The pouring rain ceased just before kickoff, but the darkest clouds ever seen at Autzen hung over the stadium and cast shadows of misery on the faces of fans, players and coaches alike, following the toughest loss the Ducks have suffered since quite possibly the 2011 title game.
Marcus Mariota took moments at the press podium to collect himself, continually covering his face with his hands, before he answered questions. Kenjon Barner, who is notoriously soft-spoken, whispered his answers to the media.
A somber and almost inaudible Chip Kelly embodied the beaten Ducks team. “I think the Stanford defense got to all of us,” he said.
The only player the Cardinal defense didn’t get to was Alejandro Maldonado. The junior placekicker was untouched by Stanford defenders on both of his field goal attempts, but it didn’t matter as both of his kicks went awry all by themselves. Shots from 42 and 41 yards out both went any place except between the posts.
You hear that now-cliched phrase that the Oregon offense is like a “video game” a lot, with the Ducks putting up almost unfathomable statistics on a weekly basis. Well, on Saturday night against Stanford, the video game was broken, forcing the sparingly used Maldonado to shoulder some point-scoring responsibility for the Ducks. He couldn’t answer the call.
Despite being the starting kicker last season, Maldonado did not kick a field goal this season until last week against Cal, as Rob Beard had been doing the field goal kicking until a change was made after the USC game.
Maldonado’s lone attempt this year was a make from 26 yards. Last season he was seven of 12, with a career long of 40 yards.
If there was any luck behind Maldonado, he used it on his first extra point attempt after Oregon’s first touchdown (a strike from Mariota to Keanon Lowe), when his kick went off the post and still fell through the uprights.
Ahead 14-7 in the third quarter, the Ducks had a chance to make it a two-score lead after a fumble recovery in Stanford territory, but Oregon’s offense, which was stagnant all night aside from the two touchdown drives, could not get the ball into the end zone. Maldonado trotted out in an attempt to make his career-long from 42 yards. The kick went wide right.
In overtime, after the Ducks’ offense failed again, Maldonado took the field to try again from beyond his 40-yard record. Clank! Off the post and no good, Maldonado had missed again.
“You have to have a short memory with what happens,” Maldonado said. “We’re all gonna miss. Not every catch is going to be made, not every block is going to be made, but a lot of the weight is on me and I’m gonna take that because I have to come through no matter what.”
He is right. In that, the ire of fans will fall upon his foot, as it does with any kicker who misses the clutch ones.
“We know what his (Maldonado) distance is,” Kelly said. “When the ball is on the 33 and out a little bit that is when it becomes a range thing and that’s just from out work in the week and practice.”
When asked how he felt about having the job in which there is no glory, only blame, Maldonado answered the question the same he answered almost all others, saying that he “felt good and was stroking the ball in warm-ups.”
“I told those guys that things aren’t always gonna go your way,” Kelly said. “That’s life, that’s football. It hurts so bad because they have invested so much. I think everyone will run this game over forwards and backward and forwards and backwards and feel real bad about it for a little bit of time.”