Oregon running back CJ Verdell’s fumble recovered by the Cardinal with 51 seconds left set up the game-tying field goal and led to questions about why the Ducks chose to run the ball at all with so little time left and Stanford holding just one timeout.
“We’re going to be aggressive,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “In our eyes, when our offensive line is playing like it did, and you’re knocking people off the ball, you trust your guys to get it done.”
Verdell’s run came on a second-and-two from the Stanford 42-yard line. Verdell went 2 yards for the first down before losing the ball — his second fumble on a day that also saw him rush for a game-high 115 yards on 20 carries.
The game would have been over if he held onto the ball, but Oregon could have also had quarterback Justin Herbert take a knee on two straight plays and take the clock down to 12 seconds or so before having to punt.
Cristobal said he didn’t regret his decision to hand the ball off to his running back.
“We felt good about getting downhill with a run,” Cristobal said. “We need to keep working on protecting the ball. Are there other ways to look at it? Yeah, there are some other ways. You’re either going to have to punt or get a first down and we went with the first down.”
CATCHING FIRE: Not to be lost in the dramatic finish is the historical performance by Oregon receiver Dillon Mitchell, who had 14 catches for 239 yards.
It was the second-most single-game catches and receiving yards in Oregon history, and the most receiving yards since tight end Blake Spence had 214 against Utah in 1997, and the most catches since Jeff Maehl had 12 against Arizona in 2009.
“He’s a guy who’s been solid since the day he showed up and it doesn’t surprise me to see the numbers he puts up,” Herbert said. “He’s a guy that just makes plays in practice so it translates into games and I’m glad he had a great game today and we’ll try and get a win out of it next time.”
Mitchell, a 6-foot-2 junior, came into the game tied for the team lead with six receptions for 98 yards in three games. By halftime against Stanford he had six catches for 126 yards.
“I feel like I definitely know I can do it,” Mitchell said. “It’s something I can do on an everyday basis, so it’s just coming out and proving it to everyone.”
Cristobal said the Ducks were spreading the ball around more by design during the first three nonconference games because he already knew what he had in Mitchell and was waiting to unleash him on a bigger stage.
“It was good to see him get loose like he did,” Cristobal said. “He really played a heck of a game. Played hard, made some really, really big plays for us.”
STILL KICKING: Kicker Adam Stack returned to the Oregon lineup for the first time this season and though he didn’t resume his role as the starting punter, he did kick his first career field goal when he converted from 38 yards late in the second quarter to send the Ducks into halftime up 24-7. It was Oregon’s first made field goal of the season.
Stack was the Ducks’ punter as a freshman in 2017 but missed the first three games of this season with an injury. Tom Snee, a freshman from Australia, has taken over the punting duties.
BACK ON THE POND: Plenty of former Oregon greats were on hand for the Ducks’ first marquee game of the season. Among them was running back LaMichael James, who rushed for 257 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford in 2011 when the No. 6 Ducks beat the No. 3 Cardinal 52-31.
Also watching the game from the Oregon sideline were former running back Kenjon Barner, who won a Super Bowl title with the Philadelphia Eagles last season, former quarterback Dennis Dixon, and former cornerback and current Cleveland Brown Terrance Mitchell, whose interception against the New Jets on Thursday night sealed Cleveland’s first win in nearly two years. Also on the sideline were Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell, two members off the 2017 men’s basketball Final Four
team who now play in the NBA.