Oregon watches bowl hopes pass as nightmare season continues with 52-27 loss to Stanford
Justin Herbert answered questions after Saturday’s loss against Stanford. When he was asked, “What happened this year?” he took a long pause, and started with a simple answer.
“I don’t know.”
The Ducks got demolished at home by a Stanford team that they used to battle with for Pac-12 titles. Stanford isn’t competing for a title this year, and Oregon is now 3-7 and out of contention for a bowl game.
The final score was 52-27, and it was never close.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey got the Cardinal on the board early in a way that was concerning for Oregon fans. In the first quarter, Stanford was in its popular “jumbo” package, where eight lineman enter the game. They ran right, the lineman got the edge, and McCaffrey went untouched for 61 yards to the end zone.
Stanford scored its first touchdown without any threat of a pass.
Right away, Stanford was able to dominate the line of scrimmage and expose a weak Oregon defensive front. The Cardinal offense — worst in the Pac-12 averaging 20 points per game — had 38 points by halftime.
“The key is [the Cardinal] rushing for 200-and-something yards — [they] dictate,” head coach Mark Helfrich said. “When you rush for 280, you get to pick the ground rules.”
The Cardinal finished the game with 540 total yards of offense, but the most telling stat may be time of possession.
Last season, when Oregon defeated Stanford 38-36, the Ducks finished with just under 18 minutes of time of possession. Stanford ended that game with 42 minutes. It was the perfect contrast of styles by the two powerhouses of the Pac-12. Stanford’s long methodical drives against Oregon’s quick strike offense.
Today, Stanford was the quick strike offense. It had three touchdown drives that lasted less than two minutes, and two more that were under three.
“We’ve got 11 guys out there, and if one guy misses a fit, we’ve got a problem,” Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke said. “[Stanford] was always capable, especially when you’ve got [McCaffrey]. … Too many big plays.”
The Oregon offense had early troubles. Two punts and one fumble were the reasons Oregon did not get on the scoreboard until its fifth drive.
Herbert, who had a solid game, threw two interceptions to linebacker and Jesuit High School product Joey Alfieri in or near the red-zone. He and Royce Freeman also fumbled a handoff that Stanford recovered.
“Turnovers just crushed us. … and penalties at critical times,” Oregon offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said. “I thought [Herbert] did some really good things, but he made some mistakes, just like everyone else.”
Pharaoh Brown and Freeman were the only bright spots for Oregon.
Brown finished with 93 yards on six catches, but during his final reception, he pulled up and grabbed his hamstring. He did not return to the game after.
Freeman, who most likely played his last game in Autzen, answered critics after he had been replaced in the starting lineup by Tony Brooks-James last week. Freeman finished with 111 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown.
“There was great perimeter blocking,” Freeman said. “Our perimeter guys always do a great job blocking.”
Going forward, Mark Helfrich’s seat will be even hotter as the Ducks hope to avoid ending the season 3-9. With no bowl game, player motivation is a storyline to watch after various reports throughout the season of players having trouble investing in the system.
“We’ll find out who rises up,” Helfrich said “We’ll find out what we’re made of.”
Follow Jack Butler on Twitter @butler917
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