Oregon got a little too comfy with its lead in the second half, when Stanford rallied for an insane comeback win.

By Laken Litman
September 23, 2018

Oregon is going to want this one back. The game was all but won early in the second half with the Ducks holding onto a comfortable lead. That’s when Mario Cristobal’s team perhaps got too comfortable and No. 7 Stanford stormed back and beat its Pac-12 rival, 38–31, in an instant overtime classic.

The turning point came with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter when Ducks’ running back CJ Verdell’s six-yard touchdown run that would’ve given his team a 31–7 lead was called back because the football was out of bounds when he crossed the goal line. The ensuing Oregon snap on third-and-goal was botched and Stanford linebacker Joey Alfieri scooped and scored on an 80-yard run to quiet the rambunctiously neon yellow crowd at Autzen Stadium to make it a 24–14 game.

No. 20 Oregon responded by going three-and-out, which was followed by a three-play, 65-yard scoring drive from Stanford that was capped with a Bryce Love 22-yard touchdown run. The Heisman Trophy hopeful was contained most of the evening, but rushed for 89 yards on 19 carries with that one touchdown.

The Ducks reestablished control after quarterback Justin Herbert led a 70-yard touchdown drive to make it a 10-point game again. But the Cardinal responded 90 seconds later with a touchdown and forced fumble on the following Oregon drive. On its final possession of regulation, Stanford’s Jeff Toner hit a 32-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime. Stanford scored first in the extra period and intercepted Herbert to seal the exhausting victory.

Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello showed poise throughout the night and made big-time throws down the field, especially in the final 51 seconds of regulation that led to the game-tying field goal. He went 19-of-26 for 327 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His favorite targets were tight end Kaden Smith, who led all receivers with six catches for 95 yards; receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who caught two touchdown passes; and 6-foot-7 tight end Colby Parkinson, who caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

Despite the team’s meltdown, Herbert’s performance shouldn’t go without praise. Earlier Saturday morning on ESPN’s College Gameday, Desmond Howard gave an impassioned speech about Oregon’s junior quarterback. At first it seemed somewhat premature as he argued that Herbert was going to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft over the likes of top pass rushers Ed Oliver and Nick Bosa. After his performance against the Cardinal, however, that idea doesn’t seem so farfetched.  

Herbert completed 26 of 33 passes for 346 yards and a touchdown with one interception on the final play. On the broadcast after the game, Stanford coach David Shaw described him as “phenomenal.” Herbert, who in 2016 became the first true freshman to start for the Ducks in more than three decades, is only getting better while leading a talented and fast offense. If it wasn’t known before this game, it’s clear now he has a variety weapons on hand, including Verdell, who out-ran Love 115 yards to 89. He also has wideout Dillon Mitchell, who finished with 14 catches for a ridiculous 239 yards.

Stanford’s win now sets the stage for a significant non-conference matchup against Notre Dame next week in South Bend, pitting two undefeated top-10 teams against each other. The Fighting Irish beat Wake Forest on Saturday 56–27 with backup quarterback Ian Book, who figures to be the new starter over Brandon Wimbush moving forward.

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