Three Plays That Made the Difference: Stanford
In a game that was billed as the most important game of the 2011 Pac-12 season, there were literally dozens of plays that were critical to the outcome, I have looked at 3 plays that were momentum changers which turned the tide in favor of the Ducks. Without these plays, the outcome could have been drastically different.
1st Quarter, 9:00
The Ducks and Stanford had traded punts. Stanford had been buried deep and was forced to punt a second time to the Ducks. With excellent field position at their own 47 yard line, the Ducks ran the ball on the first two plays of the series and netted zero yards. On 3rd and 10, Darron Thomas dropped back to pass, with heavy pressure from Matt Masifilo, Darron Thomas looked to make a play, while falling down he heaved the ball almost straight up. The ball was intercepted and ran back to the Oregon 30 yard line and it looked like Stanford was in prime position to strike first. As the players ambled towards the line, the referees announced that the play had been blown dead before the attempted pass; there was no interception. With that ruling, on came Jackson Rice to punt the ball away.
This play was more critical that words can convey. Had the play stood and been Stanford ball at the 30, it is difficult to know what could have happened. Nonetheless, a huge momentum swing was avoided.
1st Quarter, 6:48
1st Quarter, 6:48
On the very next series, Stanford went to work running the ball and gained 17 yards on their first two rushes. Then the Cardinal slowed down. After a short gain on first down and incomplete pass on second down, Andrew Luck dropped back to pass. Finding no one open early, Luck slid in the pocket to his right and threw a ball to the outside. Dewitt Stuckey, making his biggest play as a Duck, stepped in front of the intended receiver for an interception that he returned 30 yards to the Stanford 20 yard line. Five plays later, the Ducks would score the first touchdown of the night.
The Ducks lead 8-0 in the game despite have (-)1 total yards. The defense, though, had set a tone and the offense would soon respond.
1st Quarter, 12:10
After giving up the score, the Cardinal took the following kick, marched down the field and scored a touchdown of their own. Feeling confident as the Ducks had not yet done much offensively against them, Stanford was down 8-6 when they kicked off. After a couple of short gains and a penalty got the ball out to the Oregon 42 yard line, Darron Thomas threw an incomplete pass on first down. On 2nd and 10, Thomas gave the ball to LaMichael James on an inside zone read, three yards up field, James made a cut to the left inside a great set of blocks and took it in for a 58-yard touchdown.
The play was made possible when the defensive end to the right side of the Ducks formation stayed home for a possible Darron Thomas keep and was not in position to make a play on James, from there, the offensive line did the rest and sprang James for a very important touchdown. The illusion that Stanford’s defense was going to contain the Ducks running game was now over and the Ducks never looked back en route to their 53-30 victory.