Stanford drags Ducks into deep water, administers a beating to Oregon

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Ducks made it interesting at the end, but the bruises Stanford laid on Oregon were profound on Thursday night

In 2012, defensive coordinator Derek Mason demanded that Stanford do one thing if they wanted to beat Oregon.

"We went into that Oregon game knowing that if we could drag them into deep water, we've got a chance," he said.

Thursday night, Stanford didn't just convince Oregon to into the deep end and see who could tread water for the longest. The Cardinal put Oregon in a headlock, swam out as far as they could, punched them right in the solar plexus, and held them under until the Ducks finally came up kicking and gasping for air, snot running from their noses.

In 2013, the plan was the same as 2012, and for the second year in a row, Stanford pulled Oregon into a place it had never been. This win, however, was without any flukiness - it was administered with a cruelty that punctuated the first 45 minutes of the game.

In the movie "Fight Club," Edward Norton ruthlessly pounds away at the face of a bleach-blonde member, stopping only when he's completely collapsed his face in. The assembled crowd is awestruck with horror until Norton says, "I felt like destroying something beautiful."

And yes, for the second year in a row, Stanford did destroy something beautiful. It was just a happy coincidence that the Ducks were wearing their iteration of bleach-blonde helmets.

Consequently, the story of this game wasn't told with just numbers - it was told with big, purple bruises and battered minds. Both Stanford and Oregon took the bruises, but the Cardinal did all of the mental battering.

A hobbling Marcus Mariota wilted in the face of relentless pressure. The Ducks' offensive line flailed to create even the smallest seam for the nation's most potent group of runners. Their defensive line was subjected to death by the road compactor that was the Cardinal offensive line. Shaw, sensing that Stanford could physically break Oregon up front, kept the Cardinal running a mix of the Forrest Gump and Herman Boone offense. ("I run six plays, split veer. It's like novocaine. Just give it time, it always works.") And it did work.

Sure, Stanford turned it into Cardiac Cardinal football once again by not scoring touchdowns in the red zone in the second half - a touchdown at any point would have completely broken the Ducks - but Oregon had to convert two remarkable special teams plays to just stay in it.

In the long term, the win gives Stanford the inside track to a fourth straight BCS bowl, giving the Cardinal the lead in the Pac-12 North with USC and Cal still remaining on the conference schedule. The Cardinal (mercifully) has 10 days to get healthy for its matchup with the suddenly-dangerous Trojans, but two wins in two week with likely set up a rematch with Arizona State or UCLA on the Farm for the right to go to the Rose Bowl.

In the short term, tough, the absolute ruthlessness that the Cardinal deployed on Oregon was a sight to behold, particularly given the up-and-down and often uninspiring quality of football that Stanford had played this season. But given ample time to prepare, and with their noses tweaked by De'Anthony Thomas promising that Oregon would put up 40 - a number that Stanford's players were quick to point out they hadn't forgotten - the Cardinal rose to the occasion and played perhaps the single most impressive game of the David Shaw era.

The other storyline - the one that's more difficult to pin down for certain - applies to the future of this rivalry, which still looks to be the defining narrative in the Pac-12 North for years to come. When Oregon has lost in the Kelly-Helfrich era, they lose to top-tier opponents. That's without question. But there's another nagging thing that strikes you about the Ducks: For three quarters, they almost didn't look like they wanted to be out on that field against Stanford.

When they're forced out of their game - into the phonebooth, into deep water, out of "basketball on grass" and into "real" football - they lose. And Stanford is better at forcing a game into those constraints than almost anyone in America. It was palpable on camera this week that the Cardinal players were mad that the public at large didn't respect their ability to turn a game into a streetfight , and they showed everyone that they know exactly how to break the Ducks when it's necessary.

And now both 2012 in Eugene and 2013 at Stanford have made it abundantly clear: Sharks - and Cardinal - feast in deep water.

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