There were very few highlights to speak of for Cal in the 115th Big Game on Saturday – in fact, the beautiful fall weather and scenery surrounding Memorial Stadium may have been the only upside for the city of Berkeley today.
Stanford came into their rivalry game on the heels of a controversial loss to Notre Dame, but they rebounded quite nicely by smothering the Golden Bears 21-3 and moving to 5-2 (2-1 in the Pac-12) on the season. The domination was thorough, and it was a serious indication of the different directions that these two programs seem to be headed.
The Stark Contrast
— Cal carried the ball 28 times and only managed three yards of total rushing. Brendan Bigelow caught two passes for 40 yards, but couldn’t manage to gain a single yard on the two carries that he had.
— Stanford ran the heck out of the ball, carrying 46 times for 252 yards. Stepfan Taylor had a career high 28 carries for 189 yards and a touchdown.
— Cal quarterback Zach Maynard went 19-for-31 for 214 yards and an interception, but six of those completions came on Cal’s final drive when the game was long since decided. He didn’t have a lot of chances to score in the first place, as the best opportunities came in the second quarter when Cal had to settle for a Vincenzo D’Amato 21-yard field goal, and in that fourth quarter drive, which ended in a pick.
— Stanford’s Josh Nunes had a strangely similar stat line, going 16-for-31 for 214 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Nunes also lost a fumble early in the first drive of the game, but the Cardinal defense made sure that he didn’t pay for it by quickly forcing Cal to punt.
— Cal got less than impressive production from its receivers: Chris Harper and Keenan Allen combined for eight catches and 125 yards. Allen actually may have made the most costly mistake of the game, fumbling the ball on his own 20-yard line in the second quarter. The ball was recovered by Stanford and they scored on the very next play.
Note: Maybe Cal should get tight end Richard Rodgers more involved moving forward: In their win over UCLA, Rodgers went off for nearly 130 yards. Today, he was held to only four yards on one reception.
— Stanford is a team that knows how to use its tight ends, and they did it again today. Zach Ertz was a machine, hauling in six catches for 134 yards and Nunes’s only touchdown. One of the reasons that Ertz may be getting so many looks is because defenses are keying on Levine Toilolo: after catching five passes for 141 yards and a score against Arizona, Toilolo has been held to only two catches for 10 yards in two games.
— Cal’s biggest issues seem to lie in both their terrible offensive line and an equally porous defense. Although they did well to keep Nunes from going to crazy through the air, they were unable to get off the field against a Stanford offense that scorched them for 475 yards.
— Stanford continued to prove that they’re the premier squad in the Pac-12. The three total rushing yards allowed will do well to pull their average even lower than it already is, and Stanford’s front seven made easy work of the aforementioned offensive line, sacking Zach Maynard four times and pressuring him out of the pocket for minimal gains on several more.
Bottom line for both teams
Cal’s future has to be in serious question at this point. Now at 3-5 overall and 2-3 in Pac-12 play, they may be looking at a 5-7 outcome to their season at best. Their remaining schedule has them playing at Utah next week, returning home for games against Washington and Oregon and then closing out their season at Oregon State.
The general belief was that, although this season may not net fantastic results, the rebuilt stadium and facilities will help Jeff Tedford to recruit some real talent and bring the Bears back to relevance. This year has proven to be the head coach’s worst start in a string of disappointing seasons though, and Cal Athletic Director Sandy Barbour has to be feeling the pressure to go in a different direction now, especially with the success that UCLA, Arizona and Oregon State have seen under new coaching regimes.
For Stanford, their Rose Bowl hopes now rest mostly on their own shoulders. The games against their primary competition for the lead in the Pac-12 North – Oregon and Oregon State – lie in waiting on Weeks 11 and 12 of the Cardinal’s season.
Oregon has a tough schedule after next week’s game against Colorado: they go on the road to take on USC and Cal before returning home to take on Stanford and finish their season with the Civil War in Corvallis.
Although Oregon State has only played five games, they’ve won every one of them and their remaining schedule doesn’t look too daunting. If they run the table on Utah, Washington and Arizona State, their visit to Palo Alto on Week 11 should make for a game with monstrous Pac-12 implications.
Ultimately, the Cardinal must win out and get a little help (perhaps an upset win over Oregon in Berkeley?) to win the Pac-12, but at this point, a Rose Bowl certainly isn’t out of the question.