The word "statement" does not begin to describe Stanford's 26-20 win Thursday night.
Oregon went to extreme lengths to convince themselves that Stanford's 17-14 win at Autzen Stadium last year was a fluky occurrence. There were even rumors seeping out of Eugene that the Ducks were not focused for that 2012 game -- regardless of the fact that it was one of the few remaining obstacles standing in between them and the national championship.
This week, De'Anthony Thomas boldly proclaimed that the Ducks should score "at least 40" points on the road against a Cardinal defense that had stonewalled his Oregon team a year before at home. The past could not put a damper on his confidence; apparently, the Quack Attack thought much had changed since last year's disappointment.
Much did change -- but for the worse, as far as Mark Helfrich was concerned. Stanford was even stronger on both lines of scrimmage this time around. They battered, bruised, and humiliated Oregon with a straightforward gameplan that proved an important point: Physicality rules football. The Farm Boys were stronger, tougher, and smarter than Oregon. Because of that, they were better than Oregon.
And now, Stanford has erased two years of frustration at the hands of the Ducks in 2010 and 2011 to become the new best in the West. The tables have turned: Oregon now has a Stanford problem.
The Cardinal held a 23-0 lead after three quarters in this one and a 26-7 advantage before a fluky finish made the final minutes another heartrending affair. That all ended up being irrelevant, though. This was the night of the power running game. It was also the finest hour of a downright abusive defense. This was the Cardinal formula. Stanford ran the ball more times (66) than Oregon gained yards (62) on the ground. Tyler Gaffney set a school record with 45 carries, breaking Tommy Vardell's mark of 39 set in 1991. Toby Gerhart churned out 38 bruising carries in Stanford's previous home win over Oregon four years ago to the day, a gritty performance Gaffney just so happened to be watching as a freshman from the sideline.
Now, Stanford moves to USC armed with a supercharged defense that has nailed down three consecutive spectacular performances. They'll own a muscle advantage on both sides of the line of scrimmage the rest of the way, so they're on track to inflict physical pain and punishment all the way back to Pasadena. If the wins do keep coming, only the date of the game in the Rose Bowl remains in question: January 1 or January 6?
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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