No. 20 Oregon (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) suffered its first defeat of the season in heartbreaking fashion.
After not trailing all game — including a 24-7 lead late in the third quarter — the Ducks walked out of Autzen stadium and into the locker rooms with their heads down and shoulders slumped.
A superb performance by quarterback Justin Herbert and wide receiver Dillon Mitchell wasn’t enough as No. 7 Stanford (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) never gave up, coming all the way back for a 38-31 overtime victory.
Herbert did everything he could for the Ducks, throwing for 346 yards on 26-of-33 with one score. Mitchell was unstoppable, setting career-highs with 14 catches for 239 yards.
But in the end, Stanford and its massive pass catchers were too much for the Ducks.
Quarterback KJ Costello completed 19-of-26 passes for 327 yards and three scores for the Cardinal while receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside caught 4 passes for 84 yards and two scores.
Per the usual, Stanford’s tight ends proved too big and physical for Oregon, finishing with nine catches for 145 yards. No catch was bigger than Colby Parkinson’s touchdown grab in overtime when he tipped the ball to himself before coming down it between three Oregon defenders.
The Ducks were in control for the entire game, throwing punches that Stanford was having trouble recovering from.
Midway through the fourth quarter — and with all the momentum — Stanford was facing a fourth-and-inches at Oregon’s 30-yard line. Instead of taking the field goal, head coach David Shaw elected to go for it, trusting that his big offensive linemen would get the job done.
Oregon nose tackle Jordon Scott timed the count perfectly and shot the gap. As he blew up the play, his teammates followed, holding the Cardinal and preserving the lead.
Herbert then led the Ducks on an 11-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a Cyrus Habibi-Likio touchdown. That gave Oregon a 31-21 lead with 4:39 to go.
The Cardinal responded with a jaw-dropping 3-play, 79-yard drive in 1:29 to put the deficit back at three.
Oregon appeared to be in control when on third-and-three from its 43-yard line, Herbert sold the option well and ran for seven yards and a first down.
That’s where things got weird.
With 2:17 remaining, the Ducks pick up seven yards, all but clinching the game. But instead of taking a knee, as conventional wisdom would suggest, Cristobal elected to keep running the ball.
CJ Verdell (20 carries for 115 yards and a score) received the handoff on second down and instead of going down, he fought for extra yards. He eventually fumbled, which Stanford recovered. The Cardinal then drove down the field for the game-tying field goal to set up overtime.
Before that, a series of bizarre plays near the end of the third quarter completely changed the outcome of the game.
Leading 24-7, the Ducks looked poised to take a 31-7 lead after Jaylon Redd scored on a 17-yard reverse. But according to an obscure rule, Redd’s lead foot hit the pylon before the ball crossed the goal line, resulting in him being down at the 1.
On third down, a bad snap by center Jake Hanson led to an Oregon fumble, which was recovered by Stanford’s Joey Alfieri, who rumbled 80 yards for the score.
After the Ducks got the ball back, they promptly went three-and-out and were forced to punt.
Three plays later, Stanford scored when running back Bryce Love scampered off the right edge for a 22-yard run, quieting Autzen and making a game out of it.
A positive is that the Ducks are very real and not just a product of its easy nonconference schedule.
Oregon’s run defense held Stanford to 71 yards on 24 carries, limiting Love to 19 carries on 89 yards. The Ducks outgained the Cardinal 524-398 in total yards, finishing with 27 first downs and keeping control of the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game.
The Ducks must recover from the loss as they travel to the Bay Area next week to face undefeated Cal. It’ll be Oregon’s first road game of the season with kickoff being set for 7:35 p.m.