The Cardinal is not what we thought they were. Or what we thought it was. Or whatever might be grammatically correct on a SAT test.
In fact, Stanford might have flunked one of those, too, if a proctor had shown up Saturday night at the 50-yard line.
It wasn't so much that the Cardinal lost to Oregon, 53-30, bitterly shutting the window on a potential undefeated season. It was the way the defeat unfolded at Stanford Stadium.
If the game had been a cartoon, the Cardinal would have been Elmer Fudd and the Ducks would be the Wascally Wabbits. Oregon frequently out-quicked and out-sprinted and out-squirmed the Cardinal. Some of this was expected.
But here is the real stunner: Oregon kept outsmarting Stanford throughout the evening. And out-concentrating Stanford. Best example? The Cardinal's placekicker, Eric Whitaker, issed one extra point kick and badly struck another that nearly missed and barely made it inside the uprights. That's just lack of focus.
Early last week, Stanford coach David Shaw had said: "Energy and detail shouldn't be an issue this week for us."
Uh, no. It shouldn't have been. But it was.
And the strangely unexpected mind-drifting began early, on Stanford's third offensive series. With the game still scoreless. Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck dropped back and made an inexplicably careless decision. Maybe his worst of the season.
With his original downfield target covered, Luck waited too long to throw a sideline pass toward receiver Coby Fleener. Oregon linebacker Dewitt Stuckey was waiting and slid underneath to pick off the ball and return it to the Stanford 20-yard line.
Oregon scored its first touchdown five plays later — and then out-clevered Stanford by quickly lining up to successfully execute a two-point conversion pass.
That pretty much set the tone. Stanford never could catch up. And in the Cardinal-Ducks series, scoring points is everything. The winning team in five of the last six games has scored 44 points or more-- primarily because that many points have been necessary.
Stanford would have had to score 54 points to win Saturday. And the Cardinal were never going to get there, not the way Luck was throwing oddly wobbly passes and not the way his receivers kept dropping some of the good ones he did throw.
For all that, the Cardinal trailed by only six points at halftime and had opportunities to close the gap in the third quarter--but kept falling on its face, again and again. Luck did wind up with three touchdown passes and 271 yards--but he likely lost his chance to win the Heisman Trophy with a performance that could fairly be called far less than excellent.
Meanwhile, the Stanford defense, which was allowing an average of just 16.6 points per game, gave up that many to Oregon in the first half alone. The Ducks are going to score points on everyone but the aim is to minimize the damage. This never happened either.
And all of it was an especially rotten development considering that this was the biggest game played on campus since 1940, the last time Stanford went undefeated.
Over the next few days, it's likely that the folks who like to dissect quarterbacks for a living will seize on Luck's shaky evening. Perhaps the ball kept wobbling on Luck because the soggy turf messed with his plant foot, or perhaps Oregon's fierce pass rush threw off his timing. But these weren't his finest three hours, for sure..
That said, it this doesn't mean that Stanford will spend the rest of its 2011 season confined to the dunce corner. If the Cardinal wins its final two games against Cal and Notre Dame, both at home, the Cardinal will finish the season with an 11-1 record. That would give Stanford a better-than-even chance of being invited to a BCS bowl game--although the Rose Bowl is about a 99% impossibility.
That's because the Ducks will be there instead. It's worth noting that Oregon has now beat Stanford nine of the last 10 years. Whether that has to do with brains or brawn, it is definitely a statement in bold letters.
And Stanford has no trouble with reading comprehension.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5092.