Thursday Night Recap: Baylor in title chase, Stanford impresses

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BCS, Heisman races shuffled after statement games Thursday night.

Thursday Night Recap: Baylor in title chase, Stanford impresses

Thursday night drama never really occurred until Oregon blocked a field goal in the fourth quarter agains Stanford. Before that, the drama was a sloppy first half in Waco.

The biggest drama Thursday night offered was an upending the 2013 landscape.

A national championship contender was born.

Another championship contender fell out of contention.

The Heisman favorite stumbled.

And one team still is kicking itself for losing to Utah.

Three Things We Learned from Baylor 41, Oklahoma 12

Baylor is in the BCS title mix. Baylor won its first test against a ranked team this season and did so with ease after the first 22 minutes or so. No question, the Bears’ schedule right now pales in comparison to Alabama, Ohio State or even Stanford. But on Thursday Baylor proved opportunistic on offense, solid on defense and grinding in the run game when it was necessary. No, it wasn’t pretty early. Bryce Petty was out of sorts in the first quarter, and Baylor trailed 5-3 at one point. But after Oklahoma mismanaged the end of the first half, Baylor rolled, even with with backup personnel. The Sooners’ attempt to throw Baylor off guard with a quarterback platoon of Blake Bell and Trevor Knight was a disaster, helped by the Baylor defense. The Bears held Oklahoma to 3.4 yards per play and picked up two turnovers. With Oregon’s loss and Ohio State’s lackluster competition this season, Baylor deserves to be in the BCS championships discussion as long as the Bears are undefeated.

End-of-half management doomed the Sooners. Aggressive playcalling may have spelled the end for Oklahoma. Trailing 10-5, Oklahoma got the ball with 7:02 left in the first half and starting running an up-tempo offense. Two minutes of game time later, Oklahoma moved the ball only 34 yards and punted. Baylor scored in less than two minutes. On the ensuing drive, Blake Bell was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage. Baylor scored again to take a 24-5 halftime lead. Between that and the decision to rotate Bell and Knight, expect Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to face questions for the remainder of the season.

The Baylor offense is a thing of beauty. Boy, this was ugly early. Once it got going, though, Baylor proved it could obtain and hold a lead in a variety of ways even with secondary personnel. Petty completed only half of his passes, but he rushed for 49 yards with two touchdowns on top of three passing touchdowns, and this was with Tevin Reese out for much of the game with a wrist injury. With Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin sidelined, third-string running back Shock Linwood ran out the clock with ease, rushing for 180 yards and 23 carries and showing the moves of a top-flight running back.

Three Things We Learned from Stanford 26, Oregon 20.

Stanford is cursing Pac-12 expansion. After the first quarter one thing was clear: Utah’s 27-21 win over Stanford on Oct 12 is the most puzzling score of the season. If Stanford doesn’t lose for the remainder of the regular season it will be as out-of-left-field a loss as Oklahoma State’s loss to Iowa State in 2011 or West Virginia’s loss to Pittsburgh in 2007. Oregon made things interesting with a blocked field goal and a recovered fumble on the ensuing kickoff in the fourth quarter, but otherwise this was as impressive a win over a quality team as we’ve seen this season. Simply put, Stanford is Oregon Kryptonite now. Even with the late flurry, Oregon has scored 34 points on Stanford in two seasons. Only LSU in 2011 has held the Ducks to fewer in a single game in the last three seasons.

Marcus Mariota wasn’t himself, and Stanford’s defense helped. Oregon’s offense has had its setbacks. Tight end Colt Lyerla left the team. Wide receiver Josh Huff was hurt through the course of the loss to Stanford. And Marcus Mariota with a knee injury never looked comfortable. He ran the ball only six times, including three sacks, and fumbled twice. Playing without defensive end Ben Gardner, though, Stanford’s front seven was furious. Linebackers Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley kept Mariota in the pocket and off balance all night as the rest of the defense didn’t let Oregon’s offense get free in the open field. Oregon didn’t have a play longer than 26 yards Thursday after having 35 plays of 30 or more yards this season.

Stanford’s identity is its offensive line. Stanford had one of the best offensive lines in the country when Andrew Luck was there, and replenished that with outstanding recruits. This season, the experience showed. Stanford has four seniors on its line, plus one of those star recruits in left tackle Andrus Peat. Kevin Hogan made plays when he needed, completing 7 of 13 passes for 103 yards, but the run game was the star of Thursday night. Tyler Gaffney kept the Oregon offense off the field late by rushing for 157 yards on a school-record 45 carries. Behind Outland contender David Yankey, Stanford converted 14 of 21 third downs.

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