STANFORD, Calif. — No. 2-ranked Oregon was dominated for most of a 26-20 loss at No. 6 Stanford on Thursday, likely ending all BCS title talk for Ducks while costing them control of the Pac-12 North race.
But the biggest winner of all? No. 3 Florida State. The Seminoles don't have to worry about the Ducks nudging them out of second place in the BCS standings.
“We don't hold the cards anymore,” first-year Ducks coach Mark Helfrich conceded.
FSU was in danger of slipping to third in the BCS if Oregon could have registered a big road victory against a quality opponent. Now, the Seminoles face a manageable remaining schedule with a good chance to win their way to the BCS championship game at the Rose Bowl in January.
Unbeaten Baylor and Ohio State have to be happy, too, with one less hurdle to clear.
Oregon's record is no longer perfect. And neither is Mariota's Heisman Trophy resume.
All thanks to Stanford.
Tyler Gaffney ran for 157 yards as Stanford steamrolled Oregon for three quarters before holding off a furious late rally by the Ducks (8-1, 5-1 in Pac-12). Stanford's powerful offensive line churned out yards in small to medium chunks.
“It's a combination of everything,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “I think we've got players that fit our scheme. We've got very, very good players. But you have to play. You have to play smart. These guys are good. They're dangerous, you know?”
Kevin Hogan ran for a touchdown and played a mistake-free game for the Cardinal (8-1, 6-1), who put on a clinic on how to play keep away from a team that was averaging 55.6 points. Stanford ran 66 times for 274 yards — sometimes behind as many as nine offensive linemen — and held the ball for 42½ minutes.
“They're just a great team. We came out slow,” said Thomas, who said earlier this week that Oregon “should at least put up 40” against Stanford.
Not even close.
Mariota completed 20 of 34 passes and was under pressure much of the night while playing with a left knee brace. He declined to discuss the extent of his injury or when it occurred, saying only that his knee is “a little banged up. Nothing too extraordinary.”
He still threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, sandwiched around a blocked field goal return for a score by Rodney Hardrick, to pull the Ducks to 26-20 with 2:12 left.
Oregon couldn't recover a second onside kick, though, and Stanford ran out the clock.
“It is tough and it is hard because a lot of these guys have really worked hard. It ain't over. It happens,” Mariota said. “We're going to come back stronger than ever and we're just going to take it in stride.”
As for Stanford, it gets first place in the Pac-12 North and the inside track to another league title game. And maybe if things get really weird, the Cardinal can get back in the title hunt.
Stanford won a three-point game in overtime at Oregon last year to deny the Ducks a chance to play for the national title, but it didn't look as if there would be much drama in the return bout on the Farm. Stanford led 17-0 at halftime and added three more field goals by Jordan Williamson in the second half.
Oregon looked like dead Ducks, down 26-0 early in the fourth with Stanford hammering away behind Gaffney, who set a school record with 45 carries. Even after Oregon finally broke through with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to Daryle Hawkins, the Cardinal went on another time consuming drive and attempted a long field goal that would have sealed it.
Instead, the Ducks blocked it, Hardrick scooped and scored from 65 yards out with 5:08 left and suddenly it was interesting.
Only 5 seconds later it got even more interesting when the Ducks recovered an onside kick. They quickly moved inside the Stanford 5, but got pushed back to a fourth-and-goal from the 12. Mariota threw a touchdown pass to Pharaoh Brown with 2:12 remaining, but the time it took the Ducks to get in while burning a timeout was key.
Stanford grabbed the next onside kick and Oregon was powerless to stop the clock.
“Extremely disappointing,” Helfrich said. “Didn't get off to a very good start, offensively or on special teams. That's my fault.”
Stanford put Oregon in a 14-0 hole, the Ducks' largest deficit of the season, with a power football clinic that started when the Cardinal came up with a fourth-and-goal stop from the 4 in the first quarter.
Stanford followed with a punishing, 96-yard drive that included one long strike from Hogan to Michael Rector. Gaffney's 2-yard plunge made it 7-0.
With a little help from a pass interference call that wiped out an Oregon interception, Stanford made it 14-0 on Hogan's option keeper from 11 yards out with 11:26 left in the second quarter.
And just when it looked as though Oregon was about to get back in it, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov ripped the ball away from Thomas at the Stanford 2.
Stanford followed that with another 96-yard drive, this one on 20 plays that ended with Williamson kicking a 19-yard field goal to end the half 17-0.
It was the first time Oregon had been shut out in the first half since Oct. 10, 2009, against UCLA.