PALO ALTO, Calif. — In handing the Stanford Cardinal just their second loss in two years, the No. 4 Oregon Ducks made it known once again that they truly are the force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12.
Junior running back LaMichael James put his own stamp on that sentiment, running for 146 yards and three touchdowns as Oregon cruised to a 53-30 win over then-No. 3 Stanford Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd at Stanford Stadium. While James thrust himself back into a wide-open Heisman Trophy race, the Ducks made their case as arguably the top one-loss team in the nation, though they still trailed No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 3 Alabama in Sunday’s BCS standings.
For the first time in program history, the Ducks (9-1, 7-0 Pac-12) defeated a team ranked in the top five on the road, while the Cardinal (9-1, 7-1) saw the nation’s longest winning streak come to an end along with their hopes of reaching the BCS title game.
Meanwhile, Oregon will host a quality No. 18 USC team at home this Saturday, and will close out the regular season with a Civil War showdown in Eugene and a potential Pac-12 title game the week after. As for third-year head coach Chip Kelly, who received a barrage of questions about being back in the BCS title hunt and a possible rematch with top-ranked LSU, the message remained unchanged.
“We’ve lost a game,” Kelly said. “And if we lose two, we’re not in any discussion.”
With that in mind, the Ducks returned to practice this morning inside the Moshofsky Center in preparations for a USC team (8-2, 5-2) that rolled passed Washington at home over the weekend.
While James had a game-high 159 all-purpose yards on 22 touches against Stanford, it was Oregon’s offensive line that paved the way for 232 yards on the ground and another 155 through the air after finishing the first quarter with negative yardage and an eight-point lead.
“We always come out a little shaky,” junior quarterback Darron Thomas said. “But we are confident in our offense and what we do in practice each week. We just know we got to keep it rollin’, just put that mistake behind our head and keep going.”
After four straight punts to open the game, the Ducks took advantage of Luck’s sixth interception of the season on Stanford’s third possession of the opening quarter. On third and 9 at the Cardinal 49, Oregon senior linebacker Dewitt Stuckey intercepted Luck at midfield and took the ball 30 yards to the Stanford 20 yard line.
Five plays later, Thomas connected with senior wide receiver Lavasier Tuinei on a four-yard touchdown pass to claim the early lead. On the ensuing two-point conversion, tight end David Paulson, who played a year of quarterback in high school, found short snapper Jeff Palmer for a successful two-point conversion to go ahead 8-0.
That turnover was the first of five giveaways for Stanford on the night. The Cardinal lost all three of their fumbles, while Luck’s second interception was returned 40 yards by sophomore linebacker Boseko Lokombo for a touchdown with 4:28 left in the game. The score was Lokombo’s third of the season and fourth of his career.
“They took advantage of our turnovers,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “We got turnovers and didn’t turn them into points. That’s the bottom line.”
The teams exchanged two more touchdowns apiece before the end of the first half, with Luck finding senior wide receiver Griff Whalen on 16- and 13-yard touchdown passes, and James and De’Anthony Thomas scored from 58 and 41 yards out, respectively.
Oregon picked right back up where it left off at the start of the third quarter. With a 22-16 lead, the Ducks opened the second half with the ball and took just four plays to find the end zone. Sophomore wide receiver Josh Huff caught a pass in the flat, made the first Stanford defender miss and left another one stumbling en route to a 59-yard touchdown.
“They were aggressive the whole game,” said Huff, who last scored against LSU in the season opener. “And I knew if I could make one guy miss then I could score.”
From there, James and Stanford’s backup running back Jeremy Stewart scored a pair of touchdowns each over the next nine minutes of play. Stewart’s one-yard run with 9:37 left in the fourth quarter brought the score to 43-30, but the Cardinal would get no closer.
Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado converted on a 40-yard field goal after the Ducks used nearly four and a half minutes off the game clock as the wheels started falling off for Stanford.
Lokombo’s touchdown came two plays later, and Stanford fumbled the ball back to Oregon on the ensuing kickoff. In no rush to score, Oregon turned the ball over on downs after 2:33, where the Cardinal promptly fumbled the ball back on their first play from scrimmage to effectively end the night.
Luck completed 27 of 41 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns and was sacked three times for a loss of 13 yards. Thomas went 11-of-17 for 155 yards and three scores in leading the Ducks to 387 yards of total offense against Stanford’s 385.