What They're Saying: Cal 37, Stanford 16

"Yet our season still felt horribly incomplete. In our hearts, we knew we hadn't accomplished what we had set out to do. We knew there was still work left to be done." Big Game 2008 leaves us with that final impression. Read the rest of our thoughts, plus read the local writers' takes as the Axe returned to Berkeley and Stanford's season concluded bowlless.

Cal 37, Stanford 16 

Anti-climax 

Most fans are unrealistically optimistic about their team's chances. Therefore, any season that conforms with your average fans' expectations is a strong one.

Most Stanford fans, at least most Stanford fans I've heard from, thought 5-7 was about as good as it could get this season. 4-8, with victories over USC and Cal, was certainly as good as last year could have been. If Jim Harbaugh continues meeting his fans' expectations at this trajectory, he'll be 6-6 next year and in BCS bowls four years from now.

So the big picture dictates that we have no reason to complain.

And yet, we saw problems that had exposed themselves all season long rear their ugly heads in Berkeley Saturday and couldn't help but frustrate.

We saw a defense that played its heart out for 50 minutes seemingly collapse for one key stretch, and all but ruin Stanford's shot at a victory. The 2008 defense finishes with a mixed legacy: better numbers than the 2007 unit, but a tendancy to underperform when it mattered most. The '07 D will be remembered for its goalline stand against USC, for Bo McNally and Clinton Snyder and a slew of other playmakers. The '08 unit took fewer risks and allowed fewer yards, but what huge stops, what key interceptions will we remember years from now?

We saw a passing game that perfectly summarized its 2008 season with one game. At its best, it was efficient if not electrifying, serving as a competent complement to the rush attack in the first half. At its worst, I'm sure I wasn't the only one in Stanford red forced into a "No Tavita... no Tavita... OH JESUS!" Other teams have probably thrown more interceptions, but I've never seen a squad throw so many painful ones right at opposing defenders.

We saw stupid mistakes. We saw the stupid penalties that cost us so dearly against UCLA. We saw the turnovers that cost us in seemingly every loss this season.

We saw that Jim Harbaugh's enthusiasm may be unknown to mankind, but fourth downs prove a powerful antidote. Why not go for the early fourth and two, especially when running between the tackles was this team's core identity? The rush offense racked up big numbers again, but in critical downs and distances, in fourth and two, in goal-to-go and the ball on the one, the rush attack, like the defense, mattered less than its statistics would suggest.

And finally, we saw a game that mirrored the season itself. The team was plucky early, hanging around longer and keeping it closer than the the opponent's superior talent and a rash of Stanford mistakes should have dictated. Yet when a good opponent started swinging, Stanford didn't punch back. TCU, Arizona State, USC and now Cal delivered knockout punches to the Card's season, with surprisingly little resistance. When Stanford played those teams, all four were considered top-25 caliber at kickoff. The Card didn't come close once.

********** ********** **********

To my eyes, Washington had comparable talent to Stanford. (They certainly had a better starting quarterback.) Heck, the professionals thought so too, installing the Huskies as a slight favorite when Stanford visited Montlake early in the season.

Washington finished 0-12. Stanford easily could have been there, and we would have happily given a kidney for 5-7.

 

Yet, the season is still too recent and the pain too raw for cold logic to silence our inner voice right now. It is a voice that knows that, one day, we'll look back on this season with some semblance of pride. But right in that moment, as we watched the Axe change hands and saw the sullen looks on the faces of its Stanford guardians, some part of us felt as empty as they did.

The final horn had sounded, the fans had piled out of the stadium and the college football world had moved onto bigger games without nary a second glance. Yet our season still felt horribly incomplete. In our hearts, we knew we hadn't accomplished what we had set out to do. We knew there was still work left to be done.

That's our take. Here's what other writers thought... 


National

Associated Press
Scoring three touchdowns felt good. Keeping Stanford out of a bowl game felt better.
 
Bay Area
 
San Jose Mercury News
Stanford came to Memorial Stadium for the 111th Big Game on Saturday aiming for a bowl game. It left striving for more.
 
San Francisco Chronicle
This Big Game was supposed to be a match between relative equals, a true measure of who's who, what's what and why on both sides of the Dumbarton Bridge.
And so it was - except for the equals part.
 
San Francisco Chronicle
In many ways, the Stanford Cardinal saved their worst for last in Saturday's Big Game at Memorial Stadium, losing 37-16 and looking as if their bowl hopes might have been wishful thinking all along.
 
San Francisco Chronicle
Cal's defense ended the first half Saturday in Strawberry Canyon by stopping Stanford power back Toby Gerhart on two runs from the 1-yard line.
 
San Francisco Chronicle
Those paying close attention could sense Jahvid Best might finally be healthy enough to have the best game of his still-developing college career on Saturday.
 
San Francisco Chronicle
Senior defensive end Rulon Davis sprinted to the sideline Saturday after Cal's 37-16 win in the 111th Big Game and grabbed the Stanford Axe. He held it high above his head as fans and even his teammates tried to touch it.
 
San Jose Mercury News
The game turned on two plays, and Cal's Jahvid Best wasn't involved in either. Nor was Shane Vereen, Kevin Riley, Syd'Quan Thompson or any of the usual suspects in Blue and Gold.
 
Palo Alto Online
There was reason to celebrate and reason to despair. The Stanford football team, despite losing four of its last five games, finished a remarkable season with a look toward an even better tomorrow.
 
Inside Bay Area
Cal did its part in its quest to go to the best bowl game possible. Stanford won't be going to any bowl game at all.
 
San Jose Mercury News
Cal's student newspaper distributed a special edition before the Big Game on Saturday.
 
Daily Californian
On Saturday, the senior captain and the rest of the Cal football team made good on that promise with a 36-17 triumph over Stanford.
 
Inside Bay Area
Two games remain in Cal's football season — two weeks from now against 0-11 Washington, and the sub-orbital bowl game to follow.
 
San Jose Mercury News
After a slow first half, Cal exploded for three touchdowns in the first 7:52 of the third quarter to turn a close game into a rout.
 
Examiner.com
Revenge is a dish best served...period.
 

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