that point was 26-13 Stanford.
After the touchdown, Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado attempted an onside kick attempt. Maldonado kicked the ball perfectly and Oregon was able to recover, although it was given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
After recovering the kick, Mariota drove the Ducks offense up the field quickly.
On 4th-and-goal from the Stanford 12-yard line, Mariota found Pharaoh Brown in the end zone for Mariota’s second touchdown of the game. Oregon placekicker Matt Wogan made the point-after attempt.
After trailing 26-0, Oregon had fought its way back and was now down 26-20.
Maldonado attempted another onside kick, but Stanford was able to recover. Stanford would then drain the clock and defeat Oregon for the second straight season.
Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney had a school-record 45 rushing attempts for 157 yards and a touchdown. Stanford's ability to pound the ball between the tackles Thursday is what ultimately led the Cardinal to the victory.
For Oregon, this was a major loss for two reasons.
First, Oregon was believed to be in a battle with Florida State for the No. 2 national rank in the country. With the loss, it was virtually eliminated from the national championship picture. The team can still get into a BCS game, but with so many other undefeated teams, the Ducks likely will not receive an opportunity to win the coveted Crystal Ball Trophy in January.
Secondly, Mariota struggled for most of the game. He completed 20 of his 34 pass attempts for 250 yards and two touchdowns, though he was able maintain his streak of games without an interception, which dates all the way back to last season. But Mariota struggled in the running game, with six rushing attempts for minus-16 yards.
The loss hurts Mariota’s Heisman campaign. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is now believed to be the favorite.
For the Cardinal, the win brings them back into the national title picture, although it's a long shot that they will get a bid. They have one loss, which came to 4-4 Utah, a game in which Stanford struggled and committed a late turnover to seal the defeat. Stanford would need Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor to lose to have any hope of a national championship berth.