Senior College Football Columnist

Ducks waddle back into BCS title race after throttling Cardinal


STANFORD, Calif. -– The wacky, quirky, altogether get-a-life Stanford band really went and did it this time. On the night the bandies chose to salute Madden 2012 in their pregame routine -- don't ask -- the latest edition of Oregon's real-life video game broke out.

This was the one where LaMichael James runs wild, Darron Thomas throws three touchdowns and Chip Kelly basically joy sticks it to the Heisman favorite.

You may have played something like it. Nothing matches the real thing. The biggest regular-season game in Stanford history ended in one of the biggest revelations of Saturday. The Attack formerly known as Quack is back. Back in the national consciousness, back perhaps in the national championship race after a 53-30 clubbing of Stanford.

Think about it: Which team that has LSU as its only loss do you want to see at the moment?

"I feel we should have a chance to play LSU again," freshman tailback DeAnthony Thomas said.

For pure entertainment value, it has to be the Ducks. They waddled into Stanford Stadium and pulled off what was technically an upset. (Stanford was a 3½-point favorite). Oregon beat No. 3 AP, No. 4 in the BCS and suddenly find themselves within shouting distance of New Orleans.

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But that's not the story ... yet. Everyone apparently forgot the obvious Saturday night: Stanford might have the country's best player. Oregon has the most explosive players. The defending Pac-10 champions also look like the first Pac-12 champions. The Ducks need only a win against USC and/or Oregon State to clinch the North Division and host the conference's first championship game.

Since losing to LSU two months ago on opening night, the Ducks have gotten up, dusted themselves off and scorched the earth. The victory was the school's first over a top-five program on the road. The explosive plays are back -- and routine. Oregon scored six offensive touchdowns Saturday. Three of them went for 41, 51 and 58 yards.

After the game's first score, the Ducks lined up for the extra point in an offset formation with the center snapping the ball laterally to tight end David Paulson, who threw a two-point conversion pass in the back of the end zone to linebacker Mike Garrity.

"How long have I known you could snap the ball laterally?" Kelly said cheekily. "Thirteen years."

These Ducks take things so literally. Chip was being flip. Straight answers are about as common as 30-point games, which is significant. The Ducks have been held under 41 points once since that LSU loss.

That conversion set the tone. The Ducks weren't going to sit back. They never do, but the nation's lasting image going into the game was likely from the night of Sept. 3 when LSU shut them down 40-27. That night they were dismissed in some regions -- ahem, the Southeast -- having lost to back-to-back games to SEC powerhouses eight months apart.

"We're a lot better," said James who was limited to 54 rushing yards against the Tigers. "I feel like everything is clicking for us right now."

Since that night James has rebounded to lead the country in rushing, including 146 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. That despite missing two games because of a dislocated elbow. If not a trip to the BCS title game, James should get a second consecutive trip to New York.

"We're going to ride that kid as long as we can," Kelly said. "Just the fact that he came back from that injury. I don't know how many kids would come back from that. The kid is awesome."

Stanford's band -- basically a traditional unit on acid -- is known for its cheeky themes. Their Madden riff was cute until it turned out to be intro the latest undefeated team to bite it. Meet the new Ducks. Same as the old Ducks. James broke free on a 58-yard touchdown run on the first series of the second quarter. Kelly didn't even blink, going for it on fourth and 7 from Stanford's 40. Thomas turned a screen pass into a 40-yard sprint to the end zone.

Asked how many times he'd heard his offense compared to a video game, offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said, "I can't give you a number." "We want every team to defend every inch of the field, every snap of the game," he said. "Our guys are so systematic in their approach, it's fun to watch to them."

The Cardinal even turned to the age-old trick of letting the grass grow to slow down the Ducks. The stadium's lawn mower had been reportedly parked since Wednesday.

"We can't be slowed down," Thomas said. "[It indicates] they can't beat us straight up."

"Doesn't matter," Kelly said. "Speed was a factor. I'll be honest with you ... We felt our athleticism matched up well with them."

Basically life sucked for (Andrew) Luck. Without injured leading receiver threat Chris Owusu, his other guys couldn't get much separation. If Luck wasn't throwing into double coverage, he was having balls dropped, getting pressured or throwing interceptions. The second of two picks went for a 40-yard touchdown by linebacker Boseko Lokombo.

"He was out there being nice," Oregon defensive end Terrell Turner said of Luck. "I was calling him, 'The New Tebow.' He out there talking to me, giving me compliments. He was saying, 'Nice hit." I said, 'You ain't talking to me.' Usually I'm mean out there."

"A disappointment, yes," Luck said, "but life goes on."

Easy for the projected No. 1 draft choice to say. But if the Heisman wasn't lost, Luck certainly started to lose his grip on it. It had been 409 days since Stanford had lost a game. It was October 2010 when the Cardinal went up to Eugene and led early 21-3, only to get blown out in the second half, losing 52-31.

The nation's longest winning streak -- Stanford's ended at 17 -- is now held by Oklahoma State and LSU, both at 10. That's significant because those are two teams Oregon is suddenly watching closely.

Boise State lost, shaving the list of unbeatens to four. All it takes is a loss by the Cowboys for the Ducks to get in the argument as the best one-loss team out there.

"Don't forget LSU," a Stanford fan yelled down to the Ducks as they left the field.

Why would they? They could play the Tigers again in two months.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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