One small step helped No. 1 Oregon avoid one big upset.
Jeff Maehl caught a 29-yard touchdown pass for the Ducks’ only offensive touchdown, and Oregon got a stellar effort from its defense and a huge break on a missed field goal to beat California 15-13 on Saturday night in Berkeley, Calif.
Cal kicker Giorgio Tavecchio erased his 24-yard field goal, which would have put the Golden Bears ahead by one early in the fourth quarter, by committing an illegal motion penalty. The junior then missed a 29-yard try on the next play.
Cliff Harris returned a punt 64 yards for the only touchdown in the first half for the Ducks, who wobbled on the road to the BCS title game but are still heading in the right direction.
Darron Thomas passed for 155 yards and led a final drive that chewed up the last 9:32. It was a strange sight to see the high-speed Ducks down shift into super-slow motion, but it worked to perfection. Kenjon Barner and LaMichael James took turns with the ball while Thomas milked the play clock on an 18-play, 65-yard drive.
The Bears held the nation’s most potent offense to a season-low 317 yards, but couldn’t get the Ducks’ offense off the field when they most needed a stop.
Cal defensive tackle Derrick Hill forced a fumble and recovered it in the end zone for the Bears, who lost in Strawberry Canyon for the first time all season – but only after putting a mighty scare into their first top-ranked opponent in five years.
James rushed for a season-low 71 yards in a tentative performance by the Heisman Trophy hopeful, but Oregon’s defense shut out Cal’s offense for the final 55 minutes.
Shane Vereen rushed for 105 yards and scored a touchdown on Cal’s opening drive. Brock Mansion went 10 for 27 for 69 yards in his second career start.
The Ducks had played just three scoreless quarters all season long until Cal shut them out in the first and fourth quarters. Oregon kicker Rob Beard also missed two field goals after going 8 for 8.
Oregon, which hadn’t won by fewer than 11 points all season, will find out today how its struggles will affect its position in the ranking and BCS standings, where the Ducks lead fellow unbeatens Auburn, TCU and Boise State.
(7) Stanford 17, Arizona State 13: Andrew Luck threw for 292 yards and engineered a long fourth-quarter scoring drive to set up Owen Marecic’s second 1-yard TD dive, lifting the Cardinal to a win over the Sun Devils in Tempe, Ariz.
Stanford labored against Arizona State’s gang-tackling most of the night before moving 85 yards in 10 plays to set up Marecic’s bulldozing TD run with just more than 5 minutes left.
The Cardinal made up for their offensive struggles with hard-nosed defense, holding the Sun Devils to 268 total yards to win in Tempe for the first time since 1999.
Arizona State played another good team tough, again failing to come up with big plays down the stretch.
The Sun Devils stifled Stanford’s running game – 128 yards on 42 carries – and forced Luck to throw underneath instead of downfield, only to give up the late, game-deciding drive to lose its 11th straight against a Top 25 opponent.
Luck did most of the work on the big drive, but volatile ASU linebacker Vontaze Burfict helped it along with consecutive facemask and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
Stanford held on Arizona State’s next drive and grinded out the brow-wiping victory on the ground over the final 4 minutes.
Stanford has its best 10-game start since 1951.
Southern California 24, (18) Arizona 21: Marc Tyler ran for a career-high 160 yards and the Trojans held off the Wildcats in Tucson, Ariz., to climb into a tie for third place in the conference with Arizona.
Matt Barkley passed for one TD and ran for another as the Trojans jumped ahead 14-0 and never relinquished the lead.
Arizona QB Nick Foles threw for 353 yards and three TDs, the last an 11-yarder to David Douglas with 1:01 to play. But USC recovered the subsequent onside kick to preserve the victory.