ittle about Stanford’s victory in the 114th playing of Big Game will inspire much confidence in the Cardinal. But in putting away Cal in a surprisingly close 31-28 tilt, Stanford keeps the Axe on the Farm and lives to fight another BCS week. Here are your Big Game Quick Reads:
- Avoiding the 1st half of Stanford football games altogether might be a prudent strategy for the faint of heart. Again Stanford came out of the tunnel and played poorly. Cal led for much of the game’s first 30 minutes and only a 2nd-quarter Tyler Gaffney touchdown for Stanford let the Card enter halftime with a 1-point lead. On Saturday night, the 2nd half was only slightly better–Stanford expanded the margin by just 2 points after halftime–but the consistency of Stanford’s game-opening sluggishness remains baffling.
- Heresy though it may be, Andrew Luck’s slow start was no small part of the Card’s early struggles. Several of Luck’s throws in the first few series of the game were placed well over receivers’ heads. Even the 6′ 8″ Levine Toilolo couldn’t grab a pass that could have hit the junior tight end wide open in the flat for a big gain or possibly a touchdown early in the 1st quarter. Luck’s performance rather closely resembled the one he turned in last week against Oregon. His final stat line tonight: 20-30, 257 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception.
- Compare that to the performance of Cal quarterback Zach Maynard, who turned in one of his best games of the year: 20-30, 280 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions. And so we have reached a bizarre alternate universe in which Zach Maynard plays a better Big Game than Andrew Luck does. Rivalries are indeed unpredictable.
- Another mediocre game will not help Luck’s Heisman candidacy, which already took a hit after the Oregon game.
- Cal kept the game close by playing a pretty good game overall, but especially by succeeding in two realms: passing offense and run defense. Remember Thursday’s Stanford-Cal preview, which graphed Cal head coach Jeff Tedford’s increasing desire to move the ball through the running game. That didn’t show during Big Game. 78% of the Golden Bears’ yardage came through the air, which the team established early and often. The Cal run defense, led by a stingy defensive line, limited the Cardinal to 149 rushing yards and forced the Stanford coaching staff to distribute carries between Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Ryan Hewitt. Not a single Stanford player reached even 50 rushing yards on the evening.
- Taylor did get going enough to break 1000 rushing yards for the season, a feat he has now accomplished for two straight years. Barring injury, he should be able to make that three consecutive seasons during his senior campaign next fall.
- Stanford’s strongest defensive weapon against the Cal passing game was its front seven. The Card sacked Maynard 3 times, with Trent Murphy, Jarek Lancaster and Ben Gardner each picking up a sack.
- Fun Fact: Cal strong safety Sean Cattouse was the most active defensive player on either team during Big Game. The redshirt senior tied for a game-high 13 tackles (linebacker and teammate Mychal Kendricks also had 13), including a tackle for a loss and a defended pass attempt, before leaving late in the game with a right leg injury.
- Does the name Sean Cattouse sound vaguely familiar? Perhaps you remember him from last November.
- So Stanford didn’t play that well but kept the Axe. The really exciting part of the evening happened elsewhere. #2 Oklahoma State fell to Iowa State on Friday night while #5 Oklahoma, #4 Oregon and #7 Clemson (all of whom stood above #9 Stanford in the BCS) fell on Saturday. Rather than going through all of the scenarios for Stanford now–and doing so would be futile until the new BCS rankings come out on Sunday afternoon–suffice it to say that Stanford will be moving up in the polls and the BCS. The shot at a berth in the national championship game is still quite slim, but is substantially higher than it was in the middle of the week.
- Stanford doesn’t look like a top-5 team at the moment, and next week’s game will say more about whether the team is simply in a slump or merely benefitted from a soft schedule in the beginning of the year. Nonetheless, Stanford retains the Axe and another year of bragging rights over Berkeley.