STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford is climbing but Oregon is still king of the Pac-12 mountain.
The sixth-ranked Ducks left no doubt of that Saturday night, hitting their stride in all facets en route to a 53-30 win against the No. 3 Cardinal at Stanford Stadium.
Oregon (9-1, 7-0) started fast in the third quarter, a blueprint that helped the Ducks to the last two conference titles. Saturday, it helped them to their first-ever road win against a top-five team.
“I’m not even going to lie: Stanford is a great team,” Oregon defensive lineman Terrell Turner said. “They do what they have to do. But we came out and did what we have to do. That’s a win.”
The Ducks’ defense held up its end, coming up with two interceptions (one for a touchdown) and a fumble recovery after one of three sacks of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
The Oregon offense overcame a slow start to put up 14 points in each of the middle two quarters to give the Ducks a cushion heading toward the finish.
Stanford, averaging 505 yards entering the game, was held to 387.
In the end, Oregon wore down another opponent with tempo and talent in the second half.
“We felt our athleticism matched up well against them. It was kind of going to be brawn against speed,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
The win gives Oregon a leg up on Stanford (9-1, 7-1) in the Pac-12 North Division race and a spot in the conference championship game Dec. 2.
It also extended the Ducks’ conference winning streak to 19 and ended the Cardinal’s overall win streak at 17.
The Ducks were in the rare spot of leading a crucial conference game at halftime.
Josh Huff got the Ducks started in the third quarter when he took a pass from Darron Thomas and made two defenders whiff on his way to a 59-yard touchdown.
The Ducks, with the way they were able to move the ball, essentially put the game out of reach midway through the quarter after Turner’s sack and Brandon Hanna’s fumble recovery.
Four plays later, LaMichael James was in the end zone with a 4-yard touchdown run and Oregon led 36-16.
The Cardinal came back with a touchdown but so did the Ducks, with James scoring for the third time, this time on a 1-yard run.
With Oregon continuing to apply the pressure, Stanford could get no closer than two scores.
James finished with 146 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Huff was the Ducks’ leading receiver with two catches for 57 yards and the score.
Darron Thomas was 11-of-17 passing for 155 yards and three touchdowns.
Even with possibly the nation’s best quarterback in Luck and one of the Pac-12’s top running backs in Stepfan Taylor (99 yards rushing), Stanford didn’t have enough to keep up with Oregon on the scoreboard.
On offense, the Cardinal couldn’t take advantage of the freebies handed to them by their own defense and the Ducks. Stanford missed two field goals and an extra point.
Oregon, meanwhile, made the Cardinal pay for their mistakes.
Like it did a week earlier against Washington, Oregon set up its first score with defense.
Linebacker Dewitt Stuckey picked off a Luck pass intended for Coby Fleener on the right sideline and returned it 30 yards to the Stanford 20.
The Ducks scored five plays later on a 4-yard pass from Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei. Punter Jackson Rice, directing the Ducks’ point-after tries, connected with short-snapper Jeff Palmer for a two-point conversion pass.
The Oregon defense looked to have its second turnover of the game later in the quarter when Troy Hill stripped Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney.
Oregon was initially awarded the ball but the call was reversed, with the officials deciding Gaffney’s momentum had been stopped before the strip.
The Stanford drive continued and the Cardinal scored early in the second quarter, capping a 13-play drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Luck to Griff Whalen.
But the Ducks answered back.
James talked earlier in the week about finding open field after getting past the Cardinal’s first level of defenders.
He did just that, running left and quickly getting behind the defense for a 58-yard touchdown run. The PAT gave the Ducks a 15-6 lead.
Stanford later recovered a De’Anthony Thomas fumble on a carry and turned it into an Eric Whitaker 37-yard field goal.
The Ducks traded that 3 for a 7.
Stanford forced the Ducks into a fourth-and-two at the Cardinal 40. But Darron Thomas tossed a screen pass to De’Anthony Thomas, who found open ground down the right sideline and slipped a defender to get into the end zone.
Luck then showed why he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate, going 7 of 8 for all 84 yards on the ensuing drive and hitting Whalen for a 13-yard score with 24 seconds left in the half to close within 22-16.