-Dare The Stanford Receivers To Beat You
Of the 100 passes Stanford has completed this season, only 39 have been caught by wide receivers. That counts the four receptions from redshirt freshman Kelsey Young, who also doubles as a running back. They have accounted for only three touchdown grabs, so needless to say it is far more imperative the California defense account for tight ends Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz in the passing game, along with the occasional screen pass to running back Stepfan Taylor.
Considering how well cornerbacks Steve Williams, Kameron Jackson, and Marc Anthony have played, the Golden Bears should play straight man coverage when Stanford does deploy receivers, and focus everyone else on playing in the box to defend the run and play-action that comes off of it. Ertz, Toilolo, and Taylor can deliver a win, as demonstrated in the stunner over USC.
Take away those three and force up-and-down first-year starting quarterback Josh Nunes to be disciplined in his reads and throws.
-Get A Draw In The Trenches
When Cal has played well on the offensive and defensive lines, they have won. The problem is those units have been inconsistent, especially in the critical moments of the fourth quarter in their four losses. Even worse, Stanford's strengths come from their offensive line, which has allowed six sacks this season and paves the way for their power ground game, and defensive front seven.
No team in the conference is capable of lining up and punishing them up the middle on either side of the ball, but Cal needs to do enough to match their physicality. That means keeping quarterback Zach Maynard off his back, rushing for 150 yards or more, and keeping the Cardinal from grounding out four or five years on every rush.
-Continue To Be Solid On Third Down
Whether it is the chicken or the egg, the dramatic improvement on third down the last two weeks has been a key to the up tick in offensive production. Staying out of third-and-long has allowed Cal to move the chains in 12-of-23 opportunities, extending drives and giving wide receiver Keenan Allen and the stable of running backs extra chances to get in the end zone.
Given the punishing style Stanford employs on both sides of the ball, the Cal offense must avoid putting Maynard in obvious passing downs where the risk of sacks and turnovers dramatically increase. Besides, any play where they control the ball leaves Taylor and those tight ends on the sideline.
-Play Like There Is No Tomorrow
Whatever the result Saturday, Cal will still have a shot at bowl eligibility going forward. But let's be honest, the Bears don't want to be in a position where they need a win over mighty Oregon or at resurgent Oregon State to make the postseason. The best, and perhaps only route, to six wins demands reclaiming the Axe, so this is the time for head coach Jeff Tedford to empty the bag of tricks. Be it a fake punt or field goal, surprise onside kick, double pass, reverse, or any other gadget play in the arsenal, it might be the difference in determining whether the season ends before Thanksgiving.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.