First of all, my hat’s off to Stanford. I couldn’t have written this Saturday night or even yesterday because I was so mad. But the truth is, as good as Oregon looked against SC, Stanford looked as good, if not better, against us. Gerhart was a beast. Luck couldn’t have mis-thrown a deep ball if he’d tried. Owusu was great on returns. Their defense was just good enough to keep us from moving the ball at will. And Harbaugh coached the game of his life. Despite all that, this was a one-score game until that last second field goal. I identified a few moments that I think were turning points and, had they gone differently, might have swung things in the Ducks’ favor.
1. (WARNING: May contain whining about officials) The pass interference call on Stanford’s third series against Javes Lewis. That was a terrible call. Not only was there virtually no contact (and certainly no contact that affected the play), but the ball looked uncatchable anyway. It came on third down and would have given the Ducks a stop. As you may recall, the Ducks didn’t get one of those until there were 56 seconds left in the half. I’m not a huge believer in momentum in most sports. Not to say that it doesn’t exist, but more that it doesn’t have as large an affect as some people believe. However, in a football game like this, where one team is executing perfectly and steamrolling the other team, momentum can play a more significant roll.
This play had the potential to be a momentum changer. Stanford had come out hard, was playing flawlessly on offense, and the Oregon D seemed on its heels. All of a sudden, the defense gets a stop, they give the ball back to the offense and Stanford doesn’t seem so invincible. Now maybe the defense can gain some confidence, and take a little wind out of Luck’s sails. That drive also wound up as a score which would have come off the books. At the time, this just seemed like one more thing that was going wrong for the Ducks. In retrospect, getting a stop there might have completely changed the complexion of the game.
2. Not scoring on one of the two drives before the half. Oregon got the ball with 6 minutes left. I remember thinking to myself, “If we can get a score here, we get the ball back to start the second half, once Chip Kelly has had the chance to make adjustments – we could wind up being down by only 3 points at the beginning of the third quarter. That’s not so bad.” Didn’t happen. I got some flak in the postgame thread for criticizing Masoli. To be fair, Masoli was very good most of the game. 330 yards and 3 TD’s are nothing to sneeze at. But maybe it was these two drives before half that stood out in my mind.
A terrible throw to Maehl on first down. A completion to Tuinei. A couple rushes, and then two devastating sacks, the first of which could have been avoided if Masoli had just tossed the ball out of bounds. I blame the offensive line and the play call more on the second sack, where I think a bubble screen or a quick hit to a WR would have been perfect. But because Masoli had lost yards on second down, Kelly called for something downfield, the O-Line collapsed, and Masoli went down. But then the Ducks finally got a stop, and got the ball back with 56 seconds left and at least a couple timeouts. “Okay,” I thought, “This is a quick-strike offense. We can get some points here.” But Masoli tried to force passes that didn’t get to their targets and the drive never really got started. Instead of going into the half with a little bit of energy and the chance to make it a three point game early in the third quarter, we were stuck with a 17 point deficit and a really deflated feeling.
3. The failed read option on 4th and 3 at the end of the third quarter. The Oregon offense was clicking pretty well at this point. 3 yards for this offense was trivial. Chip Kelly knew it, which is why he decided not to go for all 6 yards on third down, understanding that he was going for it on 4th regardless. Then, Masoli made the wrong read, Stanford had the perfect defensive play call, and that was that. I really think the game was virtually over at this point. The defense still hadn’t been able to slow down the Stanford O (which went down and kicked a field goal to make it a 20 point game with 10 minutes left), and now the offense couldn’t pick up a mere 3 yards with the game on the line.
This was the play where I flung my hat across the room. Just to clarify, I think Masoli was fine on the read option most of the game. I think there was this one and one other where he made a bad read, but I don’t want to seem like I’m coming down on him too harshly. It just so happened that this bad read came on maybe the most important offensive down for the Ducks. Those things happen.
Those are the three I remember most vividly. If you have others, please post them. I know one candidate is Chip Kelly’s baffling decision to challenge the spot on 4th and 1. I don’t think that was a “turning point” since I felt that the game was pretty much over at that point anyway, but I’ll share my thoughts on it. Unless there was something he saw that no one sitting at home saw, at most this would move the ball by half a yard, but even that was a long shot. The time out turned out to be meaningless, as the onside kick failed and Stanford iced the game anyway, but at that point, there was still a glimmer of hope, and risking a timeout for a half yard when Gerhart could have gotten a half yard just by thinking about it seemed like a poor decision. I have read absolutely zero about the game, so maybe Kelly has come out with some comments about this that make sense. The only one I can think of is that he wanted to rest his defense to give them as good a shot as possible at stopping them on 4th down and he figured a challenge would give them a few more minutes of breather than a standard timeout would. Still questionable, since Stanford could let 25 more seconds off the clock, but at least understandable.
This is going to be a long week until we can see what this team is made of against ASU on Saturday. I needed to write this post as a cathartic act, to get some of the bad stuff out of my system, and to discuss the game intellectually rather than emotionally. So if you have thoughts on this, please share them below.
(Edited to remove wall-of-text paragraphs)