I’ve been pounding the drum ever since Cal played UCLA close that Cal could beat anyone on their remaining schedule. Not that they would beat them all, but Cal is good enough now to have a shot at anyone in the conference. And thus far it has proved out. Cal hung with Oregon longer than most. Then the team left us wondering what would have been if they hadn’t spotted USC a 31-2 lead. Plus watching the same Oregon State team Cal beat the prior weekend shock the Pac-12 south by upsetting ASU, really showed the parity in this conference.
It all makes me wish Cal had another shot at UW, the only team that beat Cal by a large margin and there was never any meaningful hope the Bears might win.
Which brings us to Stanford. While it’s not uninteresting, doing a common opponent break down, which is coming shortly, probably misses the key “any given Saturday” point. This year’s Big Game, more than any in recent memory comes down not to who’s the better team, but who plays the better game. Stanford is right in the middle of the conference parity along with the Bears.
Nevertheless, here’s the common opponent analysis:
- Versus Washington: Cal lost 7-31, Stanford won 20-13
- Versus Oregon: Cal lost 41-59, Stanford lost 16-45
- Versus OSU: Cal won 45-31, Stanford won 38-14
- Versus USC: Cal lost 30-38, Stanford lost 10-13
- Versus WSU: Cal won 60-59, Stanford won 34-17
So Stanford won one that Cal lost big time, but otherwise the two teams did similarly. One can argue Cal did better against Oregon and Stanford did better against WSU and maybe OSU, but to some degree it’s over analyzing to get too much into the details.
One thing that is beyond obvious is that Cal both scores and gives up more points. Against those common opponents Cal scored 183 and gave up 218 whereas Stanford scored 118 and gave up 102.
Of particular note is that outside of Oregon, Stanford didn’t give up more than 20 points in regulation all season. A similar, but in the reverse stat is that outside of Washington the Bears haven’t scored less than 30 points all season.
So, the two-fold question is, does the Cal offense share something in common with the Oregon offense that suggests Cal can put up numbers against Stanford or, in the inverse, does the Stanford defense share something in common with the UW defense that suggests Stanford can stop the Cal offense.
My gut says that the UW game, if played again, particularly after the experience at USC, Cal would put up 30 points. So whether or not Stanford shares something in common with them, it’s irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, I think Stanford has a good chance of frustrating the Cal offense, but it won’t be just because they follow the UW blueprint. They’re going to have to be far more disruptive at the line of scrimmage without allowing too many open receivers for Goff to quickly zip the ball to than either UW or USC did. It’s a tall order for the Stanford defense.
And yes, I do think Cal’s offense, while different in lots of ways, exposes Stanford in similar ways that Oregon did. Cal is the most balanced of the “raid” offenses in the conference. Oregon is the only team with the balanced running spread offense in the conference.
So I guess that’s a long way of saying I expect Cal to score a significant amount of points tomorrow.
However, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the other side of the ball. Stanford has put up some points against weaker defenses and there is a reason to believe Stanford will do it against Cal. The two conference games they did it, WSU and OSU, they really did it in the air. Not the way Cal does, it was only high 200’s and low 300’s passing, but for Stanford, it was a strong passing game. And there was nothing spectacular about the running game for the Cardinal in those two games.
So does Hogan channel himself from last year and throw with his hair on fire, or does Cal contain it enough to allow their offense to chip away at the stout Stanford defense? My gut says Cal will contain it this year, and will have learned enough from UW and USC to keep the offense productive. The Bears are all heart this year and I have my strong doubts about the resolve of Stanford this year.
This is the year the drought ends: Cal 37 – Furd 23 (but it will feel closer than that)