The Stanford Cardinal lost Jim Harbaugh, and people said they would take a step back.
Yet here Stanford stands, two wins away from accomplishing something Harbaugh and LUck could never do--get to Pasadena.
Hogan had a hot start to put Stanford ahead, then overcame early struggles to guide the Cardinal to the game-tying touchdown in the final minutes. Stepfan Taylor pounded for the tough yards on the ground, and Zach Ertz seemed to make almost every big catch down the stretch. The O-line never wore down Oregon's defense, but they managed to grind out the tough yards, make Hogan's life easier by putting him in 2nd/3rd down and manageable.
But as important as the Stanford offense was in staging the upset, it was a second act compared to the incredible Cardinal defense. The Stanford front seven LOCKED DOWN the Oregon offense, showcasing a speed and ferocity that was lacking in the previous two matchups. Stanford locked down Oregon in the run game, piling up nine tackles for loss and forcing Oregon into 3rd and long over and over again, converting only four of 17 opportunities.
The Cardinal were quick to dissect every read. They had linebackers and defensive ends not only disrupting the mesh, but also clogging up the middle and being disciplined enough to keep gaps plugged up. When Oregon tried to bounce to the outside, the relentless Shayne Skov stuffed out every Duck rush and
After giving up a 77 yard rush to Marcus Mariota, Stanford only allowed just over three yards per rush the rest of the game and bottled up the Ducks.
The Cardinal offense went nine straight drives without seriously threatening to score. The Cardinal defense gave up only 14 points during that stretch.
The Cardinal offense turned the ball over three times to the Ducks. The Cardinal defense allowed ZERO points on those turnovers.
After Oregon took a 14-7 lead, the Stanford defense throttled the Ducks, holding Oregon to just over two yards per play.
With two chances to win/take the lead in the final seconds, Oregon couldn't take advantage of a gift pass interference and went three-and-out in overtime.
Stanford is so used to close games that it's becoming inured to playing in close situations. The Cardinal looked unphased at playing in a close game in Autzen, playing like the better team in the final minutes despite being down a touchdown and never holding the lead. The habits they learned in those games certainly seemed to come in handy, as young Hogan and the entire Cardinal team seemed entirely unflappable.
Indeed, Stanford has played like a national championship contender for much of the year despite having no expectations of being one. They were a snap away from beating the number one team in the country, and with the kick of a field goal knocked off the presumptive national title favorites. And most of that was with the more limited Josh Nunes as the signal-caller. Stanford is surging to the finish behind Hogan, running to the Roses with impunity. Furthermore, with Hogan as their leader, the Cardinal will be heading into 2013 with plenty of potential to keep the winning going.
Stanford plays smart, sound, solid football. In Autzen, they proved once again that great execution paired with solid talent can beat anyone. With or without Harbaugh or Luck, the Cardinal aren't going anywhere as long as they hold true to their credos of excellence.