In the NCAA’s most impressive defensive effort of the season, Stanford upset No. 2 Oregon 17-14 in overtime Saturday night and left Eugene with two goals — a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl berth.

The Ducks were three-touchdown favorites coming into the game, and why not? Stanford hadn’t won in Eugene since 2001, and even with the Cardinal’s defensive prowess, most pundits predicted that the dam would eventually burst under the pressure of Oregon’s firepower. It never happened.

Awfully quiet in Autzen

Oregon embarked on 15 drives over the course of this game, but the Ducks only scored on two of them. The first was in the second quarter, when a failed fourth down conversion attempt from the Cardinal set up the Ducks on their own 41. They reached the end zone three plays later. The second was 16-play, 95-yard march that ended in a De’Anthony Thomas touchdown run.

Seriously. That’s it.

The other 13 offensive possessions had the Ducks looking like a completely different football team. Eight punts, two turnovers on downs, one interception and two missed field goals — those were the outcomes, and failed third down conversions were the norm for a team that usually picks defenses apart with ease and officiency.  Stanford forced the Ducks into five three-and-outs, with only four of Oregon’s drives eclipsing 50 yards.

How good was Stanford’s defense?

  • They held Oregon to 14 points, also known as 41 below their season average.
  • Kenjon Barner is no longer a Heisman favorite — he carried the ball 21 times for 66 yards (3.1 avg).
  • Stanford’s offense outgained Oregon on the ground and through the air.

Stanford’s offense looked sharp early

Commentators Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit piled plenty of praise onto quarterback Kevin Hogan, as the redshirt freshman was 10-for-11 for 88 yards at the close of the first quarter.

Hogan wasn’t always that locked-in, but he had a phenomenal effort from Stepfan Taylor to carry him when he faltered. Taylor finished his evening with 33 carries for 161 yards, keeping drives alive with vision and second effort.

Head coach David Shaw pointed to Stanford’s turnovers as the only reason why Oregon kept the game close. Saturday’s game was the second in consecutive weeks that Stanford coughed up the ball three times, the most damning of which could have been Taylor’s late in the third quarter. But the Cardinal defense showed up time and again, forcing three-and-outs at every turn and keeping the deficit to within seven.

Stanford’s game-tying drive was impressive: an 11-play, 78-yard drive late in the fourth quarter that ended in one of the most controversial calls of the 2012 season.  The march featured a balance of Stepfan Taylor chipping away and Kevin Hogan dropping back to find Zach Ertz, his favorite target, time and time again. In total, Hogan hit Ertz five times, the fifth being a jump ball that the big tight end bobbled all the way down to the chalk in the back of the end zone. Initially Ertz was ruled out of bounds, but a lengthy booth review found that he possessed the ball before his body rolled out. Just like that, the game was tied.

Atonement for Williamson

Stanford fans are well aware of kicker Jordan Williamson’s struggles. He missed a game-winning field goal against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl last year and, although his leg is plenty strong, he has continued to be inconsistent this year. This game sat squarely on Williamson’s shoulders twice on Saturday night. The first was in the fourth quarter, when Stanford’s drive stalled out at the Oregon 26 and the kicker missed a 43-yard field goal wide left.

The second came in overtime, when the Cardinal defense kept Oregon out of the end zone and Alejandro Maldonado’s attempt doinked off the uprights, no good. Stanford ran three plays and again sent out Williamson, who this time tucked the football neatly inside the left upright to secure the win. Williamson took off for midfield in high-stepping euphoria, where he was met by a herd of teammates and dog-piled on the field.

“I was just thinking, Jordan needs this,” Shaw said. After Williamson missed his attempt in the fourth quarter, Shaw approached the kicker and told him, “It’s time to grow up.” In rising to the occasion in overtime, he did exactly that.

BCS shake-up

Stanford’s improbably win surely disappointed Joey “Bay Area Duck Guy” McMurry, who couldn’t have been happy watching Oregon’s National Title hopes vanish. Former No. 1 Kansas State also lost (a much more embarrassing effort) to Baylor, which puts Notre Dame in the top spot for the first time since 1993. Alabama moves to No. 2, and if they win out they’ll likely face the Fighting Irish in the BCS Title Game.

Next week Stanford heads to UCLA, the team that just handed USC its fourth loss of the season. A win will earn them another date with the Bruins a week later. That one would be on The Farm for the Pac-12 championship. Defeat the Bruins twice in a row, and the Cardinal could be smelling roses for the first time since 2000.