It was right there. For the second straight year, Oregon appeared to hold their BCS title fates in their hands at home in Autzen.
And then it all went to pieces.
The Oregon offensive line was dominated at the line of scrimmage, and the Ducks could get no push on the interior. The zone-read play was blown up, and all the various options were pretty well-countered. Outside of one long Marcus Mariota scamper, Oregon averaged just over three yards per rush, half their regular average of six yards per carry.
De'Anthony Thomas had more bad moments than good moments. Despite having some decent running figures, he fielded kicks inside the ten and let kicks go that went inside the ten. And the hidden play of this game will be Thomas's failure to block for Mariota downfield on Oregon's only big rush.
Kenjon Barner, the usual engine for the Oregon offense, was absolutely smothered. Barner had trouble cutting quick and decisively into the Stanford front, and bounced too much laterally in the backfield. Barner wsan't able to make the quick north-south moves that defined LaMichael James, and a disciplined Stanford defense immediately plugged up gaps and killed the big plays.
Every big in-game decision for Chip Kelly backfired. Kelly went for it twice and failed both times (one in chip-shot territory, which was a field goal that made a huge difference). Kelly then sent Alejandro Maldonado out there to miss two mid-range field goals he's struggled to make all season long. Almost every decision backfired on Kelly in the worst possible way.
In terms of overall game management, Kelly just seemed to never have a handle on this game. Oregon struggled to beat a Stanford front seven that seemed to have a handle on Kelly's offense from the outset. Kelly tried to beat the rush with a moving pocket and plenty of rollouts, but didn't seem to add any misdirection looks or anything that would stretch the Stanford defense out. Still, it would have taken only one field goal or one correct 4th down conversion, and the result could have been much different.
The other big issue was the Duck passing game, which finally showed its need for further development. Mariota could not move the football consistently. After executing without a hitch week after week, Mariota missed too many crucial throws, particularly on 3rd down. Mariota was forced too the sideline too often in a shrinking field, the Stanford defenders were quick to cover, and Oregon had no chance to move the football with any regularity. The Ducks, one of the best 3rd down conversion teams in the country, went 4-17 in those situations.
The Ducks defense generally did their job in holding down Stanford, only allowing two long scoring drives. But it was the offense, the offense that had averaged 52 points a game, that let down the Ducks on Saturday night. The Stanford defense was definitely their stoutest test this season, and they thoroughly won the battle.
The Ducks aren't out of it for the BCS title race, but they need massive amounts of help. To lose their grip on a potential title berth yet again (and maybe even a Pac-12 championship) will be pretty tough to swallow, particularly after they looked like they were finally ready to fulfill their destiny a mere week ago. And you have to wonder if Chip Kelly has missed his chance, particularly if he decides to make the NFL leap.
Oregon has been great for so long that it's hard to really criticize their program. But they are missing out on golden opportunities to seal the deal.