By George Chen
Stanford football had already experienced a crazy up-and-down season coming into Big Game, a roller coaster of a year that saw the Cardinal’s national title hopes take a major hit in Salt Lake City, become rekindled with a dominating 26-20 victory against Oregon and then get destroyed for good at the Coliseum.
On Saturday, things got even crazier.
No. 9 Stanford (9-2, 7-2 Pac-12) smashed Cal (1-11, 0-9) 63-13 in the biggest blowout in Big Game history, but the more important — and much more shocking — outcome was Arizona upending No. 5 Oregon 42-16, a result that became official towards the end of the third quarter of Big Game and prompted Cardinal fans to fill Stanford Stadium with chants of “A-RI-ZO-NA!” With Oregon losing, Stanford clinched the Pac-12 North crown for the second consecutive year and can now find its way back to Pasadena for the 100th Rose Bowl Game by beating Arizona State in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 7.
Seattle Seahawks cornerback and all-pro Stanford graduate Richard Sherman ’10 acted as the informant on the sideline.
“[Sherman] just tapped me on the shoulder and didn’t say anything, showed me his phone, which had the score on it,” said head coach David Shaw. “Of course, I was a little bit shocked. I thought I was seeing it the wrong way.”
After dropping three critical passes against USC last weekend, junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery bounced back by scoring five touchdowns to tie Darrin Nelson’s single-game school record set in 1981. Montgomery caught five passes for 160 yards and four touchdowns, with a rushing score to boot. Junior quarterback Kevin Hogan also had the best statistical game of his career, completing 17 of 26 passes for 329 yards — more than his cumulative passing yardage in the last three games — and five touchdowns while not getting sacked once.
“I never lose my confidence,” Hogan said. “I have so much talent around me, I don’t know how anyone could lose that confidence … Today there were a lot of looks to throw the ball downfield so we took advantage of it.”
“I have all the faith in the world in [Hogan],” Montgomery said. “He put the ball in the right spots today, and we executed.”
Stanford’s backups were in the game by the end of the third quarter, but unlike in the Cardinal’s win against Arizona State earlier in the season, there would be no furious rally. The Cardinal finished the game with 603 yards of total offense and converted 11 of its 17 third downs.
The Cardinal offense put up points in a hurry to start the game, scoring two touchdowns in just three plays. After senior fullback Lee Ward took the opening kickoff into Cal territory, Montgomery scored on a 31-yard end-around two plays later. The Bears answered on their first possession when quarterback Jared Goff hit wideout Maurice Harris for a 15-yard touchdown, but that was the only success Cal would see all day. Stanford needed only one play to retake the lead and never looked back after Hogan hit Montgomery down the seam for a 50-yard touchdown.
“I don’t think anybody was stopping me,” Montgomery said. “[If] I get that close to the end zone, I pride myself on scoring.”
Two more Montgomery touchdown receptions sandwiching a 28-yard field goal by Cal kicker Vincenzo D’Amato made the score 28-10 early in the second quarter. The second of those two touchdown catches was a bubble screen that resulted in a 72-yard score.
After a rare three-and-out, the Cardinal offense went back to work with Hogan delivering a strike to sophomore wide receiver Michael Rector on a deep post, a 45-yard touchdown that made it 35-10. Montgomery scored his fifth and final touchdown of the day when Hogan hit him in the back of the end zone on third-and-8 to give Stanford a 42-13 lead at the half.
“I just remember one pass, one touchdown, another pass, another touchdown,” said senior running back Tyler Gaffney, who was just one yard shy of notching his eighth 100-yard game of the season. “When [Cal loads the box], we’re going to take advantage of what the defense gives us.”
Stanford fans had plenty of things to cheer for in the second half. As Arizona was closing out its win against Oregon, Gaffney scored on a 58-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat to increase the Cardinal’s lead to 36. Junior wide receiver Kelsey Young found the end zone for the first time this season with a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, and freshman wide receiver Francis Owusu hauled in a spectacular touchdown catch — the first of his career — from junior quarterback Evan Crower. The Cardinal also extended its streak of forcing at least one turnover to 36 games when sophomore inside linebacker Blake Martinez picked off Cal quarterback Zach Kline, who came in after Goff was injured in the second quarter, with 7:14 left in the game.
“We’re back in the Pac-12 Championship Game,” Shaw said. “Now the fact is what are we going to do with this opportunity. That’s the question.”
Stanford will first host Notre Dame next Saturday before playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona State will host Stanford in Tempe if the Sun Devils defeat Arizona next weekend. Otherwise, Stanford will play host the title game.
Contact George Chen at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.