STANFORD, Calif. – While coaching the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, former USC head coach John McCay was reputed to say, after being asked about his offense’s execution, “I’m all for it.”
California – despite quarterback Jared Goff Goff going 37 for 54 for 386 yards – was toothless in its red zone execution against Stanford on Saturday, scoring one touchdown on five trips inside the Cardinal 20, settling for three field goals and committing a costly personal foul penalty as, for the sixth straight year, the Bears left The Axe in Palo Alto, losing to the Cardinal 35-22, as Stanford (9-2, 8-1 in Pac-12) clinched the Pac-12 North title.
Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey set a personal and school record with 389 all-purpose yards on the day, besting a school record also set against the Bears, and ran for 192 yards on the ground. Despite McCaffrey's historic night, Cal still out-gained the Cardinal, 495 yards to 356, tallied 23 first downs to Stanford's 16 and won the possession battle 31:16 to 28:44. But most of those yards, though, were between the 20s, and the only stat that counts -- the score -- was all Cardinal.
"You can take a minor consolation prize, if that helps you, but none of us play to, 'Hey, let's be competitive tonight!'," said safety Stefan McClure. "We play to win. We came up short. We didn't get the job done."
Athletic Director Mike Williams told Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, upon leaving the post-game news conference, that "we'll talk tomorrow," possibly referring to talks of a contract extension. Dykes was only able to mutter back, "Embarassing."
What was so embarrassing?
Earlier during the conference, Dykes said, in a seemingly epanorthotic pique, "There were a lot of little things. The officials -- rather, penalties -- killed us."
Indeed, the Bears did tally eight penalties for 63 yards -- the second-most penalties, and third-most yards in fouls Cal (6-5, 3-5 in Pac-12) has notched in a game this season.
Asked about the penalties not having been an issue for the Bears this season, Dykes said, "They seem to always be, against Stanford."
The first bullet into the foot was on Cal's first possession of the second quarter. After a Cameron Saffle stop of Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan on third-and-three, forcing a Stanford punt, Cal started to get into a rhythm. A nine-yard pass to Bryce Treggs, a screen to running back Tre Watson for a first down, a first-down run up the gut by Vic Enwere, a bullet to Trevor Davis for seven yards. The Bears were nearing midfield, when Goff found Treggs for what appeared to be a 17-yard gain, but, on the other side of the field, Maurice Harris was called for offensive pass interference.
Cal wound up punting on that drive, and then gave up a four-play, 80-yard drive, capped off with a dump off to the man of the night: McCaffrey, whose 389 all-purpose yards included a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, with 51 seconds left in the first half.
The Bears run game -- which had churned out 307 yards a week ago against Oregon State -- was non-existent on Saturday, with 35 first-half yards, and 98 total yards, with 87 coming from Watson, who, along with Enwere, played in place of injured Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco. The Bears ran the ball just 23 times, with two of those being Goff sacks and one being a Goff scramble.
Apart from the inability to contain McCaffrey, this was a game of missed opportunities for the Bears. Cal missed a potential touchdown on a wheel route by Enwere overthrown by a matter of inches on Cal's second drive of the game, and another would-be TD strike ripped out of the hands of Maurice Harris by Alijah Holder in the back of the end zone on that same drive, and a third would-be score thrown low by Goff to Kenny Lawler in the front corner of the end zone on the final play of the drive, forcing the first of three Matt Anderson field goals.
"Dropped the ball the first series, missed a throw, one of them, Kenny was open in the end zone and we missed him," Dykes said. "Maurice dropped a pass early. Just little miscues, that was the kind of difference really for us. We had opportunities to make plays, to give ourselves a chance to win, and we just weren't quite good enough tonight to do it."
"Missed opportunity," Goff said. "We normally score in the red zone. Today, we didn't. We ended up with a field goal, which is still a score, but normally, we like to punch it in there. For some reason, we didn't tonight, and they played very well defensively, and we couldn't punch it in there, for whatever reason. But, yeah, it's three scores there could have changed it."
The Bears got the ball back after McCaffrey's kickoff return, with 29 seconds left on the clock before the break, but ran Enwere instead of going for a passing play deep down the field. Cal went into the locker room leading in every statistical category of consequence – total offense (205 to 176), time of possession (16:03 to 13:57) and third-down conversion (4-of-9 to 2-of-5) -- except for score: 21-6.
After settling for yet another field goal after half, bringing the score to 21-9, the Cal defense was able to stop Stanford on one of the Cardinal's three three-and-outs, halting McCaffrey on third-and-short.
Despite the first two pressures of the night felt by Goff on the next drive, the junior quarterback hit Darius Powe for a fade in the back corner of the end zone, after Powe saw the previous pass slip through his hands, and all of the sudden, the Bears were down by just five points.
"We wanted to get the points," Dykes said of kicking field goals. "We went for it a bunch on fourth down. We went for it early in the game because we felt like we had to. We were trying to play aggressive. But, at the same time, we didn't want to get -- we didn't want to miss opportunities to get points. We felt like, if we could keep getting field goals, that was better than not getting anything."
Indeed, with possessions limited -- Cal had just 10 drives on the game, and five in the first half -- scoring opportunities were at a premium, but when the Bears -- who came into the game scoring touchdowns on 35 of 51 red zone trips -- kept scoring three, instead of seven.
Then, Cal allowed a 12-play, 61-yard drive by Stanford, capped by a one-yard touchdown run from Remound Wright, his second of the night, with 44 rushing yards on the drive coming from McCaffrey.
Goff, on paper, was downright surgical on the next drive, going 7-of-11, but a key personal foul by center Dominic Granado gave Goff a third-and-25 at the Stanford 32.
Goff’s misses on that drive were big, including one ball that went straight into the turf, slipping out of his hand as he had Powe wide open. Another, with pressure, he manipulated the pocket, found time, and had Harris over the middle, but fired high on fourth down to turn the ball over.
Stanford marched straight down the field, with a 48-yard touchdown run from Bryce Love putting the nail in the coffin.
Goff did hit Bryce Treggs for a 31-yard touchdown with 1:44 left in the game to make it 35-22, but missed the two-point fade to Stephen Anderson. Treggs was the game's leading receiver, catching seven passes for 102 yards. Davis caught a career-high seven passes for 80, and Powe also set a career best with seven grabs for 74 yards. Chad Hansen set career highs with five catches and 51 receiving yards, while Harris caught four passes for 42 yards.