The biggest games shouldn't be easy, but this one was way too hard for Stanford.

The biggest moments don't come without challenges, but on Saturday, the moment met the Cardinal, and the Cardinal flunked.

The biggest plays always happen in a blur, but this game happened too fast for Stanford. Much, much too fast.

Stanford started too slow. Stanford made too many mistakes. Stanford was threatened at every angle by Oregon, and Stanford was not up to it.

The Cardinal got to this epic day -- and then let the moment pass it by, in a blur of Oregon's white jerseys, flashing to the end zone.

The game result: Oregon 53, Stanford 30.

The deeper result: No. 3 Stanford's dream season is done and Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes are darkened.

With the nation peering into Stanford Stadium, in its most-important, most-anticipated game in decades, the Cardinal was outclassed and outrun by Oregon.

With Luck encountering defensive resistance throughout, the Cardinal didn't have enough firepower.

With the Oregon offense running at top speed, Stanford's defense couldn't keep the pace.

And when Luck threw an interception that led to Oregon getting the early lead, it became a game-long chase for Stanford.

The Cardinal (now 9-1) is not built for that, especially not against Oregon.

Of course, if getting positioned for a shot at the national title was an easy hurdle, everybody would do it.

If matching Oregon sprint for sprint was no problem, the Ducks wouldn't be such a special team.

But that's what made this game so meaningful for Stanford. Anything was possible, if the Cardinal won. Anything at all.

And now, the biggest prizes are off the table, which is what made this outcome so deeply and inalterably disappointing for the Cardinal and its fans.

There were rallying moments for Stanford, because the Cardinal remains a very good team. But not enough of them, not nearly enough.

As the first half ticked down, it got very close to desperation time for Stanford.

Oregon had gone into warp mode, putting up three touchdown drives in a blink, to go up 22-9 (with the help of an oddball two-point conversion).

The game was teetering out of control.

But in the waning moments of the half, Luck delivered by completing seven passes (in eight attempts), concluding with a 13-yard TD strike to Griff Whalen.

That made it 22-16 at halftime. That put Stanford back within reach.

And then the avalanche hit again -- Oregon scored 97 seconds into the second half on a59-yard catch and dodge by Josh Huff.

It's not like Stanford was without chances in the second half, though.

Stanford got extra life in the third quarter when the Cardinal recovered LaMichael James' muffed punt in Oregon territory.

But Stanford's ensuing drive stalled and Eric Whitaker missed a 48-yard field goal try, which kept 29-16.

After that, Stanford got wiggle room when an Oregon TD pass was overturned by replay.

But Oregon converted, anyway, when James burst in from four yards out on fourth-and-2, and the Oregon lead expanded to 36-16.

Stanford was going to have to play an almost-perfect game to beat Oregon, and that wasn't the case from the early minutes.

Of all people, Stanford's best player -- and probably the best player in the nation -- was the one who put Stanford in early jeopardy.

On the Cardinal's third possession, in a surprising 0-0 game, Luck tried to force a sideline pass to Coby Fleener that was easily picked off by Oregon linebacker Dewitt Stuckey.

Stuckey returned 30 yards deep into Stanford territory -- five speedy plays later, Oregon had a touchdown then added a two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.

From there on out, Stanford was playing from behind, chasing the fastest team on earth.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5442.