If opposing teams wanted to disrupt the Indians' drive toward Pasadena, their best option existed through the air. Cal's Dave Penhall, Purdue's Mike Phipps and Bob Parker of Air Force, who tallied an NCAA-best 2,754 passing yards that season, each engineered upsets. Considering the stature of their guy under center, the Ducks figured they owned a puncher's chance to upend the nation's No. 3 team at Autzen Stadium.
Dan Fouts set then-school records for attempts (51), completions (27) and yards (271) in the contest. The still clean-shaven sophomore from San Francisco piled up 145 of those yards going into halftime, when his team was busy shutting the Indians out.
But spurred on by a relentless Thunderchicken pass rush, Stanford scored touchdowns on its first four second-half possessions to stretch an unbeaten string to nine games (8-0-1) dating back to 1969. The visitors rushed for 226 yards and held the Ducks to only three net ground yards.
"I'm just so happy that we have this game behind us," said head coach John Ralston, sipping a Coke while talking to reporters afterwards. "Oregon scared the hell out of us."
"We just came around," said Jim Plunkett after leading the rally "…We want to go to the Rose Bowl, and that's the most important thing."
Stanford spent much of the game's first three quarters making believers out of the Ducks (who led 3-0 at halftime) and their upset hopes. Even after the Indians came out of the halftime gate with two scoring drives, Fouts responded with a touchdown pass. The Indians nursed only a 12-10 lead at the 5:34 mark of the third quarter.
Reggie Sanderson had an answer. Fielding the kickoff at his goal line, the Stanford return man was all the way down to the Oregon 18 by the time the Ducks tracked him down.
Two plays later from the 15, Plunkett called his own number on an option play, motoring all the way to paydirt. A two-point try had Stanford up 20-10. By the time the Heisman winner-to-be hit Jackie Brown on a 23-yard scoring strike, the Indians were well on their way to moving to 3-0 on the young season.
Sept. 27, 1986: Stanford 17, Oregon State 7
In typically soggy Corvallis conditions, the Cardinal defenders rained sacks down on the Beavers and made up for a stalling offense.
"We can't expect them to score 40 points a game," said safety Toi Cook. "Once in a while, they're going to have problems."
Indeed, John Paye threw two interceptions. Stanford misfired on its first 13 third-down conversions. A clipping penalty wiped out Keith Scott's 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
On the flip side, the Cardinal sacked Oregon State quarterbacks eight times and collected three interceptions, a pair by senior Walt Harris. Not since 1972 had Stanford won its first three games.
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