Stanford has won their previous eight Big Games against Cal. With a win on Saturday, the Cardinal seniors have a chance to finish their collegiate careers undefeated against the Golden Bears.
The previous three Big Games have included down-pouring rain, a capella fight songs, multiple record breaking performances, controversial replays and three different Cardinal quarterbacks. These three contests between Cal and Stanford have been remarkably varied. The only commonality? Stanford winning.
Here’s a closer look at how the Cardinal won these games.
November 21, 2015 – Stanford 35, Cal 22
On a clear evening at Stanford, Heisman hopeful running back Christian McCaffrey collected 389 all-purpose yards, the most all-purpose yards in Stanford history. With most of the offense coming from McCaffrey, quarterback Kevin Hogan was a quiet 7-12 with 96 passing yards.
The Cardinal controlled most of the game, but Cal scored at the end of the 3rd quarter to get the score within five points, 21-16. Stanford responded with two quick touchdowns to put the game away. One of these touchdowns was a 48-yard run by running back Bryce Love, foreshadowing the future of Stanford football.
While Stanford focused on the running game, Cal took to the sky. Quarterback Jared Goff, now of the LA Rams, was 37-54, passing for 386 yards.
On his way to being named AP Player of the Year, McCaffrey would go on to break his own record for all purpose yards two weeks later in the Cardinal’s Pac-12 championship game win over USC.
The Stanford finished the 2015 season 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12) and beat Iowa in the Rose Bowl. The Golden Bears (8-5, 6-5) rebounded from the Big Game loss to win their final two games, including a win over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
November 19, 2016 – Stanford 45, Cal 31
With rain pouring down at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, the Cardinal defeated the Golden Bears to win their seventh consecutive Big Game. Not to be outdone by himself, the previous year, McCaffrey set another Stanford school record, this time for the most rushing yards in a single game. He ran for 284 yards, including emerging from a mob of blockers to run 90 yards untouched to the end zone in the 3rd quarter. Vintage WildCaff.
Watching McCaffrey create holes in the midst of congestion was not the only frustrating part of the game for Cal fans. The Bears watched as a couple of their touchdowns were overturned by video replay.
Overall, the game was high scoring with the Cardinal and Bears notching 555 and 483 total yards, respectively. Stanford was a bit more successful passing than in 2015 with Keller Chryst under center. He was 13-23 and threw for 198 yards. Wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside caught a 59-yard pass that put the Cardinal within striking distance for their final touchdown.
To celebrate the win, Stanford students attending the game in Cal’s stadium sang their own rendition of the Stanford fight song “All Right Now” without instrumental music, since the Stanford band was banned from traveling to road games during that year.
The Cardinal capped their season with a Sun Bowl victory over North Carolina to finish 10-3 (6-3 Pac-12). The loss ended the Bears’ hopes of going to a bowl game, as they finished 5-7 (3-6 Pac-12).
November 18, 2017 – Stanford 17, Cal 14
The Golden Bears made the Cardinal sweat during this one, with Cal running back Patrick Laird rushing for a touchdown near the end of the 3rd quarter to make the score 14-17. Down only three points with a quarter left to play, the Golden Bears looked primed to make a comeback and reclaim the Axe.
The Cardinal refused to let them back in the game, as neither team scored in the 4th quarter. A big reason Stanford held on to win was safety Ben Edwards’ interception to end Cal’s final drive. Edwards also forced a fumble and had four tackles in the game.
Regaining possession of the football, Stanford looked to close out the game. With Bryce Love looking on from the sideline, Stanford handed the ball off to running back Cameron Scarlett for every play in what can only be called “the most Stanford football drive of all time.” Scarlett ran for 46 yards during the drive to burn almost seven-and-a-half minutes of time and give Stanford the victory when the clock hit :00.
The Cardinal utilized their third quarterback in three Big Games. KJ Costello finished 17-26 passing for 185 yards. Before exiting the game, Bryce Love rushed for 101 yards. Cal running back Patrick Laird ran for 153 yards.
Stanford finished last season 9-5 (7-2), losing in both the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Valero Alamo Bowl. Cal finished 5-7 (2-7) and was not bowl eligible for the second consecutive year.
If the past three games provide any indication, the Big Game always has the potential for the unexpected.
Contact Jake Stuebner at jstuebs ‘at’ stanford.edu