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Jaffe: National title hopes crushed by better team

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With all the pressure, hype and media attention focused on the Farm for the first time this season, only one team stepped up. And for the first time this season, it wasn’t Stanford. Here’s Stat on the Back’s take on the Cardinal’s first loss of the season, a 53-30 thrashing by Oregon.

Number of the game: 2

What it means: 10/2/2010 and 11/12/2011 had a whole lot more in common than just the zeros, ones and twos. These two days are the only two times in the past two years when Andrew Luck threw at least 14 incompletions. They’re the only two times Stanford faced a team ranked higher than No. 15. They’re the only two times the Stanford defense gave up over 50 points. And they’re the only two times Stanford has had to play Oregon.

Most significantly, of course, they’re the only two times in the past two seasons Stanford has lost. And that is no coincidence.

Why it matters: The Cardinal is one of the best football teams in the nation. There is no doubt about that. Stanford has gone 21-2 since the start of the 2010 season, which is tied for the most wins by any FBS team in that span.

Of course, it’s those two losses that really stand out. In the past two seasons, the Cardinal has had two shots to knock off a top-10 team. Once it was as a road underdog, once it was as a home favorite and both times it was against the Ducks. Stanford whiffed both times, and this inability to win big games is what separates the Cardinal from the truly elite teams.

Other notable numbers:

1: Saturday was the first time in a long time that Stanford was thoroughly outplayed from start to finish. In fact, it was the first time in the Andrew Luck Era (2009-11) that Stanford was outscored in both halves of a game. You have to give credit where credit is due, and Oregon was far superior to the Cardinal in every aspect of the game. The Ducks deserved to win, and they left no doubt.

3: It’s unfair to point to one player in a game like this, and the loss should be spread around to the whole team. However, Luck is seen as the best player in the country and possibly one of the best ever, but he did not look remotely deserving of the Heisman on Saturday.

For just the third time in his career, Luck threw multiple interceptions in a game. One of them was completely Luck’s fault and set up the Ducks’ first score of the game. The other was not his fault at all but was returned for a touchdown. Three is also the number of turnovers Luck had, as he also fumbled for the first time this season, one of three fumbles by Stanford.

Three was not a kind number for the team, as the offensive line allowed Luck to be sacked three times by Oregon. Luck had been sacked just four times total in the first nine games. The sacks on Saturday caused Luck to be held to -13 rushing yards, just the second time in his career he has had negative yards on the ground.

Stanford fumbled three times after fumbling just twice in the first nine games. The Cardinal seemed to give up at the end of the game, as three of Stanford’s season-high five turnovers came in the final five minutes.

5-for-14: Stanford converted just five of its 14 third downs, and two of those conversions came in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. For a Cardinal team that relies on long, punishing drives and came in ranked fourth in the nation in converting third downs, starting 3-for-10 isn’t going to cut it.

13: It seems unthinkable, but Stanford actually outgained Oregon by 13 yards. I’m not kidding—look it up. If you only saw that the Cardinal forced two turnovers, held the Ducks to 387 total yards and forced Oregon to go 1-for-9 on third downs, you would probably expect Stanford to come away with the win.

However, if you were watching the game, you know that Oregon was much more dominant than any of these statistics show. The Ducks made big plays—four of their seven touchdowns came from at least 40 yards out. They forced five Stanford turnovers, kept pressure on Luck in a way that no other team could and they dominated special teams.

17, 11: The loss marks the end of Stanford’s 17-game winning streak and 11-game home winning streak. The Cardinal almost certainly cannot win the Pac-12 North and will not play in the national title game. All hope is lost.

Yet, contrary to popular belief, the season is not over. There’s this little thing called Big Game this week, and rumor has it that Stanford and Cal don’t like each other. After that is Notre Dame to close out the regular season. Neither team will be a pushover, and the Cardinal had better regroup fast in order to beat those two teams.

And although a national title really is out of the picture (don’t bother finding a scenario—I’ve heard it, and it’s not happening), Stanford still has a good chance at playing in a BCS bowl. But before we go into scenarios, let’s wait and see how the Cardinal does in its final two games. After all, as Saturday showed, wins can never be assumed.

 

Jacob Jaffe had one of the greatest fantasy football weeks of his life and still spent Sunday afternoon eating lactose-free ice cream and watching “Bambi,” “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Lion King.” If you would like to console Jacob or want to join him in his misery, email him at jwjaffe “at” stanford.edu or follow him on Twitter at @Jacob_Jaffe.

 

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