Big Game Preview

Though Cal and Stanford have travelled much different paths this fall, both teams and fanbases are looking toward this game as a defining conclusion. The Bears remain on probation and take Big Game as their mythical bowl berth, while the Card seek to release a season of lost opportunities and frustration. Tensions are high, as they should be, for the 105th Big Game...

Twenty years later, it won't be for a chance to earn a bid for the Hall of Fame Bowl.  It will not be the final game for a quarterback who will win two Super Bowls down the road.  And hopefully, the game will not be decided by a bizarre special teams play with a radio call featuring a caterwauling Joe Starkey.

Twenty years after the Screw of '82, Stanford hopes to end a what has been so far a miserable season by keeping The Axe for an eighth consecutive year.  However, the task at hand will be challenging as Stanford will come into the 105th Big Game with a battered and sputtering offense.  Cal will enter the contest reeling from a shocking 52-41 loss versus Arizona, who came into the game with a 0-6 record in the Pac-10...

Offense:
It seemed like only yesterday the so-called "Jesus in Cleats" was making his first start for Tom Holmoe.  But Holmoe is long gone and has since been replaced by Jeff Ted(Stan)ford.  Kyle Boller, like the rest of the Cal seniors, will attempt to avoid being the fifth straight class to go oh-fer before graduation (or completion of eligibility).  Boller missed the Big Game freshman year due to an injury, which gave the start to fifth year senior Wes Dalton. In 2000 against Stanford, Boller completed 22 passes out of 34 attempts for 195 yards with one touchdown.  However, he threw four devastating interceptions.  Last year, Boller cut his interceptions in half while going 20-47 for 278 yards and one touchdown.  In his final year at Berkeley, Boller has completed a respectable (but not "Jesus-like") 53.6% of his passes. More importantly, Boller has thrown 26 touchdowns to 9 interceptions.  The year before, Boller managed to toss 12 touchdowns and was picked off 10 times. 

The elusive halfback Joe Igber will also be playing his final game on Saturday.  Igber has averaged 82.2 yards a game this year and has scored six times.  Cardinal fans will remember Igber for his two touchdowns in the fourth quarter of the 103rd Big Game, helping to force overtime.

Cal's receiving corps lacks a marquee player but instead shares the wealth quite well.  Junior transfer Jonathan Makonnen leads all receivers with 47 receptions.  However, senior LaShaun Ward (who played at cornerback in 1999 and 2000) has the most total yards at 656 off of 37 catches.  Senior transfer tight end Tom Swodoba also figures into the mix with 40 receptions for 430 yards.  All three of these players have scored 7 touchdowns.  Sophomore Geoff McArthur is fourth on the receptions list with 36 despite missing two games.  This group doesn't have any big names but is still capable of putting up big numbers nonetheless.  They are a very scrappy and effective group who will not make things easy for Stanford's young secondary, especially if Stanford fails to generate a pass rush.

Defense:
The Cal defense, which comes into the Big Game giving up an average of little over 28 points a game, does not have the same luster it had back in it's "Hit Squad" days from a few years back.

The Arizona offense, who only managed to score six points against the Cardinal, torched the Golden Bear secondary for 492 yards through the air.  The Bear secondary, led by senior corners Nnamdi Asomugha (switched from the safety spot earlier in the season) and Jemeel Powell are solid at best but lack the same chutzpah the Cal secondaries from a few years back had.

Perhaps the biggest play maker for Cal on the defense is senior defensive end Tully Banta-Cain, who has 12 sacks and 20 tackles for loss on the year.  The Bear defense is last in the conference in total defense this year.

Keys to the Game:
Perhaps Cal's weakness in the secondary will help ignite the anemic Stanford passing game?  It's possible, but when Stanford faced a similar secondary at Oregon, they managed to only score two touchdowns.  Stanford fans realize that the Cardinal's offensive woes are not due to a complete lack of talent.  Nobody can say for sure what exactly the underlying problem is.   Booties have been left scratching their heads as they have watched the offense that returned nine starters (before the onset of injuries) from last year's explosive squad to a three-and-out wonder.  Some of the Bootboard regulars have alluded to Kyle Matter's lack of arm strength, some claim it's Luke Powell's nagging injury, while others have theorized that it's a little bit too much of ego on the part of Teyo Johnson.  Whatever it is, if Stanford hopes to keep The Axe, something needs to happen in the enigmatic passing game. 

Turnovers will be crucial to the outcome of the game.  In the prior four Big Games, Stanford holds a +6 turnover margin despite giving the ball up five times last year.  Last time Stanford played at Memorial Stadium, Cal committed five costly turnovers as well as giving up two blocked punts. 

X Factor:

Since neither team is bowl eligible, then this is effectively both squads' bowl game.  While Stanford simply does not have the record, Cal has been denied a bowl because of NCAA violations.  The question is, what will fire a team up more: Trying to end a macabre season on a high note or trying to ease the pain of losing bowl eligibility?  Stanford fans better hope for the former.

Random facts:
Stanford has won every fifth anniversary of the Screw of '82 (1987, 1992, 1997)...  Stanford has come into the last three games at Memorial Stadium as the underdogs but still have found a way to retain The Axe...  The game will see two starting quarterbacks from Newhall Hart High School, both named Kyle...This will be the fourth and final matchup between the Asomugha brothers, as Chijioke (Stanford) and Nnamdi (Cal) are both in their final years...  The Bears lead the nation in fumble recoveries, while Stanford has fumbled just seven times this year - and just once in the last seven games...

Prediction:
Just like in 1998, the Stanford defense will carry the day.  Boller will be sacked five times and will be picked off twice.  Both times Boller is intercepted, Stanford will capitalize and score touchdowns.  Cal will tie the game in the fourth quarter but Mike Sgroi will add a chip shot field goal with seconds remaining to give Stanford a 17-14 lead.  Cal will attempt to make a sequel to the play but this time, the officials will get it right.  The universe will be balanced. 

We smoke these guys!


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