EUGENE, Ore. -- Words don't win football games, but Stanford coach David Shaw delivered some effective ones during the Cardinal's 17-14 overtime win over No. 2 Oregon, a game that dashed the Ducks' national title hopes. No, words don't make plays, but well-conceived and delivered communication, even in the heat of battle, can motivate and inspire the guys who do. And Shaw's team was clearly motivated and inspired.
Start with kicker Jordan Williamson, the goat of Stanford's Fiesta Bowl loss last season. After he missed a 43-yard fourth quarter field goal in a game in which every point was dear, Shaw pulled his kicker aside and gently delivered some tough love.
Said Shaw: "I went up to him, I put my arms around him, and told him, 'It's time to grow up. I don't want to talk about how talented you are anymore. Make the kicks.' And for the first time I saw him look me in the eye and say, 'I got you, Coach.'"
Williamson, who has struggled this season since his Fiesta Bowl flop, booted a 37-yard field goal in overtime that provided the winning margin.
"I was thinking I was going to make it," Williamson told reporters when asked about his pre-kick thoughts.
Running back Stepfan Taylor is Stanford's best offensive player, but he fumbled late in the third quarter after an 18-yard run in a game in which every mistake seemed potentially catastrophic. Taylor was not happy about it. Shaw didn't see that as a bad thing.
"No question about it," Shaw said. "After he fumbled, I gave him a little time because I know what kind of competitor he is. And I came up to him and told him, 'I need your best quarter right now, because we are going to ride you. We're going to give you the rock.'"
Taylor ran for 51 of his 161 yards in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Finally, Stanford's victory was perfectly described by the word Shaw said he ascribed to his team's week of preparation.
"Our word of the week was 'resolve,'" he said.
Oregon, the team that has owned Stanford the past two season, was beaten by Stanford's resolve. The 13th-ranked Cardinal improved to 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-12. If it wins at UCLA next weekend, the Cardinal would win the North Division and play host to the Pac-12 title game. If it loses to the Bruins and Oregon beats Oregon State, then the Ducks would win the North.
"I told our guys we don't get a trophy for this win," Shaw said.
The Ducks went down for the first time this year because a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first road start, Kevin Hogan, apparently failed to notice he was playing in Autzen Stadium, the Pac-12's most inhospitable venue.
"I've never, ever seen him be rattled," Shaw said.
In his first two starts this season after replacing Josh Nunes, Hogan has defeated Oregon State and Oregon, the conference's two highest ranked teams much of the season. Against the Ducks, he wasn't perfect -- he fumbled and threw an interception -- but he also accounted for the Cardinal's two touchdowns, one passing and one running. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 211 yards and rushed for 37 yards on eight carries, frequently using his athleticism to avoid an aggressive Ducks pass rush.
But, really, this one belongs to Stanford's defense. The Ducks had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games. Heck, the Ducks were averaging one point every 30.8 seconds of possession, best in FBS and more than twice the rate of the average FBS team (66.0 seconds per point).
And the Oregon offense had made Stanford's defense look bad the previous two seasons while delivering the Cardinal's only two conference defeats. The feeling was Stanford, stout against everyone else, wasn't fast enough to keep up with the Ducks.
Yet the speed question was answered in the first quarter in a surprising way. When Marcus Mariota, Oregon's lightning fast QB, found a crease and was seemingly headed for a 92-yard touchdown run, he was caught from behind by backup safety Devon Carrington.
That tackle proved critical when the Ducks were stopped on fourth-and-2 on the Cardinal 7-yard line four plays later. That one Oregon run, which produced no points, made up a significant portion of the Ducks' 198 yards rushing yards, 127 yards below their season average of 325.
The Ducks had no other run of more than 16 yards. Their longest pass went for 28 yards. In the previous two Stanford-Oregon games, the Ducks had seven touchdowns of 25 yards or more.
"We are faster in the backend," Shaw explained.
Oregon has won nine of the past 10 against Stanford. The Ducks had scored 105 points combined in the previous two matchups while winning each by more than 20 points.
But those are now just words. Stanford's "Oregon Problem" has been solved with resolve and numbers, most notably a scoreboard that reads 17-14.