Cal vs. Stanford: Side by Side

Writers from the Scout websites that cover Cal (The Bear Insider) and Stanford (The Bootleg) contribute to this side-by-side analysis of the upcoming 109th Big Game.

LAST WEEK:

Cal had Thanksgiving weekend off to lick its wounds after back-to-back losses to Arizona and USC. Cal managed a 9-9 tie with USC going into the 4th quarter, then lost to USC's big play guys. The loss to Arizona was more disheartening. With everything pointing to the big showdown against USC, the Bears looked past a worthy opponent.

LAST WEEK:

Stanford licked their wounds in a bye week after a disheartening 30-7 loss to Oregon State, when both the offense and defense took steps back after marked improvements in the Cardinal's lone win at Washington.

KEY INJURIES:

Defensive lineman: Phillip Mbakogu (knee) season
Cornerback-Tim Mixon (torn ACL) season

KEY INJURIES:

OT Chris Marinelli (ankle - probable), OG Josiah Vinson (shoulder - probable), OG Ismail Simpson (questionable), C Alex Fletcher (back - out), C Tim Mattran (leg - out), WR Mark Bradford (foot - out), FB Nick Frank (spine - out), TE Matt Traverso (shoulder - out), QB Trent Edwards (foot - out), QB T.C. Ostrander (knee - will play), ILB Fred Campbell (questionable), CB Wopamo Osaisai (shoulder, leg - probable), CB Tim Sims (questionable), S David Lofton (foot - out)

WHEN CALIFORNIA IS ON OFFENSE:

Fans and pundits have thrown around the word "conservative" about Cal's offense after the losses in Tucson and Los Angeles. Of course, the "C" word is TNT in Berkeley on a variety of levels.

However, a dose of shorten-the-game, beat-up-on-a-physically-inferior-opponent, may be just the medicine for the Bears this Saturday. Letting Marshawn Lynch run wild in what well may be his last game in Memorial Stadium has a definite appeal.

However, the other side of the Lynch-right, Lynch-left, Lynch-up the middle sword is its predictability. If Stanford stacks the box to stop the run, Cal will eventually wear them down, but that will take awhile. While the Bears work to gain the upper hand in trench warfare, the Cardinal will be happy to just "hang around".

Then suddenly the game is decided on a penalty, turnover, or other manifestation of "Big Game Weirdness" which would play right into Stanford's hands.

The preferable plan for the Bears is "Shock and Awe." Figure out the individual match-ups, and the Bears win. "DeSean Jackson can beat Wopamo Osaisai", "Alex Mack can dominate Ekom Udofia", or whatever the Bear coaches think they can exploit. Pick the best of the opportunities and go after them.

Stanford as a team has to be at a fragile place emotionally, so a couple of quick touchdowns could fold up the tents, no matter what shows on the outside.

Cal has a Holiday Bowl date with Texas A & M, so regaining confidence and consistency with a balanced offense must start Saturday.

WHEN STANFORD IS ON OFFENSE:

Expected to be the (lone) strength for Stanford in 2006, the offense was slaughtered by injuries early in the season and lost all of its veteran offensive play makers. New players are taking the reins, with redshirt junior quarterback T.C. Ostrander at the forefront. The starter of Stanford's last four games has numerous attributes on paper similar to Trent Edwards, but Ostrander has had a difficult season with 44.9% completions, five interceptions and one touchdown. Ostrander has averaged 128 yards passing per game since Edwards' injury, with a high watermark coming in the win at Washington (11-of-20, 206 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT). Ostrander's grasp of the offense is much-improved, though he can force passes and take deep sacks.

The wideouts have handicapped Ostrander and Edwards this year, however. All three returning scholarship receivers went down early in September, forcing true freshmen or walk-ons to start most of the season. Redshirt junior Evan Moore finally poked his head into the starting lineup versus Oregon State, though he has been shut out each of the past two games. Both of Stanford's last two opponents left single coverage often on Cardinal receivers, pressuring the quarterback and leaving open the big play. Stanford hit those plays at Washington and dropped them versus Oregon State. Freshman Richard Sherman has helped to fill some of the void with flashes of play making and speed, leading the team with 28 receptions for 500 yards and two scores.

The running game has fared better than it appears, with sack yardage in college weighing down the statistics. 10-game starter redshirt sophomore Anthony Kimble is nimble in the backfield and can make linebackers miss in the second level, averaging a solid 4.2 yards per carry. True freshman Toby Gerhart showed immense promise in the preseason, and he still impresses at times with his power running and 3.6 yards per carry, though his health is languishing.

The offensive line takes a great deal of heat, though they are improved when healthy in both pass protection and run blocking. Blitzing defenses will eventually win out, and Stanford has taken 46 sacks already this fall. Two redshirt freshmen play at tight end, and they are uneven as expected. On the rise is Erik Lorig, whose playing time is matching his grasp of the offense and role in the passing game.

WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL:

If this Big Game is a mismatch the big disparity will be in this area. Cal's strength has been its defense, and the Stanford offense has not been productive all year. Cardinal quarterback T.C. Ostrander has a tendency to get rattled if pressured, and injuries have left Stanford with no "go to" threat.

The plan for Cal is simple - good, basic defense. The Bears must simply press their speed and talent advantage to stifle the Cardinal. If the Bears can stay out of giving up the big play early, they will win this battle easily.

The Cal offense can help widen the gap. If the Bears can get a couple of touchdowns, Stanford will have to abandon any semblance of a running attack. If Cal can sell out against the pass, Ostrander could find himself on his back admiring the sunny skies over Strawberry Canyon for much of the afternoon.

WHEN CALIFORNIA HAS THE BALL:

Marshawn Lynch may do some unholy things to this unit. The Cardinal have occasionally taken steps forward, but their run defense (218.1 yards/game) remains far and away the worst in the conference and nearly dead last in the nation. Though not as riddled as the offense by injuries, the Stanford defense is young and finding its way this season with nine freshmen (true or redshirt) starting or regularly playing in the front seven of the 3-4 defense.

The top playmaker is senior inside linebacker Michael Okwo, who earlier this week received First-Team All Pac-10 honors. He leads the conference and ranks #15 in the nation with 9.56 tackles per game. Watch #55 on Saturday to see the most explosive linebacker of this generation for Stanford. A kindred athlete at outside linebacker is Clinton Snyder, who has started 10 games as a redshirt freshman and tallied 80 tackles. He plays the "rush" position and has a motor that runs plays down from behind.

Stanford rotates regularly up front on their three-man line, but watch redshirt freshman Ekom Udofia in the middle. His last month of play has been strong, and his 39 tackles as a nose tackle in this scheme are impressive. In the back end, two senior safeties steady an under appreciated pass defense: Brandon Harrison and Trevor Hooper. No team has yet to throw for 250 yards against the Card. Keep your eyes on #31, redshirt sophomore Wopamo Osaisai, who has broken out this year at cornerback.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Jackson is the best punt returner the Pac-10 has seen in the last decade. Kicker Tom Schneider has been extremely consistent, punter Andrew Larson has been just short of spectacular and coverage has been outstanding.

Injuries have stretched the Cardinal special teams thin. Look for Jackson to break one, or for coverage teams to force a game-changing turnover.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Previously the strength of Stanford and maybe the best in the Pac-10, this unit has struggled all year. Kickoff returns, kickoff coverage, punt returns, field goals and PATs all rank ninth or 10th in the conference. Only punting (35.0 average net - #5) is less than abominable, though those numbers are buoyed by four quick-kicks by Edwards and Ostrander. Osaisai is special to watch on coverage teams, though, and earned First-Team All Pac-10 honors. Stanford is tops in the conference with 3-of-3 onside kicks converted, and redshirt junior Jay Ottovegio successfully ran a fake last game for a first down.

CALIFORNIA CAN WIN IF:

The Bears forget it's the Big Game. Favorites lose the Big Game by getting paralyzed by the emotion, and by letting the underdog get caught up in the emotion. Take care of the football, don't give up a big play and the rest will take care of itself. Execution early, particularly on offense, and Bear fans are planning where to go for post game libations before 1:30. If Cal uses the myriad for offense weapons at its disposal, it will dictate what the Cardinal offense, can (or perhaps more importantly, can't) do, and the anticipated mismatch will be a reality.

STANFORD CAN WIN IF:

The "big one" hits Berkeley and swallows the Bears' starters during warm ups. It would take an unparalleled offensive performance for Stanford to move the ball enough to keep this game close, and do so against the best defense they have faced all year. Cal would have to gamble and lose on some defensive play calls, and Ostrander would have to connect for season-highs with Sherman and Moore for long gainers. The offense and defense would have to combine for +3 or better in turnover margin to compensate for the clear disparity in talent and performance level on both sides of the ball. The defense could give up yardage so long as they contain the big play against Lynch and the Cal receivers, with a timely stop or turnover here and there. Osaisai will have to gun down the best punt returner in the nation in DeSean Jackson to save field position.

CALIFORNIA WILL LOSE IF:

The Cardinal gets ahead early and hangs on to the end. Stanford does not have the depth or offensive firepower for a shootout, or a war of attrition. Stanford's "punchers chance" is dependent on its defense stopping Lynch, forcing turnovers, and getting a couple of early breaks.

STANFORD WILL LOSE IF:

There is one yellow sun in the sky on Saturday. Unless you catch a glimpse of Walt Harris putting on a "loaves and fishes" show with the team pre-game, this should be the most predictable game in decades for a famously unpredictable rivalry. Little plays may make the difference in the magnitude of points on the scoreboard, but there is too much overwhelming evidence for how far apart these two teams are on offense and defense in 2006 to consider an upset.

CALIFORNIA 2-DEEPS:
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STANFORD 2-DEEPS:
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Sean Mockler is a Staff Writer for the Bear Insider. Mike Eubanks is the publisher for TheBootleg.com and has been covering Cardinal sports since 1998.

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