There are few games in college football that go according to plan. Stanford was supposed to lose to USC by 41 points in 2007; the Cardinal pulled off the “Biggest Upset Ever” to win by one, 24-23.
Rivalry games are supposed to be even worse–not that the Trojans aren’t just as despised as the Golden Bears. What we witnessed then, when the 115th Big Game lulled both teams and half of “renovated” Memorial Stadium to sleep with its predictability, was downright awesome.
After Stanford ran roughshod all over California on Saturday, head coach David Shaw noted that the 21-3 road victory was “a blueprint game.” I couldn’t agree more.
While I spent much of last week practicing to get concussed in the Ink Bowl–you stay classy, Daily Cal–I devoted a little time to freaking out about what the real athletes would be doing in Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Frankly, it had me worried.
So much was going Cal’s way. They had the momentum coming off two wins, including a pretty impressive victory over UCLA, while Stanford had just lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame. They had a wide receiver in Keenan Allen who I have no doubt will be playing on Sundays very soon. And most worryingly, Stanford has been absolutely abysmal on the road.
That’s a bad combination of factors, particularly when the other team is playing the rivalry game at home and has the extra motivation of not having won in several seasons. I thought Stanford was the better team, but I would have taken bets on either team.
Way to prove me wrong, Berkeley.
I was surprised that the players who trotted out onto the field for Cal on Saturday didn’t have trouble running through the tunnel given how poorly they moved the ball on the ground against the Cardinal defense. I mean, seriously. That unit would have had more success trying to discover a new element for the periodic table than it did finding the gaps in Stanford’s defense.
To be sure, Ben Gardner, Trent Murphy, Terrence Stephens, Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov and company played extremely well, and the defensive scheme from defensive Derek Mason was top-notch. I’d venture they might have been worthy even of Lord Fangio. Maybe.
At any rate, they stopped C.J. Anderson, Isi Sofele, Zach Maynard and whoever else touched the ball in the backfield for the Bears. About the only person that had free reign of the field for Cal was the halftime streaker, and even he caved and surrendered meekly as security eventually corralled him.
Three yards on the ground. Total.
Three-point-six inches per carry. Inches.
Those stats smell of absolute domination, and they carry with them a hint of sadness because with a defense as good as this one, it’s a shame the Cardinal has to run the table to potentially catch a whiff of roses come January.
But while the offensive woes that have plagued Stanford all year long, particularly on the road, were still evident on Saturday, the product the Cardinal put on the field was good enough to win going away in a blowout.
Major props have to go to running back Stepfan Taylor, who had a coming-out party that I hope at least some members of the national media noticed, with a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown.
It was a team effort, though, as Stanford put up 475 yards of total offense. Quarterback Josh Nunes was not particularly accurate–16-31–but he threw for over 200 yards and hit on a huge play to tight end Zach Ertz when the Cardinal needed a spark early.
In my book, that should be good enough to win when you have Thomas recording four tackles for loss, the secondary limiting Allen to just 43 receiving yards and the defense as a whole letting Cal’s offense gain just 217 total yards when it had a combined 987 in its two previous games against UCLA and Washington State.
Apparently, Shaw and I shared some concerns. After the game he told the press that he too was concerned that Allen would run wild if Stanford had to sell out to stop the Bears on the ground. “I felt very, very comfortable with us stopping the run, but it was going to be at what cost?” Shaw said.
There was no cost, because Cal went 1-14 on third down and didn’t even take advantage of a Nunes fumble and additional 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play that sent Memorial into about the only sustained excitement of the day–apart from the streaker and Stanford supporters’ gleefulness as the game went on.
Hey, I’ll take it.
I’ll take backup quarterback Kevin Hogan throwing his first career touchdown. I’ll take the much-improved play calling of Shaw and his staff on offense. I’ll take Taylor’s jukes and stutters and yards after contact.
And while I don’t hold grudges, I don’t take names and I don’t take things too personally or seriously most of the time, the Axe? Hell yeah, I’ll take that.
Miles Bennett-Smith apologizes to anyone who placed money on the Ink Bowl this year because unlike Stanford, he did not perform under pressure. Concussion or not, however, dat’s our quarterback. Email him schemes for next year at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @SmilesBSmith.