The Cal Golden Bears get ready to do battle with their fiercely hated rival, the Stanford Cardinal, in the 116th Big Game. Cal comes in stumbling following an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a woeful Colorado Buffaloes squad, while Stanford is coming off being narrowly upset at the hands of the USC Trojans. Stanford relinquished their grasp of the Pac-12 North lead and look to bounce back this week, while the Bears have hopes of crushing the Cardinal’s conference title dreams all together. Cal is a heavy underdog heading into Saturday and it could take perfect game to trip up their rivals. Here are the three keys that will lead to a Golden Bears victory:
1. Goff and the passing game explode against the Cardinal’s secondary:
The passing game is going to be vital for the Cal Bears on Saturday. More importantly, freshman Jared Goff is going to face his toughest test this season, as he faces the best defense that he will have faced all season.
Last week, Goff had a game to forget. He went 23 for 45 for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Goff was highly ineffective, as he completed barely over 50 percent of his passes. He also was unable to challenge the secondary down the field with just a 3.8 yards per attempt.
Against the Cardinal, Goff is going to have to be at the top of his game for the Bears to have a chance. The Cardinal defense is one of the best in the nation, but they do a chink in the armor. They can be passed on, as they rank 99th in the nation with nearly 254 yards per game. Opportunities are going to be there for the passing game.
The key to the success of the passing game is going to come down to pass protection. Stanford is fourth in the nation in sacks with 32, while Cal is 112th in sacks allowed with 34. Neutralizing the pass rush is going to be a tough task for a much-maligned Cal offensive line. Giving Goff the time to makes throws and keeping him upright, could give the Bears a chance to outpace a lumbering Cardinal offense.
2. Sell out on stopping the run:
Stanford comes into the game ranked 29th in the nation in rushing yards per game with an average of 205.5. Stanford is an old-school, smash-mouth football that runs it often. They have nearly a two to one run pass ratio, with 418 carries to 222 pass attempts.
The numbers might be influenced of the success of the running to the lack of success through the air. Workhorse running back Tyler Gaffney has been a nightmare for opposing defenses with his speed and power. He averages over five yards a carry, which is why the team feeds him the ball often throughout games. The offensive line is one of the best at power blocking at the point of attack, which gives Gaffney solid holes to run through.
It is also helped out by the fact that the passing offense leaves a lot to be desired. Kevin Hogan has merely been average this season with a 60 percent completion rate and a per game average of under 200. He throws a lot out of play action and rarely takes a sack. His mechanics are not great, which leads in to inconsistency in his accuracy.
If the Cal defense was able to stop the run and put the game on Hogan’s shoulders, they might have a chance to out score the Cardinal offense. Hogan’s best passing output was 286 yards against Washington State and he has been trending downward ever since. In the last three weeks combined, Hogan is 29 for 56 for 318 passing yards and two interceptions. Cal’s best shot on defense comes, if they can stop the run and put the game in the hands of Hogan.
3. Play like they have nothing to lose:
Let’s face it, the Bears are a major underdog heading into Saturday’s contest. Their season has turned out nothing like they had planned and could be classified as a total failure. This will be the final game of their 2013 season, as they will not participate in a bowl game for the third time in four years.
The Bears are a 28 point underdog against their hated rival the Stanford Cardinal. The Bears should have no business being in this game and the Cardinal should have a cake walk to their ninth win of the season. The Bears need to use this mentality to their advantage. Nobody believes that they can take down the vaunted Cardinal, which should take all the pressure off of the Bears.
They have nothing to lose and they need to go into the game loose and relaxed. Goff and the offense need to take some chances on big explosive plays. Those plays have the ability to shock a defense and get them on their heels. The Stanford offense is not overly potent, so a shootout situation could play into the hands of the Bears.
On defense, Cal needs to be aggressive in the pursuit to the ball carrier. The Stanford offense is limited through the air, due to the poor season from Kevin Hogan. So, stopping the run needs to be the main priority. Swarming to the football and gang tackling could lead to potential strips of the ball carrier as he is held up.
There is a popular idiom that anything can happen in a rivalry game. The Cal Golden Bears just need to believe it, as well.