Cal TOPs Stanford w/ Time-Of-Possession

It hurts to wake up on Monday morning and realize that Stanford somehow failed to hand the rock to the greatest scoring machine in Bay Area football history, but reality has sunk in. Cal won. We shoulda and coulda, but they did. The Bootleg's Scott Cooley looks at the 112th Big Game, one that could have been one for the ages, but instead produced fits and rages. Beat the Irish!

Cal "TOP"s Stanford w/ Time-Of-Possession

 

Not even a skillfully landed opening coin toss from the legendary Tiger Woods could help Stanford defeat its arch-nemesis.

 

California pick-pocketed the recipe for success from the Cardinal and beat power-rushing Stanford at its own game in a 28-34 defeat Saturday night.

 

Coming into the Big Game, Stanford had won the time of possession battle in eight of 10 contests, averaging 33 minutes per game, by using efficient passing and a steady dose of one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the country.

 

The Golden Bears executed that gameplan exactly while dominating time-of-possession by almost a 2-to-1 margin (39:06 to 20:54). Shane Vereen was "Toby Gerhart" for Cal in this game, carrying the rock 42 times for 193 yards and a trio of scores.

 

A surprisingly accurate Kevin Riley orchestrated lengthy touchdown drives of 92, 85, 72 and 72 yards which kept Stanford's potent offense off the field for extended periods of the game.

 

"A lot of credit goes to their offense," said Gerhart. "They sustained long drives and that kept us off the field. It didn't allow us to really get into a rhythm. We've got to take credit for not allowing our defense to rest and not making plays when we had the chance."

 

Stanford lost the battle in the trenches defensively which provided Vereen with gaping running lanes. That success allowed Riley to dink and dunk down the field all night, completing 17-of-31 passes for 235 yards while appearing to be the best quarterback on the field Saturday.

 

The direct-snap "Wildcat" formation also gave the Cardinal defense problems all night with Vereen lining up in the spread variation at least a dozen times. And as has been the case in previous games this season, Stanford's tackling on defense was less than fundamentally sound.

 

"They've had success with [the Wildcat] so we prepared for it all week," safety Bo McNally said. "I just think guys weren't sustaining their gaps like they should. They did a good job blocking us and we didn't get off the blocks as well as we should have."

 

After building an early two-touchdown lead, the wave of momentum swung and Stanford faced adversity on its home turf for the first time all season and unfortunately did not respond very well.

 

The Cardinal offense simply didn't resemble the same team that just hung 55 and 51 points the last two weeks against two of the better defenses in the Pac-10 conference. And that ineffectiveness began with uncharacteristic play from supremely gifted young quarterback Andrew Luck.

 

Sure we've come to expect Luck to play like a seasoned senior every game, because he had, but Stanford fans must realize that he is still a young, developing player. But even #12 would tell you that his performance in the Big Game was not on level of where it needed to be. He is his own harshest critic.

 

"It was sub-par; not very good," Luck said of his overall play. "I know we had a chance at the end, but I didn't make the play when it counted."

 

While this was clearly a "team loss", the redshirt freshman appeared jittery all night long. Uncharacteristically, Luck muffed three snaps out of the shotgun and zipped a few balls past receivers on throws he usually executes with precision touch.

 

"[Luck] missed a couple throws," said head coach Jim Harbaugh. "But we just get so used to Andrew painting every throw on the money every time, and that's not realistic."

 

Luck had his worst game statistically, completing only 10-of-30 passes for 157 yards with one touchdown and one interception which resulted in his quarterback rating dropping from 151.8 to 142.8.

 

The staple of the Cardinal offense, Toby "The Juggernaut" Gerhart, put together another Heisman-caliber outing against the Golden Bears. The senior rumbled for 136 yards and four scores, but his biggest play of the night came on a reception during Stanford's final drive.

 

The "manimal" Gerhart broke four tackles on his way to picking up a 29-yard gain to the Bear 12 and setting up Stanford for a excellent chance to get go-ahead touchdown. If only the best running back in college football could have broken one more.

 

After Gerhart averaged 6.8 yards per carry during the contest, the entire world wanted to know why Coach Harbaugh elected not to utilize one of the most potent, most reliable, most undeniable offensive weapons in Stanford history while inside the 15-yard line with a minute and a half to go. But at least Coach Harbaugh was man enough to admit his mistake after the game.

 

"I should have probably run the ball a couple of times when we got inside the 15," he said. "We should have come back to [Gerhart] in the end."

 

Harbaugh (with David Shaw) has been one of the most effective play-callers in college football during the last month of the season, but the 2009 Big Game was not one of his finest days.

 

The offensive gameplan looked abandoned even earlier than the final few drives. Around the 13-minute mark in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh called for back-to-back long bombs while only trailing by 10 points. Two incompletions of more than 40 yards to Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen were followed by another Luck incompletion.

 

Gerhart was handed the ball three times the entire fourth quarter and gained 28 yards and a touchdown on those touches. It's been questioned over and over, but with a minute and a half left in the game how do you not give the ball to your best player at least two times on the final drive and more than thrice the entire fourth?

 

"We felt like we had to score and score quick," stated Harbaugh.

 

Since when does the Cardinal offense operate in quick fashion? Even when down by 24 points against Oregon State, Harbaugh did not deviate from the gameplan and Stanford nearly came back to win. Hard to understand.

 

Gerhart supplanted Fresno State's Ryan Mathews in rushing yardage with 1,531 on the season, but UTEP's Donald Buckram has taken over the nation's lead with 1,569 yards.

 

The largest crowd in the new Stanford Stadium history (50,510) witnessed Gerhart break three school rushing records.

 

With four rushing touchdowns in the game, Gerhart now has 23 on the season which places him atop the NCAA leaderboard and set a single-season team record. Gerhart's remarkable career TD total of 39 also established a school record, passing the same Cardinal legend – "Touchdown Tommy" Vardell.

 

The most deserving Heisman candidate has rushed for at least 100 yards in five straight games which has never been done by another Stanford tailback. Gerhart's 61-yard touchdown burst on Stanford's opening drive was the longest of his career.

 

The Cardinal look to rebound from the devastating Big Game loss against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5:00 p.m. (PT).

Here's a suggested gameplan. More Toby. Let him shine and get out from under the shadow cast by the final sequence of the 112th Big Game. Dance with the date you brought to the prom! Better chance to score.


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