Stanford Cardinal Face Cal Bears in 119th Big Game

Nov 12, 2016; Eugene, OR, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Keller Chryst (10) runs the ball in the second quarter as Oregon Ducks linebacker Jimmie Swain (18) and Oregon Ducks defensive back Ugo Amadi (14) at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2016; Eugene, OR, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Keller Chryst (10) runs the ball in the second quarter as Oregon Ducks linebacker Jimmie Swain (18) and Oregon Ducks defensive back Ugo Amadi (14) at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports /

A resounding victory last week in Eugene has the Stanford Cardinal firing on all cylinders. With a resurgent offense, Stanford looks poised to retain The Axe against the Cal Bears in The Big Game.

Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw finally opened the playbook last week. Some razzle-dazzle was injected into an offense struggling since the loss to Washington. For once, the Cardinal offense was an intriguing flavor unlike the normal vanilla seen in previous games. The result was a 52-27 beat down on a lifeless Oregon Ducks team.

By no means did Stanford look mediocre against an uninspired Oregon team. No offense to the Ducks, but the Cardinal peaked at the right time to the dismay of those in attendance at Autzen Stadium. Yes, Justin Herbert is the future at quarterback and a few individuals played well for Oregon. Unfortunately, injuries kept the Ducks from achieving expectations, putting this season at a loss.

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The Cardinal offense racked up 540 yards last week. Thin at the defensive line, the Ducks were unable to stall the Cardinal running game. To make matters worse, the Ducks’ young secondary gave the Cardinal receivers freedom to make plays down the field. Overall, a sound victory was assured even before halftime.

For coach Shaw, however, he is not taking matters lightly this week. Cal may be ranked 127th in the FBS defensively, but stats may not matter in a rivalry game. Given previous letdown games offensively earlier this season, Shaw does not want the offense to go anemic. With Cal’s potent “Bear Raid” offense, Stanford must establish their own offense early.

Since pulling out a nail-biting overtime win at home against Oregon, fortunes have been unkind to Sonny Dykes and Cal. Losses to USC and the Washington schools have put bowl game chances in jeopardy for the Bears. With two games remaining on the schedule, Cal must win out to become bowl eligible.

However, for players, coaches, and fans of Cal Football, a bowl game is not the primary objective with The Big Game on Saturday. Six consecutive losses to Stanford have left Cal frustrated with their Bay Area counterpart reaping the rewards over the years. Not even Jared Goff, Cal’s most prominent quarterback since Aaron Rodgers, could bring The Axe back to Berkley. The question Dykes faces this week is keeping the game from getting out of hand.

For Cal to keep pace with Stanford, Davis Webb must be the answer for any chance of winning. A semifinalist candidate for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, Webb ranks third in passing yards per game and fifth in passing touchdowns, and leads the nation in passing attempts with 515. Cal’s offense fit Webb’s style, having transferred from a similar offense in Texas Tech.

Part of the “Air Raid” success has been the emergence of junior receiver Chad Hansen. He leads the team with 979 yards receiving on 75 receptions. Hansen probably would have more had he not suffered an injury early in the game against Oregon. The injury forced Hansen to miss the rest of the game, and he sat out against USC. Whether at full strength or not, Hansen will give his best against Stanford.

Not to be outdone by Hansen, receivers Demetris Robertson and Jordan Veasy will look to keep the “Air Raid” effective. Robertson compiled 141 yards receiving and a touchdown last week in the loss to Washington State. Veasy also had a touchdown on five receptions for 45 yards. The two have combined for 10 touchdowns on the season.

Running backs Tre Watson and Khalfani Muhammad are big time threats if not stopped at the line of scrimmage. Both are shifty and versatile running backs that can find the edge and turn up the field. If Cal’s offensive line can create space in the middle, the pair can exploit the gaps to keep the offense on the field.

A tall task is at hand for the Cal offensive line, facing a formidable Stanford defense. The Cardinal defense, however, will hope Solomon Thomas is healthy enough to be effective. Thomas left the game against Oregon with an injury and did not return. Despite his leadership not being front and center, the Cardinal defense remained stout against the Ducks. Linebacker Joey Alfieri had a big game, recording two interceptions.

The Cardinal defense has plenty of playmakers to step up if Thomas is not fully healthy. Linebackers Bobby Okereke, Kevin Palma, and Noor Davis can step in in an effort to disrupt Webb in the pocket. Safety Justin Reid has grown stronger each game and has no signs of stopping this week. Also, Dallas Lloyd and Quenton Meeks will help in keeping Cal’s receivers from making big plays.

Like Cal, Stanford features their own unique offense which has been the staple for success in recent years. “Smash-Mouth” football is Stanford’s game, where a bruising ground attack wears down opponents. Success on the ground tends to allow the passing game to make big plays when the moment is right.

Despite a Heisman campaign not coming to fruition, Christian McCaffrey has flashed that form in recent games, benefitting the Cardinal offense. Last week he rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns while catching five passes for 52 yards. With McCaffrey fully healthy, Cal’s defense will have their hands full stopping the run game.

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The Stanford receivers had a field day last week against a weak Oregon secondary. Michael Rector had a big game with two touchdowns and JJ Arcega-Whiteside caught for 106 yards and a touchdown. Signs point to quarterback Keller Chryst putting up big numbers again with his receivers.

Cal’s defense will look to come out fierce to stall Stanford from getting an early rhythm. Players Khari Vanderbilt, Jacob Anderson and Raymond Davison are coming off good performances against Washington State despite the loss. For the Bears defense, a team effort is needed for any chances of stopping the Cardinal offense.

This year’s edition of The Big Game has plenty of implications despite not pertaining to the Pac-12 or the College Football Playoff. A win for Stanford will match the longest winning streak in the series by either team. Chances of going to a decent bowl game will improve for the Cardinal as well. Cal will hope for a victory to keep their bowl chances alive and reclaim The Axe.

Fans of Stanford may not be as loud in Berkley as the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band will not travel for the game. The band cannot travel to road venues and have not met requirements to lift the ban. Stanford fans must wait for the home finale against Rice to see if the band has a show aimed at President-Elect Donald Trump.

For all rivalry games, no matter where teams stand in the conference, stats tend to be thrown by the wayside. Rivalry games make college football fun to watch. The passion from both fans brings a great atmosphere as their respected teams battle on the gridiron. No matter the outcome of a rivalry game, fan should applaud both teams after for a great game.

Next: Stanford Cardinal Battle Oregon Ducks in Eugene

A spirited contest will be on hand in the 119th Big Game. Shaw will hope Stanford did not exhaust their offensive production against Oregon and turn to the usual vanilla. Dykes will be up and down the sideline yelling at the refs as usual. Both Cal and Stanford fans will be cheering their respected sides to victory. In any case, expect the best out of both teams from kickoff.