Through five games this season, the Stanford football team went 5-0 and was racking up points with the best of them, averaging 39.2 points a game.
Something happened when the Cardinal traveled to Salt Lake City, scored just 21 points, and lost to Utah. Was there something sinister in the air that day, at an elevation of roughly 4,700 feet, that left a scar on the Cardinal offense? Some kind of weird touchdown repellant?
After scoring at least 31 points in each of its first five games, the Stanford offense hasn't been able to put up more than 24 points in a game. In fact, the Cardinal averaged 21.7 points its last three outings.
The Stanford defense, fortunately, has not been afflicted with any such disease. That's helped lead to a pair of victories against really good offensive teams in UCLA and Oregon State. If anything, the Cardinal defense has gotten better.
No. 6 Stanford (5-1 in the Pac-12, 8-1 overall) allowed an average of 21.1 points over its first five games, and a miserly 16.3 over its last three games.
To beat Oregon last year, in Eugene, Stanford needed a mere 17 points. The Cardinal can't depend on that happening again. The last time the Ducks showed up at Stanford Stadium, they pounded the Cardinal, 53-30.
No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 8-0) will arrive for Thursday's 6 p.m. game with the Cardinal averaging 55.6 points a game. The Ducks lowest scoring game came against UCLA in a 43-14 decision.
"The defense has been playing lights out," Stanford offensive guard David Yankey said. "They have hit their stride. The offense needs to catch up and we need to take that on ourselves."
So what's been missing? Tyler Gaffney has helped the Cardinal rush for nearly 200 yards a game, slightly more than Stanford gains throwing the ball. Last year's team rushed for an average of 174.3 yards a game and passed for 200.1 yards.
Scoring? So far, this year's team is slightly ahead, 32.6 to 27.9, than last year's team. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has a better passing efficiency rating this year (186.6) than last year (147.9).
Stanford has outscored its opponents by a 124-53 margin in the first half, but by just a 137-102 margin in the second half.
The Cardinal was involved in 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, including three in overtime, last year. This year? Not so much. Stanford is 1-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer this season.
What's happening is that the Cardinal isn't dominating play in the fourth quarter like it did a year ago. Every time Stanford took a lead into the fourth quarter last year, it was safe to assume it would win.
Stepfan Taylor seemed to gain a majority of his yards in the fourth quarter last year, when everybody knew the Cardinal would be running the ball. Even with Gaffney enjoying an outstanding season, it doesn't seem like Stanford owns the final period any longer.
It was nearly impossible to score on Stanford in either the first or fourth quarter last year. The Cardinal allowed, on average, less than a field goal in either period. Opponents scored a total of 39 points (2.78) in the final quarter in the 14 games last year.
Stanford has already allowed 62 fourth-quarter points (6.75 per) through eight games this year. The Cardinal no longer hangs onto the ball late, allowing its opponents several extra chances to rally.
"The key to beating an explosive offense is not committing a turnover and grinding the clock on them," Yankey said. "If we protect Kevin, he'll make plays."
Miamigate: Stanford coach David Shaw spoke about Stanford grad's Jonathan Martin's troubles with the Miami Dolphins. Martin left the team earlier because of threats and extortion demands. Richie Incognito was subsequently suspended by the Dolphins.
"I'm a Jonathan Martin fan," Shaw said. "My interest is getting himself back to playing the sport he loves. I want my good friend to get back to the point where he is excited about his career."
Injury Report: There's good news on the defensive front. Henry Anderson will likely be ready to play against Oregon, though how much is not known.
"He feels good and has been through a couple of practices," Shaw said. "He's looked like Henry. He'll play assuming there are no setbacks."
Jordan Williamson has been working out and will take a day or two off before resuming. Shaw is encouraged that he will at least kick field goals in the game, though it has not been fully determined.
Wide receiver Devon Cajuste is questionable.