4Q: Love with the backbreaker (35-22)

McCaffrey finishes with 192 rushing yards, 148 return yards and 49 receiving yards, good for a school-record 389 all-purpose yards. The team is celebrating with the Axe in front of the student section for six years running. Stanford will now host Notre Dame, quasi-host the Pac-12 Championship, and with a win there, most likely close with a fifth straight game in California, this one in Pasadena.

Stanford 21, California 16, Start Fourth Quarter

As we start the fourth, a great curveball from the offensive masterminds. Francis Owusu hasn't seen his number called much over the past few weeks, so maybe the defense grants him a bit more room to operate, and he certainly makes the most of it. He catches a screen from Hogan, has enough burst to run through a would-be ankle tackle, and then dives forward to the Cal one for a 12-yard gain. That's as good as a touchdown when you have you-know-who on the roster, if not even better, as the Cardinal gets to run another 30 seconds of clock and keep the Cal D on the field for one more snap. Sure enough, Remound Wright enters and, this time on his first effort, notches his 23rd touchdown since the start of last season. A Cal defender had done well to knife into the backfield on a run blitz, but had to backtrack to catch Wright from behind, and the momentum of the tackle, ironically enough, actually carried Wright into the end zone.

Stanford 28, California 16, 14:23 remaining

Stanford rushing just three and it's not working, as Goff completes for 18, and then three plays later, for another nine on a third-down conversion. So Stanford adjusts and blitzes Kevin Palma -- only for Goff to take off and run right by Palma for an eight-yard gain into the area Palma vacated. Darned if you do, darned if you don't, I guess. But make no mistake, the Stanford defense we're seeing right now is not the unit we've grown used to over the past five seasons.

As I type this, Cal's no-huddle offense has marched passed its way into Stanford territory, now at the Card 17 with 10:14 left after a rare Goff miscue and turfed ball, with the pigskin slipping out of his hands. Cal then shoots itself in the foot after a three-yard screen on second and ten. Terrence Alexander threw a receiver out of bounds and was lucky not to get a whistle (the Card were called for the same penalty against Oregon last week), but the Bears are not so lucky, with a late shove marching the Bears back 15 yards just when they could least afford it. So after a modest third-down gain, it's fourth and 15 instead of a new set of downs, and Goff has an NFL-sized window after stepping up in the pocket to buy another second and avoid a fast-closing edge rusher. The throw, however, is high, and Stanford has to feel a lot more confident about its division title chances than it did at the start of the quarter.

Stanford 28, California 16, 8:59 remaining

Alright, time to choke the life out of this one. McCaffrey twice, and I would run it with him 12 times in a row if Cal can't stop it--a nice echo to that drive against USC where we ran Toby Gerhart from one end of the field to the other under Jim Harbaugh. So far, McCaffrey's run three straight times for 24 yards, bringing him to 350 all-purpose yards on the day. Make that 356, after gaining six on a second and four blocked for 3.5 yards. He is better at squeezing out that last yard or two before going down than just about anyone else. And then Bryce Love with the coup de grace. Overheard in the press box: "He's so ******* fast." Yup.

Love takes an end-around right to left after a fake to McCaffrey up the gut. Josh Garnett gets out 15 yards downfield to the perimeter to obstruct two would-be tacklers, and Love's speed prevents anyone else from rallying to shut the play down. McCaffrey and Rollins Stallworth are downfield escorting away a last would-be tackler, but once he turned the corner, he ran those 48 yards faster than anyone I've seen in my decade covering games in this stadium -- and that includes the opposing players too.

Stanford 35, California 16, 6:13 remaining

Cal cost itself today, as did USC earlier this year (and in seasons past, if memory serves), but one of the hidden strengths of this Stanford program is that it rarely gets whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Brandon Simmons does here on the kickoff return, so Cal starts from its 35 instead of its 20, but in a 19-point game closing in on five minutes, not exactly a game-altering flag. Indeed, Cal goes three and out, and the white flag is officially out, as the Bears punt this one away.

Feeling pretty good about myself, as on KZSU pregame, I guessed a 42-21 final, and it's 35-16 with 5:12 left for each team to score once more and make that prediction come pretty close. For the Cardinal offense, meanwhile, they've scored 30 points in 10 straight games per the press box PA (Kevin Danna, another Bootleg alum), the school's longest streak since 11 straight games in 2011.

Don't understand why Christian McCaffrey is in right now, but he is, and runs three times for seven yards before the punt squad comes on. Alex Robinson then ruins his great average with a 35-yard punt that yields a 13-yard return.

Bears outgaining your Cardinal 458-331 right now, including 360-96 through the air, 77 plays to Stanford's 49, and with 31:00 of possession and counting. Cal also 10-of-18 on third downs, compared to Stanford's 5-of-10. But Stanford with 235 rush yards to Cal's 98, and scored 14 points in two red zone trips, compared to Cal's 13 on four red-zone attempts.

Scratch that last number, as Cal with a garbage-time touchdown, though a beaut, on a 31-yard slight Goff underthrow that a falling Bryce Treggs just pulled in before landing on the end zone turf. The two-point conversion is an incomplete lob to the back right corner of the end zone, and that 42-21 pregame prediction is looking better and better...

Stanford 35, California 22, 1:44 remaining

Well, Stanford won't quite get to 42, but that's only because time ran out, as Christian McCaffrey was mashing his way through a beat-up Bear front seven in the waning moments. He finishes with 192 rushing yards, 148 return yards and 49 receiving yards, good for a school-record 389 all-purpose yards. The team is celebrating with the Axe in front of the student section -- for the sixth straight year. Stanford will now host Notre Dame, quasi-host the Pac-12 Championship, and with a win there, most likely close with a fifth straight game in California -- this one in Pasadena. It's less than we dreamed of over the last few weeks, but far more than we thought possible heading into the year.

Stanford 35, California 22, Final


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