STANFORD -- Stanford did as it pleased for three quarters Thursday, then held on for its postseason life to defeat second-ranked Oregon 26-20 at Stanford Stadium.
The Ducks were scoreless until 10 minutes remained before ripping off 20 consecutive points. But Stanford recovered an onside kick with 2:12 left, allowing the Cardinal to run out the clock.
The victory extended Stanford's home winning streak to 14 games and kept all sorts of postseason possibilities in play.
"It's November. We talked as a team about it's time to play our best football," coach David Shaw said. "No one has seen our best football, and that's including us. Tonight was about three"'and"'three"'quarters quarters of it."
The sixth-ranked Cardinal took control of the Pac-12 North race and will play for the league championship -- and a berth in the Rose Bowl -- if it defeats USC next week and Cal on Nov. 23.
Stanford (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) also remained alive in the national title chase but will need help -- in the form of losses by some undefeated teams -- to reach the championship game.
"Let the people talk," Shaw said. "We might go down (in the rankings) after that fourth quarter, which is fine. We can't care. That's what our guys have to understand. We get football. We get the games."
The big picture wasn't on Stanford's mind when time expired. Instead, the Cardinal celebrated one of the biggest wins in school history.
Led by linebacker Shayne Skov, the defense proved that last year's performance in Eugene was no fluke. Stanford smothered Oregon's vaunted running game and derailed quarterback Marcus Mariota's Heisman Trophy campaign, two years after Oregon did the same to Andrew Luck.
Stanford's ground-and-pound approach produced an unstoppable running game, as tailback Tyler Gaffney set the school record with 45 rushing attempts and gained 157 yards.
The combination of Gaffney's running and the offensive line's blocking allowed Stanford to convert 14 of 21 third downs and maintain possession for 42 minutes.
Which meant the Ducks (8-1, 5-1) had the ball for only 18 minutes.
"They did a great job of just grinding it and grinding it and grinding it, and a bunch of short third-down conversions," Ducks coach Mark Helfrich said.
Stanford's Kevin Hogan, not Mariota, was the most effective quarterback on the field. His stat line was modest (7 of 13 for 103 yards), but Hogan made all the right decisions and burned the Ducks with his mobility. He dashed for an 11-yard touchdown run and, at one point, broke three tackles to secure a first down.
Mariota, who played with an injured knee, appeared hesitant to run and never got comfortable in the pocket because of Stanford's relentless pressure.
As was the case last year in Stanford's 17-14 victory in Eugene, the Cardinal's near-flawless tackling prevented the Ducks from producing the big plays that overwhelm every other team in the Pac-12.
"It's 11 guys coming to the ball; it's effort, intensity and communication," said Skov, who wore thick-rimmed glasses to the postgame interview session in honor of Stanford's "Nerd Nation."
Oregon compounded its problems by wasting two scoring chances inside Stanford's 10-yard line.
The Ducks turned the ball over on downs in the first quarter and turned it over on a fumble (by receiver De'Anthony Thomas) in the second.
Each time, Stanford responded with 96-yard drives. That's right: Two 96-yard drives in the same half.
The first ended in a touchdown by Gaffney that gave the Cardinal a 7-0 lead. The second led to a field goal by Jordan Williamson that sent Stanford into halftime with a 17-0 advantage.
NOV. 16 GAME
Stanford (8-1, 6-1 Pac-12) at USC
(6-3, 3-2), TBA
Dominant O-line play enables Stanford to grind out victory. PAGE 5
Scan this code with a smartphone to view a Stanford football photo gallery or go to http://photos.mercurynews.com.
Purdy: Stanford proves to be mentally tough. www.mercurynews.com/mark-purdy