An inexperienced junior quarterback struggled mightily with the game on the line, missing open receivers and helping the opposing defense shut out his team in the final quarter. Stanford knows that script well, but turns out it was Cody Vaz “Deferens” and Oregon State stuck with offensive futility in crunch time today.
On the other sideline, Stepfan Taylor accounted for 161 yards and two touchdowns while Kevin Hogan was a lights-out 22-of-29 for three scores and two interceptions. More than anyone else, it was those two who helped the Cardinal overcome a nine-point deficit in the final 19 minutes.
First, Taylor padded his quarterback’s stats on the final snap of the third quarter, taking a reception for a 40-yard touchdown to pull the Cardinal within 27-21. Then, with 5:07 left, Hogan found Zach Ertz on a 13-yard post route for the game’s final points.
That’s not to say the final five minutes were uneventful. After a Hogan sneak came up short on the two-point attempt, Terrence Brown got a fingertip on an Oregon State third and short out route to get the home Cardinal the ball back on Senior Day.
Then came one of the best calls of the afternoon. On third and three with just over two minutes to go, Stanford ran a counter naked bootleg, faking to Taylor and rolling Hogan out to his right with open field in front of him. It was a footrace to the corner and while Hogan came up a yard short, it was precisely this type of offensive creativity that Stanford fans so pined for throughout September and October – and saw when it mattered most today. (You know it was the right play call because the FOX announcers decried it. Relatedly, they didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, for while not as atrocious as the Versus crew in the 2007 USC game, they could use a refresher on down and distance. How do these people get their jobs?)
After a 49-yard net punt, it was Alex Debniak’s turn to shine, dropping Cody Vaz on third and four, knocking him out of the game and setting up a do-or-die fourth and 16. Former starter cum backup Sean Mannion threw six inches too high, and the Cardinal kneed it out.
The win sets up a monster weekend next Saturday for the Pac-12. USC and UCLA will tassle, with the winner taking the South division crown. Meanwhile, Stanford heads to Eugene, where a loss would clinch the Pac-12 North for Oregon and a win would put the Cardinal in the division’s driver seat. (Side note: they’ll both be underdogs, but should Stanford and UCLA both win next weekend, Stanford will then travel to UCLA needing a win to put them back in a conference title game… against those very same Bruins.)
It has been anything but a smooth ride these past two months, but the Cardinal are 8-2 – having already beat their Vegas season win total of seven. Stanford fans would have been rightfully thrilled back in August if they’d known their team would head to Eugene with conference title hopes in tow, and that’s precisely where your Cardinal find themselves today.
So while this may seem paradoxical on the eve of Stanford’s biggest game of the season, pressure’s off for the guys in red and white. Let Oregon, with College GameDay, the eyes of the country and hopes of a national title all along for the ride, feel the tension next Saturday. Whatever happens the rest of the way, Stanford is playing with house money.
That’s our take. Here are thoughts from around the country.
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