Poor route by Michael Rector gets only 6.5 on second and seven -- would like to see No. 3 reach for the sticks or, better yet, run an extra half-step before breaking to come back to the ball. But maybe he was just doing a favor to his classmate Remound Wright, as he comes in and gets a very generous two on the third-down carry that went for maybe the needed 18 inches, but not much more. Total yards 73-68 Bears through one, with most of Cal's yards through the air, and most of Stanford's on the ground. Cardinal get a poor spot to not convert on a Francis Owusu third-down catch, but Remound Wright comes through with 1.01 yards on fourth and one from the Bear 49. Nice of David Shaw to go for it, and nice that the millimeters worked out in the Card's favor there.
Doesn't end up making a ton of difference, as the next drive, Hogan is flushed from the pocket and has a wide-open McCaffrey streaking down the right sideline for a touchdown, but chokes on the throw. A third and three Hogan keeper goes nowhere, so the nice call on that series' first down for McCaffrey and Bryce Love to run an option for seven yards doesn't pay dividends. Alex Robinson with his second punt of the day, and he's 2-for-2 now at pinning the Bears behind their own ten.
Cal's lack of a run game cost them when they couldn't punch it in on first and goal from the three, and it costs them here, as Aziz Shittu drags a runner down for a three-yard loss on second and one. However, Tre Watson catches out of the backfield for seven to move the chains, first down Bears. Cal keeps moving with the passing game, now out to their 38, but instead of Oregon's one- or three-play scores, the Bears are inconsistent, starting and stopping in fits. First it was gain of nine, loss of one, gain of seven to move the chains. Now, it's drop, gain of seven, first-down catch wiped out by offensive pass interference, so third and 18. The consistency isn't quite there yet for the Bears offense, so for Stanford to play bend but don't break and wait for the Cal miscue seems to be working out tonight. Sure enough, Cal's nice 15-yard catch and run isn't enough on third and 18 and -- wait! Cal's going for it at their 45! Nope, it's the Trent Edwards special, a quarterback quick kick, and it's a touchback for a 33-yard net punt. The regular punter might have had a tad more luck there for the Bears...
Oklahoma 30, TCU 23, Frogs' ball. A Sooner loss would help those 11% playoff odds (per FiveThirtyEight). McCaffrey wildcat for 11 with Bryce Love in motion attracting defenders' attention. Then McCaffrey in the traditional backfield for 12 -- and then Love for eight. And now Christian McCaffrey with one of his best plays of the season. He should have been dead to rights on a screen, with Josh Garnett unable to get out on the last Cal defender. So defender #1 had a clear shot on McCaffrey, but bounced off, and then McCaffrey runs through the tackle attempt of defender #2. He's in the open-field now, and cuts back so that defender #3 is run into a Stanford blocker running downfield, and that's simply not fair. The Bear defenders look like the overpowered villains of some trite Hollywood offering -- the 10 bad guys who don't stand a chance, and James Bond takes out without breaking a sweat before getting to the boss villain. But this is real life, this is a 49-yard catch and run that Christian McCaffrey made look, literally, comically easy, and Stanford leads 14-3 on a beautiful score.
Stanford 14, California 3, 4:12 remaining, second quarter
Cal comes out and does its thing -- success moving the ball between the 20s, but let's see them string an entire drive together without a miscue, especially once they reach the red zone. They're quickly into Stanford territory, but after a second-and-one throwaway, the Card D has a chance to get off the field, with the ball at its 45 and 1:58 showing on the stadium clocks.
Instead, Cal to its credit is pulling out all the stops. Here, it's the halfback throwback to the quarterback, and if you'd think Stanford's D has seen any trick play in practice in recent weeks, then certainly it's this one, which the offense ran without success against Oregon. However, Goff catches and runs for 11, and then after quick gains of eight, eight and seven, the Bears are cooking with some serious gas now, second and three at the Card 10. But Goff a yard too long on a second-down effort caught, but out of the back of the end zone, and is then flushed, spun around and forced into a third-down throwaway, again out of the back of the end zone. So as we foreshadowed (it's neat when life follows the script), Stanford has capped its two long drives with touchdowns, Cal has not, and after a 29-yard Bear field goal, that is precisely your difference.
Spotted by my press-box neighbor: Ronnie Harris in sweats and a walking boot.
Stanford 14, Cal 6, 51 seconds remaining
Stanford has had some immpressive two-minute drills this season, as the Stanford Daily tweets out, but none needed right now. Christian McCaffrey catches on the right hash, starts to his right, and keeps going right, untouched all the way some 98 yards to paydirt. That's McCaffrey's first career return touchdown, and though he gets the credit, he was untouched, so his blockers deserve the lion's share of the glory in fairness. We also call them like we see them here at Bootleg HQ, and Cal's Derron Brown, the last line of defense on that return, was held pretty blatantly. Would be rich to see a Cal fan complaining about uncalled penalties on a kickoff return though.
Stanford 21, Cal 6, 38 seconds remaining
Bears spring a long return of their own, but Stanford's only decision is which of the two holding flags on the play to accept. So, now from the (proverbial) shadows of their goalposts, Cal runs out the half, which closed quite nicely for the Cardinal. Cal band now playing Taylor Swift, and I actually genuinely enjoy some of her stuff, but that's kind of bold for a football halftime show, no?
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