By Daniel Bohm
Pause for a second, Stanford fans, exhale and be glad that the Card survived its trip to the desert. Now get ready for Big Game.
Don’t think about how the Sun Devils nearly put a wrench in Stanford’s magical season anymore. Don’t think about how the offensive line that I applauded so aggressively last week was consistently beat at the point of attack against Arizona State. Don’t even consider Stanford’s shaky play in the red zone or Nate Whitaker’s missed field goal. Don’t do it, because if the Cardinal plays like that next week at Cal, it will lose.
Instead, be glad that the defense held strong all game and that the Cardinal remained the anti-Vontaze Burfict and kept its composure in the face of a team hungry for an upset. Did you notice how calm Andrew Luck looked leading Stanford down the field in the fourth quarter?
Still, if Stanford has a repeat performance next week, the Axe will remain in Berkeley.
Cal may be 5-5 on the season, but it has been exceptionally impressive at home. The Golden Bears will be playing for bowl eligibility, and they would love nothing more than to ruin Stanford’s BCS-bound season. Not to mention the fact that Cal has owned the Big Game in the past decade, winning seven of the last eight.
The Golden Bears’ home-road splits this year are nothing short of stunning. Cal has been an awfully rude host, going 4-1 at home, with its only loss coming last weekend against No. 1 Oregon (more on that in a second). In home games, Cal has outscored its opponents 202-49. On the road, however, Cal is 1-4 (the only win being over no-longer-hapless Washington State) and has been outmatched by a total of 158-81. Too bad Stanford has to travel to Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Most impressive for Cal, however, may be its 15-13 loss this past weekend against Oregon. The Cal defense managed to slow down the Ducks’ offense, making it not look straight out of a video game for the first time all season.
Cal was able to stay in the game despite starting backup Brock Mansion at quarterback. I can’t say I’ve watched him play, but Mansion was deemed worse than Kevin Riley, so he can’t be great. (For reference, go to YouTube, type in “Kevin Riley Oregon State,” and watch the first video).
What is scary is that in the abstract, Oregon is very similar to Stanford on offense. Most football fans will probably read that and say “huh?” Sure, Oregon runs the spread out of the shotgun and Stanford utilizes a pro-style offense, but both offenses rely on just a few simple tactics to win. For example, the vast majority of what Oregon runs is a slight variation, whether a different formation or a different motion, of a few plays (zone read, speed option and wide receiver screens).
Stanford’s offense is quite complex, but it, too, relies on the ability to run a few plays very well (namely, power). As we saw against Arizona State, if Stanford can’t run the ball, there will be a lot of third and longs, and although Luck is great, that is not a winning recipe.
Jeff Tedford and the other Cal coaches showed Saturday that they could draw up a scheme to stop Oregon. If they are able to do that with Stanford, it could mean another low-scoring game (Cal will almost undoubtedly struggle to move the ball on Stanford).
Sure, comparing Stanford’s offense to Oregon’s is probably dumb, because Stanford can likely out-muscle Cal’s defense, which probably isn’t as physical as Arizona State’s. Still, we saw last year that the Golden Bears’ defense can give Stanford’s offense enough trouble to make a game of it.
Regardless, it is the biggest Big Game for Stanford in a long, long time, and it should be great. It is too bad Big Game isn’t the final game of the year, like it used to be, and falls on the first weekend of Thanksgiving break, as many students, I am certain, will have already headed home for the break.
Whether you are going to the game or not, if you are on campus, enjoy the week. Have fun with all the build-up to Saturday; there is nothing better than a campus rallying around a single game for a single team. There are few weeks as fun as Big Game week (although professors seem to always find a way to make it less fun than it could be), so get out there and enjoy it-this is as important as it gets for Stanford on Saturday.
This might just be Daniel Bohm’s favorite week of the year. Let him know you’re going to Big Game at [email protected]