Obviously, Saturday’s game was an exciting win for Cal as it rolled over its Bay Area rival Stanford on what was a really fun game on absolutely beautiful day in Berkeley. Just a great day to be surrounded by fans in blue and gold and watch some fun football.
The game was a fun one to watch, particularly in the second half, particularly in that 3rd quarter which was marked by a number of explosive plays on offense and some fancy trick plays, much to the delight of the 70,089 fans in attendance.
Going into the game, there were a lot of questions about how this Cal team would respond coming off a two game losing streak to USC and Oregon State. Granted, these were against the top two teams in the conference, on the road, and were far from being winnable games by any means. But Cal came back home with many in the media and fans wondering how this team would gather itself after the losses, and wondered whether Cal would be energized, confident, and motivated to prevent a similar slide as the one they had in 2007. And they faced a stiff test against a hungry Stanford team whose bowl hopes hinged on their defending the axe. Not to mention that Harbaugh’s team was arguably the most talented Stanford team Cal had faced during the Tedford era.
Considering all the questions and the potential challenges, it was very much a relief to see just how Cal really stepped up. It’s always fun to see Cal rout someone. When the rout is over your rival Stanford, well then, the day just becomes glorious.
Best Breaks Loose
The obvious star of the day was sensational sophomore tailback Jahvid Best. Best was the healthiest he had been all season, and it showed in a performance for the ages. Following in the tradition of some big Big Game running performances, Best rushed for 201 yards on just 19 carries, and also had 3 receptions for 35 yards, to go with the 3 touchdowns he had on the day. It was quite easily the best performance Best has had as a Cal Bear, and he should very easily be this week’s conference player of the game.
Offensive Line Steps Up
Cal’s battered offensive line featuring inexperienced backups had taken a lot of criticism the past couple of weeks. There were a lot of concerns about how Cal’s offensive line would far against a fierce Stanford pass rush—one that had led the conference with 33 sacks going into the game.
You really have to tip your hat to the offensive line that allowed just one sack (which was actually more on Riley), and for the most part, held up very well in giving Riley enough time to execute the offense. More importantly though, the offensive line really set the tone in paving the way for a big running day for Best and Vereen.
There are a lot of different ways you can look at Kevin Riley’s performance on Saturday. On the surface level, the stats looks good. Riley was 7-11 for 101 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 INT. However, you take a closer look at the numbers, and a few things become a bit more unsettling:
- 94 of his 101 passing yards were to his backs Vereen and Best. That’s right. That means 7 yards passing to non backs.
- 6 of those 7 yards from was to Riley himself, who caught a pass that was batted down in a pretty heads up play, running forward for 6 yards.
- That leaves a grand total of 1 yard to a non RB or QB, a 1 yd TD pass to Cameron Morrah.
In all fairness, I don’t think the offensive game plan was to ever really challenge Stanford through the air. The plan seemed pretty obvious from the get-go: Get Best and Vereen in space, and match Stanford’s physicality with speed and athleticism off the edge. I don’t think Riley took repeated shots to his receivers, because they never felt the need to.
With that said, Riley still made his share of head scratching plays. Most of them involved him trying to make a bit too much out of nothing. He had one pass that really should have been an interception, when after avoiding a sack, heaved the ball into triple coverage, only to have the defender unable to come up with the pick. He ended up getting his hand caught in the cookie jar a few drives later, missing a wide open Tad Smith down the field before getting picked off in the endzone. Riley also scrambled a bit too much and ended up eating 15 yards on a sack after he danced right into a Stanford pass rusher.
But for all his head scratching plays, I thought Riley did a fine enough job of managing the offense, and showed great poise, particularly on a lot of the trick plays. A number of those plays could have been disastrous had they not been executed or communicated properly, and you have to give Riley the credit there.
Oh and that 54 yard pass to Vereen was about as pretty a pass I’ve seen all season. You really can’t throw that any better.
So in the end, I don’t feel comfortable giving Riley anything higher than a B grade, and at the same, feel it would be unfair to give him anything lower than a C. So whether that’s a C+, or a B-, that’s for you the fan to really decide.
As much as I think the play calling this season has been fairly conservative, I was engrossed in the offensive play calling on Saturday. Cignetti and Tedford called their best game of the season offensively.
Knowing that Stanford was going to be physical up front, Cal exploited their aggression by getting the ball into the hands of Best and Vereen to the outside, with some pretty fantastic blocking by the O-line and crew. Nyan Boateng sprung Best open on a few key blocks, and I was pretty pleased with the job Cameron Morrah did as well.
