The Stanford band ended up on the field all right, but 30 years after “The Play” gave Cal the win and college football one of its most exciting finishes ever, Stanford’s suffocating defense made the 115th Big Game almost anticlimactic with a dominating 21-3 win on Saturday afternoon.
With the coaching staff committed to a much more creative plan of attack than in recent games, the Cardinal offense put together one of its most complete performances of the season. The offensive line generated plenty of leverage and senior running back Stepfan Taylor found the gap time after time.
Taylor ran for a career-high 189 yards on 28 attempts, gashing the Golden Bears’ front seven time after time and making the defense miss in the secondary.
It wasn’t just Taylor who filled up the stats sheet.
Redshirt junior quarterback Josh Nunes found his targets just often enough to keep Cal on its toes before exploiting seams in the secondary for big plays–Nunes finished 16-31 with 214 yards through the air with one interception and his first career road touchdown on a pass to tight end Zach Ertz.
The offense’s production was the by far its best on the road so far this season, but more important was the defense wreaking havoc in Cal’s backfield all afternoon long.
Cal quarterback Zach Maynard was running for his life on several occasions and the Cardinal got to him for four sacks, as well as an interception. Likely first-round draft pick Keenan Allen was held to just four catches for 43 yards, and the vaunted Bears running game finished with a net of three yards.
It wasn’t all roses initially for Stanford, however. Nunes fumbled on the opening drive, and kicker Jordan Williamson missed a field goal on the ensuing one to bring the fans in newly-renovated Memorial Stadium to life.
But without any production on offense for the Bears, the boos began to rain down and Stanford continued to chip away. Cal went 1-14 on third down conversions, a difficult statistic to overcome on the best of days.
After Taylor broke the goal line for the offense’s first road touchdown of the year with 4:42 to play in the first quarter, Stanford didn’t look back. Cal connected on a field goal to make it 7-3, but that’s as close as it would get.
Backup quarterback Kevin Hogan rolled out to his right and found tight end Levine Toilolo in the end zone for a nine-yard scoring strike almost immediately after Cal put its points on the board.
The 20-yard strike from Nunes to Ertz made it 21-3 before halftime, and while the Cardinal had trouble finishing its drives in the second half, a heavy dose of Taylor was more than enough to put a stranglehold on the game.
Wayne Lyons picked off Maynard on fourth down as Cal threatened late in the fourth quarter, and the Axe extended its stay on the Farm for at least another year.