Thanks to Ariana Goodell for editing.
Cal's defense was atrocious, so don't read too much into Stanford's offensive success during Saturday's 63-13 drubbing of the Bears. While the outing may have served to boost Kevin Hogan's confidence heading into this upcoming supercharged two-game stretch against Notre Dame and Arizona State, it should all be taken with a big grain of salt: Cal finished its 2013 season giving up nearly 46 points and 530 yards per game.
The Cardinal, though, did worsen the Bears' averages. They racked up 603 total yards of offense and set a Big Game scoring record while administering the largest beatdown in the rivalry's history (the previous extreme came in 1930, when the Farm Boys handed Cal a 41-0 whipping). They saw Ty Montgomery tie Darrin Nelson's single game school record by scoring five touchdowns in the first half. Most importantly, they enjoyed their first stress-free fourth quarter since September. By that time, Steve Frost had already announced the miraculous score over the Stanford Stadium speakers: Arizona 42, Oregon 16.
The exhilaration that accompanied the fourth quarter, then, was one of second life. Stanford again controlled its own Rose Bowl destiny, and the stadium basked in the glory of its second consecutive Pac-12 North coronation. Because there weren't many keys to beating overmatched Cal, there are only two grades to give out this week:
One always wonders about how a team will respond to a defeat as crushing as Stanford's loss at USC a week prior. The Cardinal's coaching and senior leadership deserves credit for the excellent responses it has facilitated in both games that have followed defeat this season.
"Keep chopping wood," Trent Murphy echoed defensive coordinator Derek Mason. "Good things will happen."
Stanford players took a day to stew over their painful loss at the Coliseum before returning to the woodpile with their Axe on Monday, and the quality of their week's work showed on the field, regardless of the poor competition. They were rewarded for their perseverance when Oregon collapsed in the Arizona desert.
In my pregame keys, I wrote that Cal would need an avalanche of Stanford turnovers just to have a chance at keeping this game remotely close. The Cardinal fumbled and lost just one snap, a mistake which they easily absorbed in the 50-point blowout.
Lombardi's Look Back: Assorted Observations
- Montgomery's 31-yard touchdown run to open the scoring was a good demonstration of center Khalil Wilkes' improvement this year. On the play, Hogan faked a hand-off to Tyler Gaffney before handing off to Montgomery on the end-around. Wilkes' job on the play: Sell the Gaffney run fake by blocking a defensive lineman for a second or two, then jet toward the perimeter to take care of a defensive back in Montgomery's way. The assignment demanded athleticism from Wilkes, and he certainly brought it on the play, taking care of his man and springing Montgomery untouched into the end zone.
- Stanford ran the identical play on Kelsey Young's end-around touchdown in the fourth quarter. This time, the Cardinal's second team offensive line was blocking. Fittingly, Conor McFadden (Wilkes' back-up) delivered the critical block.
- Montgomery's 70-yard quick screen touchdown came courtesy a familiar play: Right tackle Cam Fleming hustled right to deliver a smothering block on a defensive back to clear the way. Stanford actually first ran that play to open the scoring against Arizona State this year. Fittingly, the Sun Devils are back on the schedule for the December 7 Pac-12 championship game.
- It was an unusually electric day for Stanford's fullbacks. Lee Ward returned the opening kickoff 30 yards down the sideline. He was one broken tackle away from having a clear path to the end zone. Later, Pat Skov snuffed out a Cal fake punt, leveling Dan Camporeale before he could reach the first down marker.
- Cal sold out against Stanford's run game, and the Cardinal easily made them pay. Davis Dudchock's second career reception came on a simple misdirection play that burned the overzealous Bears: Hogan rolled to the right off the fake handoff, while Dudchock sprung left off a fake run block. The throw back across the field was on the money. Of course, Cal's defense was extremely undisciplined. But such a play is where Hogan is at his best: Attacking the opposition on the move, with the threat of Stanford's power running game backing him up.
- Devon Carrington's physicality is always impressive in run and short pass support, but he again struggled in downfield coverage against Cal's receivers filling in for Alex Carter (concussion), who is expected to return to action at cornerback next week.
- Stanford's offense has demonstrated significant improvement in the intermediate passing game the previous two games. Tight ends have only caught seven passes for 45 yards this year, but Jordan Pratt (4 catches, 47 yards) and Jeff Trojan (2 catches, 22 yards) both effectively filled the possession receiver void on Saturday. Devon Cajuste is returning to full health, while Dudchock's role is slowly growing, too, so the Cardinal's passing formula for the season's final three games appears to be settling in. Montgomery (5 catches, 160 yards) and Michael Rector (4 catches, 104) are the explosive threats. Francis Owusu's first two career catches were both spectacular, and he's also a definite candidate to enter the aerial mix against Notre Dame and Arizona State.
- Keanu Nelson, Conner Crane, and Dontonio Jordan also saw action at receiver for Stanford. Nelson recorded his first career catch. Along the offensive line, Kevin Reihner played for the second time of his career. Sophomore center Graham Shuler was held out for precautionary reasons.
- It's impossible to discuss Stanford's offensive performance these days without mentioning the Wildcat formation. Tyler Gaffney ran for a long touchdown out of this set in the second half. It must be noted, though, that this version of play came with Kelsey Young in motion. A Cal defensive back followed him across the field, and that opened up a gaping hole for Gaffney over the left side. When the Wildcat failed at USC a week prior, Stanford did not use pre-snap motion with Young. The thought here: The formation has the potential to be effective, but only if some deception is offered to throw the defense off balance. The limited space available in the red zone may also lower the Wildcat's chances of working there.
- Safety Zach Hoffpauir returned to action for Stanford and played well. Fellow sophomore Blake Martinez delivered the fourth quarter interception that stretched Stanford's takeaway streak to 36 games, the second longest run in the nation (Missouri, 39).
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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