Stanford Cardinal: It was a bad call, but it’s not the reason Oregon lost

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 22: Cornerback Obi Eboh (22) and center Brian Chaffin (65) of the Stanford Cardinal celebrate after the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon. Stanford won the game in overtime 38-31. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 22: Cornerback Obi Eboh (22) and center Brian Chaffin (65) of the Stanford Cardinal celebrate after the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on September 22, 2018 in Eugene, Oregon. Stanford won the game in overtime 38-31. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) /

The Stanford Cardinal came back in epic fashion to beat the Oregon Ducks – and yet, one bad call is overshadowing the victory.

With early bragging rights in the Pac-12 North Division on the line, the Stanford Cardinal/Oregon Ducks matchup was everything you could have wanted – especially if you were ESPN, running College Gameday out of Autzen Stadium.

About the only people who might disagree with the above statement are the Oregon Ducks, and the Oregon fans themselves. To them, it was a night of sadness, tears, and grand larceny.

The Oregon defense did what not a lot of defenses have done in recent memory – prove that Bryce Love is indeed mortal. With the exception of his 22 carry, 136 yard outburst against USC, Love has looked decidedly un-Love-like so far this season.

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No doubt his injury, and an increased focus on stopping him, has played a role in his less than stellar (so far) season, but he was held to just 29 yards (on 18 carries) by San Diego State, and on 19 carries against the Ducks, Love ground out just 89 yards on the ground.

With the Ducks holding Love, and quarterback K.J. Costello, and the Stanford offense in check for much of the game, they staked themselves to a 24-7 lead – a lead they carried late into the third quarter.

With just over seven minutes remaining in that pivotal third quarter, the Ducks forced a Stanford punt, and then seemed to be cruising toward another score that would give them perhaps, an insurmountable lead at 31-7 – though, given how the rest of the game played out, you just never know.

Oregon’s Jaylon Redd appared to have scored that touchdown that would have given the Ducks a 24-point lead – but after a review, was ruled to have stepped out just inside the one.

It was a controversial call, to be sure. And, looking at it subjectively, it was probably the wrong call. It didn’t appear that Redd had stepped out – but, bad calls happen. Terrible calls happen. As seems to be the case here.

However, that doesn’t alleviate the Ducks of the responsibility of what came next.

Rather than being able to punch it in from the one-foot line, the Ducks found themselves back on their heels, and the situation went from bad to worse in the blink of an eye.

A horrible snap sailed over the head of Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert, allowing Stanford’s Joey Alfieri to scoop it up and run 80-yards for the touchdown.

Terrible call, absolutely. But at 24-14, with just over a quarter remaining in the football game, the Ducks still had a comfortable lead – one they should have been able to squat on, as they ran down the clock.

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Instead, Stanford forced a quick three-and-out, and then Costello took the ensuing punt, and led the Stanford offense on a three-play, 65- yard drive that was capped by a 22-yard run from Love, cutting Oregon’s advantage to just three points, at 24-21.

On Oregon’s next opportunity with the ball, they again, couldn’t muster anything against a suddenly stifling Stanford defense that as smelling blood in the water.

They netted two yards on three plays, before having to punt it away again. Luckily for them, Stanford ended up turning it over on downs after getting to Oregon’s 30-yard line.

That was when Oregon woke up, and went on a 11-play, 70-yard drive that consumed more than six minutes, and gave them back that 10-point cushion, going up 31-21, and seemingly, with just over four minutes left in the game, putting it out of reach, the terrible call in the third quarter seemingly behind them for good.

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But wait – there’s more.

Stanford struck back quickly, as Costello completed passes of 49 yards, 20 yards, and 15 yards, to draw Stanford within a field goal again – in just a minute and a half.

Still, with just over three minutes left in the game, all Oregon had to do was grind down the clock. Rack up a first down, or two, and the game would have been over. And they were doing just that, as Jsutin Herbert blended some sharp passing, with some solid running in leading the Ducks to the Stanford 43-yard line.

And that’s where disaster struck.

Ducks running back C.J. Verdell inexplicably coughed the ball up. Stanford recovered the ball, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For Oregon, it was a heartbreaking, devastating, catastrophic end to a game they had been in control of from the jump. One that didn’t have to happen though.

At the time Verdell put the ball on the ground, there were just 51 seconds left. Having picked up a couple of first downs, forcing Stanford to use two of their timeouts, a kneel down or two would have either ended the game, or left so little time, Stanford may not have had enough ticks on the clock to respond.

There really seemed to be no reason for Verdell to be not just running, but fighting hard for the extra yards, when they could have wound down the clock, and preserved the three-point win.

Stanford Cardinal
Stanford Cardinal /

Stanford Cardinal

And yet, they didn’t. They allowed Stanford to kick the game-tying field goal with no time left on the clock, and then punch one in during the overtime period, sending the Cardinal on to an epic comeback win – the 17-point comeback, the largest in HC David Shaw‘s tenure.

It really was an epic game. It was a fierce battle between Pac-12 powers, filled with tremendous plays, high drama, and a thrilling finish. And yet, the game is remembered mostly for that one blown call.

That call absolutely had an impact, there is no question. However, that was not what cost Oregon the game.

They still had a 10-point lead they couldn’t hold. They couldn’t make plays when it mattered the most. And the poor clock management at the end of the game cost them dearly.

The blown call hurt, but it was not the defining moment of the game – Oregon’s failure to protect their lead as the clock wound down was.

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With implications in both the Pac-12, as well as the College Football Playoff on the line, it was a high stakes game, and both teams delivered. It was a hard fought game on both sides, with both teams playing some outstanding football.

It’s simply unfortunate that such an epic game is being overshadowed by one admittedly terrible call. That one call did not give Stanford the win – it was Oregon’s failure to respond to that adversity, and protect a double-digit lead that allowed Stanford to seize victory in this important Pac-12 showdown.