(Written by Ken Crawford)
Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I know it’s Big Game week, but it doesn’t FEEL like Big Game week, does it?
There’s a lot to discuss in this week’s preview, so let’s get right to it.
The first thing I want to bring to everyone’s attention is the obvious… although plenty of people seem to be ignoring it. Last year’s score was Stanford 31, Cal 28. Last year the Bears proved that when the brought their best effort, they were very close to Stanford in their ability to execute.
Thus the question one has to ask is how the teams have changed since last year. Stanford lost Andrew Luck and has tightened things up a bit on defense. Their offensive line is still strong, but has taken a little bit of a step back. But they don’t have Andrew Luck.
The Bears on the other hand have improved their wide receiver play, have replaced their losses on defense for the most part, but due to injury have struggled a bit on the offensive line. In other words, the team is about where it was last year.
So we’ve got one team that has lost a critical player and has taken a step back and one team that is basically in the same shape it was last year. And who is favored here?
OK, I get it. Stanford wasn’t all about Andrew Luck. But their ability to put up points both at home and on the road was a lot more dependent on Andrew Luck than people are giving them credit for. Last year’s lowest score: 28 points (at home vs. Notre Dame). This year they’ve only reached 28 in two of their six games (Duke and Arizona). They have yet to score an offensive touchdown on the road. Andrew Luck’s Stanford would NEVER have let that happen.
Then there’s the little matter of the quality of their wins: San Jose State, Duke, USC and Arizona. Other than USC, there’s no team on the list that Cal wouldn’t be favored against.
Which brings us to our one common opponent, USC. Of course it is easy to look at their 21-14 victory and our 9-27 loss and say that Stanford is a better team, and it’s not entirely dismissable, but there are a lot of caveats.
First of all, that was one sloppy game between USC and Stanford. 3 interceptions in 3 plays? (2 by Barkley) Ridiculous. (and a 4th 5 plays later.) USC played a horrible game and I’m not sure if you play it again that Stanford wins. Secondly, one was in the comfy confines of Stanford stadium, while Cal had to go to the Coliseum. Finally, Stanford clearly has some voodoo curse on USC the same way Oregon State does on Cal ever since 2006. It’s a mistake to judge either USC or Stanford based on their matchup. Stanford’s struggles since then and USC’s victories (including over the common opponent that Stanford lost to, Washington) are proof of that.
Before I oversell Cal’s chances in this game, let’s get to where this game will be won… In the trenches. And I think both defenses will have the advantage.
Cal’s defensive line has improved steadily this season and there’s good reason to think they’ll hold their own against Stanford’s offensive line. I think this is particularly true because Cal doesn’t need a ‘win’ but more a stalemate in this battle. Stanford’s one-dimensional team is not going to be all that successful throwing the ball. Nunez has struggled on the road so far and I think he’ll throw a bunch of picks to Cal if Shaw takes the handcuffs off of him. I expect to see a heavy does of Taylor up the middle tomorrow. Thus Cal doesn’t have to win… just plug everything up and limit the inside run game.
Things don’t fare as well on the other side of the ball. Stanford’s front seven has the talent to cause MASSIVE trouble for the Bears. Our offensive line is getting better, but is still a work in progress. One has to believe that Stanford will win that battle handily.
The way I see it, the keys to victory is for Cal to mimic what it did against UCLA on offense. The ball needs to come out quick and they need to get REALLY diverse with their play calling. ‘Running Stanford’s front seven ragged’ should be the constant goal.
Can Cal do it? Yes, they CAN… but whether they will is a far more difficult question to answer. I’m expecting either a low scoring affair that could go either way or a low Stanford score and Cal wins going away, a-la UCLA.
Let’s be optimistic again and assume Stanford scores what they have in the last two road games and Cal scores the lower of their two scores in the last two weeks: Cal 31, Stanford 13