It's same old, same old early, as Josh Nunes and the Cardinal continue to make mistakes on the road. Stanford's first drive sees Nunes lose a fumble near midfield. Stanford's second drive sees Drew Terrell dig a pass out of the ground to extend the drive, before Stepfan Taylor broke loose up the middle for 39 yards. But the passing game misfired to send out kicker Jordan Williamson, and Williamson pushed a 40-yard field goal just wide left.
Stanford's third drive starts with a Terrell punt return to the Cal 34. A Zach Ertz reception puts Stanford in the red zone, then Nunes throws wide of the end zone twice, but is bailed out on a third-down holding call on the other side of the field. The next play, Stepfan Taylor shakes two defenders to score the Cardinal's first offensive touchdown on the road.
The Cardinal's defense, meanwhile, has been lights out early, forcing Cal into three three-and-outs. Keenan Allen returned a punt to Stanford's 25 to start the Bears' fourth drive at the end of the quarter, and Brandon Bigelow shook loose to the Cardinal's two. Cal faces second and goal to start the second quarter, and they are in prime position to tie a game in which they have been outgained 118 to 36, and outrushed 72 to minus-5.
Play of the quarter: Stepfan Taylor shook one defender before reaching the line of scrimmage, and then juked a second defender who had him dead to rights a yard past the line. The playcall was power, but the oncoming defenders forced Taylor to reverse direction and head toward the backside of the Cardinal line. No matter, as thanks to Taylor's shake and bake and Ertz's incredible blocking – the tight end took out multiple defenders in a highlight-reel sequence – the Cardinal scored their first touchdown in 29 road possessions.
Deja vu: The biggest criticisms fans have had of 2012 Stanford football have been reserved for Nunes, Williamson, Stanford's receivers and unoriginal playcalling. This quarter alone, Williamson missed a kick, Nunes lost a fumble and started 3-of-8, and Stanford's only touchdown came on a traditional power run Cal couldn't have had defended any better. Meanwhile, the loudest praise has been reserved for Taylor, Ertz, and Stanford's front seven. Taylor had one of his greatest runs of the season (second only to his touchdown at USC) with Ertz taking out multiple defenders, and the front seven has given Cal nothing.
For bonus fun, how about this sequence near the end of the first: Jamal-Rashad Patterson likely drops a pass (ruled a completion), Stanford false starts on the resulting third and short, and then the Cardinal don't have a play called in time and have to burn a time out. Oh, and then the third and long pass is a few inches too tall for Ertz.
Halftime: Stanford 21, Cal 3
The start of the second quarter had to bring a smile to Stanford fans. First, Ben Gardner got to Cal quarterback Zach Maynard on third and goal, forcing a Bear field goal. Stanford's next play from scrimmage sees Nunes find a wide-open Ertz who makes it down to the Bear seven. Kevin Hogan comes in on a designed rollout, and then finds Levine Toilolo for a nine-yard score to put Stanford up 14-3. A more permanent switch or just Hogan entering for the wildcat? I'm sure David Shaw looks forward to receiving that question postgame…
Cal gains two first downs but Bigelow can't handle the exchange from Maynard and puts the ball on the turf. Chase Thomas will never have an easier fumble recovery. Nunes scrambles for a first down, but then Terrell drops a slant on third and four from the Bear 35. No matter, as on the Bears' ensuing possession, Jordan Richards strips Keenan Allen and the Cardinal recover. The next snap, Ertz is split wide and gets inside Cal's cornerback, the slant is on the money and the rout is on, 21-3.
Cal responds with its fourth third and out, but Stanford in turn responds in kind, with Williamson again missing, this time on a 34-yard attempt, again wide left. Cal stalls at midfield and punts, putting Stanford in a two-minute drill which also peters out near midfield. Still, the Cardinal end up with 301 yards on the half, as Nunes is 12-of-23 for 183 yards and a touchdown, and Taylor has 82 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.
Hello, creativity: Pep Hamilton and Stanford's offense brought out some long-dormant creativity. Kelsey Young got a few touches early, and the two second-quarter touchdowns were beauties. Hogan had always been used as a wildcat quarterback this season, so the rollout and find of Toilolo was a nice change of pace. Then to split Ertz out wide with the rest of the formation – and Cal's defense – packed into the box also breaks tendency nicely. It didn't work, but I also liked putting Taylor under center for the fake end-around halfback pass. In fact, given the nice curveballs, we'll award play of the quarter to Stanford's two second-quarter touchdowns.
Ertz goes off: Three catches, 104 yards and a touchdown… 20 minutes into the game. Plus he showcased great blocking on Taylor's touchdown. He made himself a lot of NFL money this half.
Second half prediction: Stanford chokes the life out of this one. The defense may give up a late touchdown or two as they have in their other road games, but it won't matter. I'll call for a final of Stanford 38, Cal 17.
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