Stanford football: Short-handed Cardinal loses to Oregon in season opener

As if opening the season at No. 12 Oregon wasn’t difficult enough, Stanford announced a few hours before the game that starting quarterback Davis Mills would be unavailable because of coronavirus testing results and contract tracing protocols.

Jack West did a reasonable job in Mills’ place, but the offense stalled in Oregon’s territory too many times, and a rebuilt Ducks offense finally got going in a 35-14 Oregon win at a rainy and chilly Autzen Stadium on Saturday night.

West, a sophomore making his second career start, went 13 of 19 for 154 yards and no turnovers. And Tanner McKee, a four-star recruit who spent the past two years on an LDS mission in Brazil, went 3 of 7 for 62 yards.

Austin Jones, a Bishop O’Dowd High product, had 100 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in his first game as the lead back, but Stanford only came away with seven points on its first six trips inside the 35-yard line. That was partly due to four missed field goal attempts by senior Jet Toner, a second-team all-conference kicker in 2018 who missed from 27, 35, 41, and 48 yards.

Stanford scored first when Jones caught a 27-yard pass on fourth-and-6 and then scored on a 4-yard run, but Oregon responded on its next drive to tie it.

The Cardinal kept the score tied at 7-7 when sophomore linebacker Levani Damuni, playing his second career game, intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble on consecutive possessions, becoming the first Stanford player to have one of both in the same game since Frank Buncom in the 2017 Alamo Bowl.

Stanford head football coach David Shaw leaves the field at the end of the first half of an NCAA college football game against Oregon, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch) 

But after starting slowly with a new quarterback and an entirely new offensive line, the Ducks went on a 96-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-7 lead with 1:05 left in the second quarter, and then scored touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half.

Tyler Shough completed 17 of 26 passes for 227 and CJ Verdell ran for 105 yards on 20 carries for the Ducks, who have been picked to repeat as Pac-12 champions.

Stanford cut the deficit to 28-14 with 7:39 to play when Jones scored from 2 yards out, set up by a 73-yard run by Nathaniel Peat. But Oregon scored on the ensuing possession to seal the win.

After starting three different quarterbacks last season for the first time since 1974, the Cardinal had more turnover in that position now.

Stanford quarterback Jack West throws downfield against Oregon during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch) 

Stanford was also without starting receiver Connor Wedington, who tweeted that he tested negative for COVID-19 but had to miss the game due to contact tracing.

The Cardinal was already shorthanded with starting cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly out due to injury. Salim Turner-Muhammed took his place.

Stanford is scheduled to host Colorado in its home opener next Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

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Author: Harold Gutmann