First-half liveblog: Stanford 7, Oregon 7

A.J. Tarpley intercepted Mariota to end the half

While it would be folly to predict a winner of a game tied at halftime, the three-touchdown underdog Cardinal look like a pretty good bet to cover the spread. It's small consolation, perhaps, but we'll take it, as Stanford's biggest game of the season is shaping up to be the ultimate nailbiter. Right now, it's 7-7 through 30.

End of first quarter: Stanford 0, Oregon 0

Both teams saw decent starting field position on their opening drives and picked up a first or two before punting. Stanford then drove into Oregon territory, with key plays including a Kevin Hogan third-down conversion to Drew Terrell and an 11-yard Stepfan Taylor run, but a Kevin Danser chop block put the Cardinal in a first-and-25 hole from which they could not fully emerge, leading to a questionable fourth-and-five punt from the Duck 35.

The Ducks would make the most of this opening as, sparked by a 79-yard keeper, Oregon found itself deep in the Stanford red zone. But then the Cardinal defense clamped out with sure tackling, with Shayne Skov and Josh Mauro combining to snuff out a Duck fourth-and-one zone read. Stanford thus found itself with the ball to end the quarter starting deep in their own territory. Then, the Cardinal used an impressive blend of Kevin Hogan passing, Taylor running and several key third-down conversions to drive deep into Oregon territory and threaten to score the game's first points as the period drew to a close.

Play of the quarter I: More of an anti-play. In a pregame press conference, Coach David Shaw said the Cardinal would have to match Oregon's aggression, and specifically mentioned fourth-and-short play calling on the plus side of the field as a key time to go for the throat. However, when Stanford faced a fourth and five at the Duck 35 midway through the period, Shaw reverted to his overly conservative tendencies and sent out Daniel Zychlinski for a 25-yard punt. The football karma gods responded appropriately, with Marcus Mariota keeping it to the tune of a 79-yard gain the very next play…

Play of the quarter II: …However, the Stanford defense then stiffened, forcing Oregon into a fourth and one. Then, on the biggest play of the game to this point, Oregon dialed up its bread-and-butter zone read. The play is designed to option off one defender, with the quarterback keeping if the defense keys on the running back and vice versa, but there is no answer when the defense is on top of both would-be ballcarriers. Stanford did just that, with Josh Mauro dropping the Oregon pitchman and Shayne Skov taking out the quarterback Mariota short of the first-down mark.

Stat of the quarter: One. Kevin Hogan completed his first nine passes of the game for 80 yards – and added nine yards with his legs for good measure. He missed his tenth pass – a fade to Levine Toilolo that many Cardinal fans would love to excise from the playbook altogether – but pass number 11 was his best yet, as "Hulk" Hogan escaped a Duck defensive lineman and bought time with his athleticism to find Ryan Hewitt on a check down and convert on third and short. Thus far, the redshirt freshman appears to have resoundingly answered any questions about how he would handle facing the No. 1 team in the country in his first road start.

Halftime: Stanford 7, Oregon 0

Stanford had written the subject in the first quarter, and then started the second stanza by composing the predicate to a 15-play, 93-yard drive with bruising runs further and further into the Duck red zone. The Cardinal capped their drive with the resounding exclamation point that was a one-yard Kevin Hogan dive over a would-be tackler – after he eluded two other defenders chasing him in the backfield.

Aided by a Duck drop on third and nine, Stanford's defense then held after yielding just one first down, thereby hanging onto Uncle Mo, the lead and relatively fresh legs for their defense. The Cardinal could pick up only eight yards on its next series, but Zychlinski aided the cause with a 62-yard punt that rolled all the way to the Duck 11.

The floodgates then broke open briefly, with Oregon picking up three straight first downs on gains of 20, 16 and 10. But, as has been the case thus far, the Stanford D managed to get the big play at a crucial juncture, with Henry Anderson dropping a third-and-one De'Anthony Thomas run for a three-yard loss and Mariota airmailing the resulting fourth down pass from the Cardinal 38.

Stanford's next drive ended with Hogan's one bad pass of an otherwise flawless half, as he underthrew an open Hewitt streaking up the right seam on fourth and one from the Duck 41. Had Hogan hit Hewitt in stride, a beautifully audacious play call would have likely yielded a touchdown, as Oregon had sold out to stuff the presumed run on fourth and short. Instead, Hogan's ball forced Hewitt to turn around and dive, and though Hewitt did have both hands on the rock, he could not make the tough catch. Three plays later, Keanon Lowe ran a post route, Mariota hit him 28 yards downfield and the contest was knotted at 7-7.

Both teams traded three and outs as the half drew down, allowing Hogan and the Cardinal to start a two-minute drill with 1:50 to go at the Card 39. However, after a third-down pickup on a nice slant to Ertz, Hogan overshot the nearest Cardinal receiver by a good 15 yards, gifting an interception to Duck safety Erick Dargan. The Cardinal defense responded in kind with an athletic A.J. Tarpley interception of Mariota, and Hogan then knelt out the half.

Plays of the quarter: Hogan's touchdown run, Zychlinski's punt, Anderson's takedown and Tarpley's pick share the honors, as it takes more than one play to stay even with No. 1 team in the country at their house. To be fair, whether nerves, bad luck or evidence of a just and fair God, Oregon appears to be playing at less than their best, with several costly penalties, drops, misthrows and missed tackles, and general sloppy execution. If any freshman quarterback has been rattled by the stage thus far, it appears been the one wearing green.

Holy Hogan: Andrew who? The approach's disadvantages have been well-chronicled on this site and elsewhere, but one advantage to keeping Kevin Hogan largely on the bench for the majority of the season was that he produced less tape for opponents to study and key off. It's only halftime, and the second half is traditionally when Oregon makes mincemeat of its toughest opponents – including the Stanford squads of the last two years – but for the first 25 minutes, the Ducks simply hadn't figured out a way to stop the kid (before he faltered with some mistakes as the half drew to a close). Hogan and the Cardinal must now make key adjustments in the locker room and hope that, unlike in 2011 and 2010, the odds will stay ever in their favor for the final 30 minutes. Stanford possessed the ball for 43 snaps to the Ducks' 33, and 20 minutes to Oregon's 10 on the half, so they will be nothing if not fresh for the final stretch.


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