Oregon's speed was the dominant storyline of the pre-game build-up of Thursday night's showdown between the No. 3 Ducks and No. 5 Stanford in Palo Alto.
It was the Cardinal's brawn -- and a brilliant game by quarterback Kevin Hogan -- that instead proved more dominant in Stanford's 26-20 win.
Though his statistics don't necessarily show it, Hogan outdueled Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota, completing seven of 13 passes for 103 yards, including a 43-yard rainbow down the right sideline to Michael Rector to put Tyler Gaffney in position to score the game's first touchdown . While not as nimble or explosive an athlete as the Ducks' quarterback, Hogan showed off his functional mobility, stepping out of trouble and running through arm-tackles to gain 57 yards on the ground, including scoring a 11-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Mariota (20/34 for 250 yards, two TDs/zero INTs) was hit often and never got into rhythm. He under-threw a deep ball early that should have gone for a touchdown and missed several open receivers, especially after taking a sack and fumbling in the third quarter. Mariota was uncharacteristically cavalier with the football, coughing it up twice on plays in which he see the defender coming.
Even Mariota's prettiest throw of the night was one that NFL talent evaluators should be concerned with. The redshirt sophomore completed a beautiful pass while rolling to his right in the first quarter to wideout Keanon Lowe. The pass -- which demonstrated great athleticism, vision and touch -- went for 19 yards and put the ball on the Oregon 7-yard line. The pass was pretty, but it was also late, soft and over the middle. A faster defense might have made Mariota pay with his first interception thrown of the season.
Speed is the great concern scouts have with a number of draft-eligible prospects on Stanford's defense. Instincts and physicality are two traits found throughout the Cardinal defense, as Oregon discovered Thursday night.
Stanford defenders had previously stood out in primetime Pac-12 showdowns. Outside linebacker Trent Murphy earned Top Prospect for Week Nine for putting on a J.J. Watt impression against Oregon State. Fellow defensive lineman Josh Mauro and intense inside linebacker Shayne Skov wowed against UCLA.
Skov showed impressive determination, hand-eye coordination and upper body strength to rip free a fumble from De'Anthony Thomas in the second quarter that was arguably the play of the game. The Ducks were down just 14-0 and had driven to Stanford's 11-yard line.
The shocking performance against Oregon's explosive offense is certain to direct some well-deserved limelight towards the Stanford defenders in the coming days. Stanford's offensive line, especially left tackle Andrus Peat and left guard David Yankey, certainly deserve attention, as well.
Peat, a 6-foot-7, 312-pound sophomore and Yankey, a 6-foot-5, 313-pound senior form arguably college football's most dominant left side. Yankey was particularly impressive against the Ducks, frequently being asked to pull and lead the action over the right side. Stanford featured power runs to the right throughout the game and owned a 274 to 61 advantage in rushing yards.
There were few bright spots for the Ducks but one Oregon player who played well was cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
The junior was flagged early on for pass interference that negated what should have been his third interception of the season. Like most press-corners, Ekpre-Olomu gets a little grabby down the field but on this particular play, he and the Stanford receiver were in the midst of the normal hand play that accompanies most deep routes. The correct call, as is the case on too many plays officiated by the Pac-12, would have been no call.
The talented Oregon cornerback still made a big play in this contest. Just as Skov did for Oregon earlier, Ekpre-Olomu returned the favor to Stanford, forcing a fumble of Tyler Gaffney in the third quarter that could have given the Ducks momentum.
Instead, Gaffney ripped the ball back with one arm, epitomizing Stanford's physical man-handling of the Ducks.