Even though the Cardinal are likely out of the Pac-12 title race, Stanford is still in excellent position to earn an at-large berth to a BCS bowl, either the Fiesta Bowl or, if Oregon wins the conference and heads to the BCS title game, the Rose Bowl. However, in order to make a BCS bowl, the Card needs to take care of its final two opponents; a convincing win over the Bears could help Stanford regain some of the ground it lost in the BCS standings after last week.
Motivation has never been a problem for Stanford or California for the Big Game, but both teams have something extra to play for tonight. The Cardinal needs to bounce back in a big way from last week's embarrassment against Oregon, which knocked it out of the national spotlight, and, of course, contention for the BCS and Pac-12 North titles. Stanford will be hungry to avenge that defeat.
The Bears have a lot to prove as well. Though the Bears are bowl-eligible once again, they got there by feasting on the conference's bottom feeders; its three conference wins came against Utah, Washington State and Oregon State, and its non-conference slate was full of patsies. With Cal struggling to find its mojo, Jeff Tedford's seat has started warming up, but a win tonight would quiet the fan base in Berkeley for another season and give Cal a signature win to hang its hat on.
Prediction: Both teams will come out of the gate firing in this one, but the Bears simply won't be able to hang with a superior Stanford squad that will refuse to get complacent. The Cardinal simply has more talent, and its offense will be able to score at will against a Cal defense that hasn't been able to stop any of its stronger opponents. Stanford's defense won't be dominant, but Cal's offense hasn't shown the kind of consistency necessary to take advantage of its flaws.
Final Score: Stanford 41, Cal 21.
End of first quarter: Cal 10, Stanford 7
It's a bit of shock that Cal is leading Stanford at the end of the first quarter. The Cardinal were supposed to walk all over the Golden Bears, but Cal has shown a lot of fight while Stanford's play has been uninspired at best. This is my third Big Game, and I can't remember any being quite as dull. Part of that can be attributed to the rain, but there just isn't that much energy inside Stanford Stadium right now.
Play of the quarter: Stanford was up 7-3 and had the ball, looking to move down the field and firmly establish a sizeable lead. However, Cal's Steve Williams had other ideas. With about seven minutes left to go in the quarter, Williams jumped on an Andrew Luck pass intended for Ty Montgomery. He took it all the way into the end zone, though the ball was called back on a block in the back penalty. However, Cal would go on to score on a great pass from Zach Maynard to Keenan Allen to give the Bears the lead and the momentum.
Ty Montgomery plays to his potential: Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery has been the only true freshman to get significant playing time this season, and he has shown why so far in this game. Montgomery scored the Cardinal's only points on a perfectly executed reverse early in the quarter, is Stanford's top receiver with two catches for 25 yards, and hasn't done too bad of a job in the kick return game, either. With Montgomery finally coming into his own, the loss of Chris Owusu is starting to hurt just a little bit less.
Andrew Luck off the mark: Williams' interception marks the fourth straight game that Andrew Luck has thrown a pick, the longest such streak of his career. In three of those games—USC, Oregon and Cal—he has thrown a pick-six, though the touchdown in this game was called back on a penalty. Luck has also overthrown Griff Whalen a couple times on deep balls, and overthrew a wide-open Levine Toilolo earlier in the quarter. Forget the Heisman Trophy—Luck is going to have to step up and play better if the Cardinal want to re-establish themselves in this game.
Weather playing a big role: With the rain coming down steadily in Palo Alto, the field is slippery and causing problems for both teams. On the Luck interception, Montgomery slipped and fell, allowing Williams to jump on the pass. Cal running backs have also had a difficult time staying on their feet, with more than a few plays ending without a tackle after Golden Bear rushers fell down. The rain has also had an impact on the crowd, with some pretty big chunks of empty seats, highly unusual for the Big Game.
End of second quarter. Stanford 14, Cal 13
One word characterized the second quarter: boring. The game feels like it's moving excruciatingly slowly, with Stanford head coach David Shaw pivoting back to the "run the ball straight ahead until sports writers want to gouge their eyes out" strategy. Nevertheless, it seems to be working—Stanford held the ball for much of the quarter and got the lead back on a Tyler Gaffney touchdown run. The Bears went scoreless in the quarter as the Card played ball control. Stanford will get the ball back to start the second half.
Play of the quarter: It looked as though Stanford would expand its lead before hitting the locker room for halftime. The Cardinal were driving into Cal territory with under two minutes left, looking determined to run down the clock and get at least a field goal out of the drive. However, Stanford failed to convert on a third-down pass from Andrew Luck to Ty Montgomery before Jordan Williamson kicked the field goal wide left, as the team failed to capitalize on an eight-play, 67-yard drive. If this game stays close, that failure is going to hurt a lot.
Stanford looks uninspired: All week, the vibe around the Stanford program seemed very positive. The Cardinal had the look of a team hungry to avenge its loss to Oregon, and appeared ready to come out and make a statement against Cal. However, that hasn't happened—Stanford has looked flat, unsteady and hesitant, with Andrew Luck showing little leadership on the offensive side of the ball. Yes, Stanford is leading the Bears, but the home team could just as easily be behind at this point. Hopefully, the Cardinal will be able to put together one of its patented second-half runs, but right now this is anyone's game.
Maynard comes back to earth: Cal quarterback Zach Maynard played out of his mind in the first quarter, going 7-of-9 for 106 yards and generally looking more like Andrew Luck than, well, Andrew Luck. His half-brother Keenan Allen, one of the Pac-12's top receivers, was having a field day against a weak Cardinal secondary, with six catches for 97 yards. Through the first half, Maynard's yardage numbers are still gaudy, with 168 passing yards on 11-of-14 passing, the Stanford defense shut him down much more effectively in the second quarter. Crucially, Allen didn't have a single reception in the quarter.
Second-half prediction: Stanford has a record of strong second halves, and I don't think this game will be any different. David Shaw and the rest of his staff have a knack for making good locker-room adjustments and inspiring their players. The Cardinal will come out fighting after getting the ball back to start the half, and come away with a win.
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