By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online
Chances of reaching the national championship game slipped through the fingers of the Stanford football team like the ball seemed to slip through the hands of Cardinal players Saturday night.
The Pac-12 championship game is likely out of reach, too. Third-ranked Stanford reached the end of its impressive 17-game winning streak in its 53-30 loss to sixth-ranked Oregon before a sellout crowd in Stanford Stadium and a national TV audience.
The loss dropped the Cardinal to No. 8 in The Associated Press Top 25 and to No. 9 in the BCS standings.
Stanford (7-1, 9-1) still has two more home games remaining, including the Big Game against California next Saturday at 7:15 p.m. There's still plenty of football left to make an impression on bowl committees across the nation and still time for the Cardinal to show it belongs in a BCS bowl game.
The game of the year, however, turned into a showcase for Oregon's talented offensive and defensive lines and the Ducks' seemingly endless string of offensive fireworks.
"It was going to take our best game and I don't think we gave them our best game," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "They took advantage of it,"
An old problem of containing speed once again reared its ugly head for Stanford, exposing the difference between a top-ranked team and a team ranked somewhere toward the bottom of the Top 10.
Nothing about Stanford's loss was ordinary. The Cardinal turned the ball over an uncharacteristic five times, three on successive plays in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter at a time when turnovers did the most damage.
Stanford's collective psyche took a beating, but Cardinal coach David Shaw thinks his team will keep on ticking.
"One game does not define who we are," Shaw said. "One game does not change the fact we play Cal next week. I expect our guys to come to practice with clear eyes and focus on what is ahead."
The Cardinal could not cash in when it was Oregon that couldn't hold onto the ball, another uncharacteristic wrinkle. When Stanford recovered a muffed punt at the Oregon 34, all Stanford could show for it was a badly-missed wide right field goal try.
Andrew Luck threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions and fumbled. He was also sacked a season-high three times.
The interceptions weren't all Luck's fault, and neither were a handful of the incomplete passes. He's not going to shy away from taking the blame though. Luck has always had the back of his teammates and he never points fingers.
"I had no grand illusions of just showing up and things just falling for our team because we just show up on Saturdays," Luck said. "We still have football left, and for that I'm grateful. There are still goals out there for us to accomplish."
It was the first time Stanford trailed at the half since 2009 at Notre Dame, when the Cardinal was down 24-20. Stanford rallied for a 45-38 win in South Bend. Stanford also suffered its first home loss since dropping a game to California two years ago.
No one seemed sharp for the Cardinal. Luck suffered his first career multi-interception game and Stanford rushed for a season low 129 yards.
"It was not good enough to win," Luck said. "Worst game of the year, I guess."
A somber mood prevails for the time being. That will change as the days pass and talk turns to the Big Game and the activities of the week.
While a pair of the nation's highest-scoring offenses showed imperfections, Oregon pounced on the mistakes and ran away with points each time.
Dewitt Stuckey intercepted a pass by Luck that setup the Ducks' first score, a 4-yard touchdown pass from Darron Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei that started an avalanche of Oregon offense.
"The bottom line is against a great team like this, you can't make mistakes," Stanford linebacker Ben Gardner said.
LeMichael James ran through the middle untouched for a 58-yard touchdown to extend Oregon's lead to 15-6 early in the second quarter. The Ducks threatened to pad their lead again until Delano Howell, with a cast around his right hand, punched the ball loose from Kenjon Barner and Stanford recovered.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly gambled all night and his offense made him look good.
On fourth-and-7 from the Stanford 41, De'Anthony Thomas took a short pass and raced down the sideline for a 41-yard TD that pushed Oregon in front 22-9 late in the first half. With the Ducks again about to make the game a rout, Luck answered in impressive fashion.
He led an eight-play, 84-yard drive capped by a threaded 13-yard TD pass to Griff Whalen, who caught nine passes for 106 yards, for the second time. The crucial score with 24 seconds remaining in the half trimmed Oregon's lead to 22-16.
That turned out to be the highlight.