Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Oh it's the Annual Big Game. Home of some the best plays and wackiest finishes in college football history.
While the past decade's games will tell you that the favored team usually wins in this annual rivalry game, older and wiser fans know never to count out either team when it comes to the Big Game.
That's a good thing because the Bears head into this contest as a 20+ point underdog to 8th ranked Stanford.
To put it bluntly, things don't look pretty for the Bears.
But they have hope. Oh, do they.
Read on for the keys to the game.
Based on Cal's most two recent wins, conventional wisdom might state that the key to beating Stanford on Saturday might reside in their ability to run the ball. A physical rushing attack in Cal's win back in 2009 over Stanford might affirm this logic.
One problem though. Stanford may very well feature the best run defense in the conference. Through ten games, the Cardinal are giving up just 94.2 yards per game on average, holding opponents to just 3.32 yards per carry.
However, despite Stanford's stout run defense, capable rushing attacks have been able to move the ball on the ground against the Furd. USC's Curtis McNeal racked up 145 yards and 2 TDs on 20 carries. Washington's Chris Polk gashed the Cardinal 144 yards, 2 TDs on just 14 carries. Last week, Oregon amassed 232 yards and 3 TDs on a mostly dominant night running the ball.
To dispel any possible hope though, keep in mind that the Bears haven't been nearly as consistent in their rushing attack, and have only just recently put up solid numbers against mostly bad run defenses. Furthermore, it's worth noting that of the aforementioned teams, Oregon has been the only team to come out on the winning end despite good performances on the ground.
Why? Simply put, Stanford has been too efficient on offense that opposing teams haven't had the luxury to simply pound the ball and put the game away early on, forcing teams to move away from the pass.
The key on offense would then indicate offensive balance. Put simply, the passing offense is going to have to complete plays when it matters. The Bears are going to need to find their best offensive balance all season. While they can plan for longer, drawn-out drive, Maynard and the passing offense is going to need to move the chains when it matters.
While Stanford's secondary is fundamentally sound, they do still give up a modest 236.1 yards per game (good, not great), and have failed to make plays on the ball, notching just 4 interceptions on the year (worst in the conference). Long story short, there are plays to be made on the secondary. Not enough to scorch them, but enough to move chains and to take a few chances.
The Bears just need enough efficiency to keep Stanford respecting both facets of our offense. It's our only hope really.
This isn't really a separate key, but rather, an extension of the last one.
Stanford's going to score their points on Saturday. They're 5th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 46.4 points per game. Their lowest offensive output came against the Oregon Ducks last week, and they still put up 30 points.
If the Bears are going to stand a chance at notching the upset, they're going to need to keep the Cardinal off the field for as long as possible. And again, adding on to the last point, the best way will be to plan on longer, well-executed, balanced drives. Cal doesn't have the personnel right now to blow the game open the way the Ducks did on big plays.
But if the Bears can capitalize on their drives, and make a few defensive stops, it will do wonders in affecting Stanford's offense.
Which on that, the last key...
Get Andrew Luck to Pass
Surely, I jest? I mean, why on earth would I suggest that the Bears try and get one of the best collegiate QBs of the last decade to get out their slinging the ball.
Because, as has been shown this season, Andrew Luck, as good as he is, is only as good (partially) as his run game. That is, Luck becomes incredibly effective and dangerous when he isn't forced to sling the ball 40+ times a game. He's also much more of a threat on play action, which is only as good as the number of defenders you have dedicated to the run.
When the burden of the game goes on Luck's shoulders, and adequate pressure is applied, the bearded one shows he's mortal.
Don't get me wrong here. Trying to get Andrew Luck to pass is not easy to defend in the slightest. But it's a whole lot easier than trying to defend Luck while Stanford's running game is clicking.
So the Bears need to be effective on first and second down. Third and shorts will kill this defense. If the Bears can force more third and longs, they can dial up the necessary pressure packages to try and force an errant pass here and there.
And given what Stanford has done offensively this year, that's a huge win.
Things look as bad as the projected weather forecast of "dreary."
However, the Bears have shown enough in the past few weeks, and Stanford has stumbled just enough to force one to at least pause and consider the possibility of an upset.
The Bears will have to play their best game since, well, since the upset Stanford two years ago. As good as Stanford is, they can be had. The question always goes back to whether the Bears are capable of being the ones to cut them down.
Posted by Bear with Fangs at 11:09 AM