As soon as Stanford began spreading their defenders a bit more, Cal came right back to rushing it up the middle. Or they began throwing in reverses to Jeremy Ross. And as soon as Stanford began paying attention to Ross, Cal would give the ball to a motioning Ross who would then pitch it right back to Best. It was almost as if they had created a new HB toss/WR reverse offense, and it was fun to watch Cal consistently stay one step ahead of Stanford’s defense.
Clap it up for the Defense
It had to have been a pretty emotional day for the Cal defense, specifically for the senior leaders. It was their last opportunity to get the axe back, and to also make true on their promise that their senior leadership would help prevent any repeat of the collapse Cal experienced last year.
Well the Seniors and some of the youngest showed up to make good on that promise.
One of the more impressive things to watch was how well Cal defended Stanford’s running game. Stanford had one of the top rushing offenses in the conference, headlined by the Pac-10’s second leading rusher, Toby Gerhart. While Gerhart managed 107 yards on 19 carries, Cal held Stanford well below their season-long rushing average, and was more impressive when one considers how well they fared against Gerhart in several goal line and short yardage situations.
Cal managed to keep Stanford out of the endzone until the fourth quarter which is pretty amazing when one considers that Stanford had led the nation in red zone efficiency, scoring on an absurd 95% of their attempts.
The Bears did give up a lot of yards in the air however. Tavita Pritchard who was actually last in the conference in passing yards, threw for a ridiculous 303 yards in the air. The Bears struggled in defending a number of the underneath routes, biting often on screens and TE curls. The secondary was opportunistic however, notching three interceptions on the day, all at critical times in the game.
Cal also excelled in getting great pressure on Pritchard, recording 4 sacks on the day, again on critical 3rd downs to end drives and kill any Stanford momentum. Credit Rulon Davis an Zack Follett for both having a monster game, a fitting way to wind down their careers at Cal.
So at the end of the day, while one did cringe a bit at the number of yards given up, you’ve got to be markedly pleased with Cal’s performance. 3 interceptions, 4 sacks, and 16 points (most of which were given up in garbage time) is never really anything to scoff at.
First, and foremost: Good to have you back Bryan Anger. After a few uneven performances the previous weeks, Bryan Anger was an absolute beast punting the ball on Saturday. That 76 yarder that stopped right inside the Stanford one yard line was quite honestly, one of the greatest punts I have ever seen. Anger averaged 60.2 yards on 4 punts, setting a school record. Jeezus, this kid’s going to be fun to watch for years to come.
Also, good news for the Bears was that Cal didn’t give up any big returns. While Stanford was never really a threat in the return game, special teams coverage is always an issue of discipline and lane assignments more than anything else, and Cal held the ‘Furd to just 20.4 yards per return, with the longest going just 32 yards.
The bad news was that Tavecchio again booted a ball out of bounds to start the second half, and also had a few wobblers that ended up in some blockers hands. Whether those were by design, I’m not sure. But judging by Pete Alamar’s reaction on the sidelines, I doubt that will be the case.
As much as some have ragged on Coach Alamar over the years, I will say the one area where I did actually shake my head a bit was on Stanford’s successful onside kick. You’d have to think that with Stanford down by 4 TDs in the fourth, that Stanford would at least give an onside kick an honest shot. Instead, Cal sent out the regular return formation, and gave the ball right back to the Cardinal, forcing Cal’s worn out defense to get right back out on the field.
While in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter too much (Cal did win), that was a bit of a boo boo on the coaching staff to not have fully anticipate that one.
The funniest part of it all though, was hearing some Cal after Stanford’s first offensive play following the successful onside kick.
“Wait…what happened? Why is Zack Follett out there? And which way are we going? Wait—what?”
What a game...
Just a great game. Not always the prettiest, but fun to watch. At one point during the game, probably while doing the gator chomp, or high fiving strangers around me after the hook and ladder, I remember thinking, “Man, I’m going to miss this.”
The season’s winding down, and as much as this season has had its shares of highs and lows, Saturday’s game served as a reminder of just why I love college football, and the Bears. Very few things beat being swallowed in a sea of blue and gold, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at historic Memorial Stadium. 70,000 plus gathered to cheer on their home team, in a storied rivalry with excitement so thick you could cut it with a knife. Just a fun day. A great to be a Cal fan, and a great way to win back the axe.