by Rob Moseley
STANFORD, Calif. — There was no sugar-coating the bludgeoning Oregon endured Thursday night.
Stanford, sometimes behind as many as eight offensive linemen, piled up 274 rushing yards in its 26-20 win over the Ducks. Oregon, meanwhile, ran for just 62 — nearly 270 below the Ducks' season average — and saw Marcus Mariota sacked three times.
"The bottom line," UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said, "is they dominated the line of scrimmage."
And while that was true, allowing Stanford to set a definitive tone, it didn't tell the whole story. It might not even have been enough to win, had not the Cardinal also won a few critical moments over the course of the game.
For the second straight year, Stanford made crucial plays in big situations, and came out ahead on decisive replay decisions. The Cardinal's victories over Oregon in 2012 and now 2013 will rightfully be recalled for the way Stanford's linemen on both sides of the ball dominated play, but those key moments shouldn't be overlooked, too.
Both last year and Thursday, there was an early play on which, had the Ducks capitalized, they might have established some offensive momentum that could have turned the tide. In 2012, it was a long run by Mariota on which De'Anthony Thomas didn't make a block that probably would have cleared Mariota's path to a touchdown; instead, the Ducks didn't get any points out of the possession.
Fast forward to Thursday night. On Oregon's first drive of the game, the Ducks marched past midfield. On third-and-six from the Stanford 48-yard line, Mariota saw Josh Huff streaking alone behind the secondary. Hit Huff in stride, and Mariota has the Ducks rolling right out of the gates. Instead, his pass fell short, and the Ducks punted.
"I underthrew it," Mariota said. "I missed him. Just didn't get enough on it."
The passing game failed the Ducks again later in the quarter, when Mariota overthrew Bralon Addison in the end zone. Meanwhile, on Stanford's next possession, a 96-yard scoring drive, the Cardinal got more than half that yardage on a single play.
That 49-yard pass was the 20th play of 20 or more yards the Ducks have allowed this season; nobody in the country has allowed fewer. It was a rare breakdown, then, but a killer one, too.
Early in the second quarter, the Cardinal drove to another touchdown, but not before Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu intercepted a pass, only to have it negated by a pass interference flag.
Later in the quarter, Thomas took a pass down to the 2-yard line, having recovered his own fumble at the end of the play. But replay officials ruled that in fact the Cardinal had recovered, an overturned call that harkened back to the 2012 game, and Zach Ertz's controversial touchdown catch that helped Stanford force overtime before ultimately winning.
That play also was initially ruled in Oregon's favor, and was reversed after replay review.
"We were moving the ball pretty well," Mariota said. "We just weren't able to finish."
Make no mistake: Stanford's physical play throughout the night was just as important. By controlling possession, the Cardinal were like a boa constrictor, slowly squeezing the life out of the Ducks.
"They ran the ball really well, and we couldn't stop them," UO defensive lineman Taylor Hart said. "That's kind of how it went."
But Stanford didn't just win the stylistic war Thursday. The Cardinal won several important battles, too, singular moments over the course of the evening that were at least as decisive in the outcome, if not more so.