I've got a friend who doesn't watch college football games live, only recorded, because he gets so emotionally involved with wanting a team to win, his psychological health suffers. So when he knows the final score, he can watch the game with equanimity.
After being raised to a height of happiness during the first part of yesterday's Oregon - Stanford game, with Oregon leading 24-7 at halftime, bit by bit, mistake by mistake, the Ducks football team chipped away at my emotional high until I felt like shit when Stanford scored a touchdown in overtime and Oregon whiffed on four straight passes into the end zone, losing 38-31.
The scoresheet tells the sorrowful tale. Playing at home, with a Heisman Trophy candidate, Justin Herbert, at quarterback, who completed 25 of 27 passes for 331 yards at the end of regulation, somehow Oregon let Stanford outscore them 31-7 after halftime.
This isn't the first time I've felt hugely let down by the Ducks football team. I can't remember details of those other games, which probably is why my brain allowed me to watch yesterday's game with such a hopeful mood. Until the third quarter.
There the Ducks were, poised to extend their lead to 31-7 with the ball on the one-yard line and four chances to put it in the end zone. But a recovered fumble put them on the 10-yard line, and the next play featured a bad snap from center that was picked up by a Stanford player, who ran 80 yards for a touchdown.
After that, things went from bad to worse. But I was still feeling pretty damn hopeful when the Ducks had the ball at midfield with under a minute to play, leading 31-28. I'll let Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano describe the outcome in his bluntly honest post-game column, "Oregon Ducks loss to Stanford was a collapse."
Afterward, Cristobal was pressed by media on why he didn't have Herbert take a knee a couple of times with under a minute to play facing that second down and 2 situation from midfield. Stanford had only one time out left. Oregon instead handed the ball to freshman running back CJ Verdell, who fought for a few yards and ultimately, coughed up the ball.
"We were trying to get one more first down... two hands on the ball," Cristobal said. "First down, game's over."
Why didn't Oregon take a knee? Why didn't it force Stanford to take its final timeout? Was Verdell the right ball carrier? What exactly is wrong with maybe having to punt in the final seconds? Why didn't it feel comfortable bleeding out Cristobal's first Pac 12 Conference victory? Why hand the ball off there with Stanford's defenders desperately grabbing and pawing at it?
"You could do a lot of things looking back on it," Cristobal said.
Cristobal is right. Dead. Solid. Right.
The Ducks could have done anything there but turn the ball over, then, allow Stanford to race down the field for its second scoring drive in three minutes. Herbert could have taken a knee. They could have done it twice and punted. They could have taken a safety. Heck, Herbert could have raced backward 15 yards, humming the school fight song, performed a pirouette, and thrown the ball to David Shaw on the Stanford sideline and the outcome would have been better. In the simplest scenario, Verdell could have just held onto the ball.
Exactly. This loss obviously was a team effort. There were screwups by numerous players.
But the coaching staff was responsible for what happened in the last minute, when a freshman running back was given the ball and, from what I could tell from a replay, was holding it with one arm after his run ended up in a mass of Stanford players desperate to strip him of it.
I feel bad about the Ducks' loss. I'm sure CJ Verdell feels much worse. And Head Coach Cristobal should feel way worse than that, because it was his decision to run the ball instead of doing any of the other things Canzano laid out that cost the Ducks a much-needed win.
This story, "Oregon was 2 QB kneels away from a win but somehow lost instead," also puts it nicely. And painfully.
Any time you blow a 17-point lead and lose, it's going to hurt. But Oregon's 38-31 defeat at the hands of Stanford is going to burn for a long time for one big reason: the Ducks were a couple of quarterback kneels away from winning but decided to do something more complicated instead — and it ended up costing them the game.
Here was the situation with 51 seconds left in the game: Oregon, up 31-28, was facing 2nd and 3 from the Stanford 40. The Cardinal had one timeout in their pocket. Kneeling it out would have left Oregon punting the ball away from somewhere around the Stanford 45 with 19 seconds left to play. Even if the punt is shanked, that's a long way to go with no timeouts to get into field goal range.
But instead of kneeling, Oregon kept running its offense. Justin Herbert handed it off to CJ Verdell, Stanford cornerback Noah Williams forced a fumble, and his Cardinal teammate Sean Barton recovered.
Here's another similar take on the screw-up by Oregon.
I'm no football expert. I've watched a lot of Oregon football games, though. My general impression is that, especially in recent years, the Ducks have suffered from an excess of what I'll call "cuteness," for lack of a better term.
For example, I recall that not long ago the Ducks coaching staff was enamored of going for two points after a touchdown, rather than kicking a virtually guaranteed extra point. That occasionally paid off for them, until one game where, I painfully recall, Oregon would have won if the coach had gone for a single extra point, rather than repeatedly failing at going for two.
Too much cuteness.
And I can't remember exactly what happened after the "touched pylon" touchdown yesterday was nullified by a video review, and the ball placed at the one yard line. I just recall the announcers talking about a curious substitution move by the Oregon coaching staff that may have impacted the fumble on the next play.
Again, too cute. Geez. You've got a first down on the one-yard line. Let your most experienced players run the ball in for a touchdown and put a dagger into Stanford's (metaphorical) back.
But no, that didn't happen. Along with other errors by both Oregon players and coaches, this got the Ducks a win... of sorts: USA Today ranked the Oregon-Stanford game #1 on their Misery Index. Yeah, sounds absolutely right to me.
There is no difference in the standings between losing a game and giving one away. Supposedly, they all count the same.
But everyone knows that’s not really true. Some losses count more than others, and for Oregon, the win they let slip away Saturday night was as bad as it gets.
Stanford 38, Oregon 31 in overtime is the kind of result that could linger over the program and coach Mario Cristobal for a while, particularly because the Ducks were twice on the doorstep of a triumph that would have instantly solidified their credibility as a Pac 12 force.
Instead, the Ducks collapsed after leading 24-7. They watched a game they fully controlled late into the third quarter flip entirely in the span of just a few minutes thanks to two fumbles within the shadow of the goal line, the second of which Stanford returned for an 80-yard touchdown.
Then, when they had seemingly done enough to hold on, they were undone by an inexplicably poor coaching decision.
Cristobal’s refusal to put the Ducks in victory formation in the closing 90 seconds and instead get one more first down not only was a poor risk-reward assessment but also bad math. Is it more likely your running back will fumble trying to get a first down or that you’ll have a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown with no time left on the clock?
Those were the only two ways Oregon could lose. And they did, which puts the Ducks on top of the Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.