Ranking The Big Games Of The Decade: #3 2008

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via imgs.sfgate.com

[We are ranking the Big Games of the Aughts.  So far, we have 2007, 2000, 2001, 2006, 2003, 2005, and 2004.  Now, the 3rd best Big Game, 2008.]

It was up and it was good!  Stanford fans cheered wildly.  With 7 seconds left in the first half of the 2008 Big Game, Stanford kicker Aaron Zagory had put the Cardinal on the board with a field goal.  Now, Cal was only up 10-3.  Sounds like a tight game, right?  Wrong.

With a 21 point victory and 200+ rushing yards for superstar RB  Jahvid Best, you'd think something on offense would be the true key of the 2008 Big Game.  The reality was that for all of the trickeration and flat out awesomeness by the offense, the Cal D was the single most important aspect of that game.  I say this in both a positive and a negative way.  Positive, because in the first half, before Cal's expected offensive explosion, Stanford only scored 3 points.  Negative, because keeping Stanford to 3 was a tightrope walk to end all tightrope walks!

In total, Stanford had only 4 drives in the entire first half.  They had 3 drives of 11 plays or more.  They had 233 yards (in the first half alone!).They held the ball for well over 15 minutes in that first half.   This was not the lock down D Cal fans were hoping for from Pain Train and his merry band of pranksters.  However, for all of the yards, for all of the time of possession, for all the offensive plays, they ended up with a missed field goal, a fumble, and a measly field goal at the end of regulation.  Yes, like the Iceman, the Cal D giveth, but also taketh away. 

 

                 Drive Started             Drive Ended             Consumed
Team     Qtr Spot Time   Obtained      Spot Time   How Lost      Pl-Yds   TOP
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
STAN     1st S30  13:00  Kickoff       S45  11:32  Punt           4-15   1:28
STAN     1st S01  09:23  Punt          C08  03:30  Missed FG     11-91   5:53#
STAN     2nd S20  13:45  Interception  C10  07:19  Fumble        11-70   6:26#
STAN     2nd S25  04:05  Kickoff       C03  00:07 *FIELD GOAL    12-72   3:58#

Cal ended up winning 37-16.  However, like so many Big Games where large scores masked an oddly ineffective Cal team, the story of the 2008 Big Game is not pure Cal dominance.  In 2003, it was 7 fumbles.  In 2008, it was a first half that really should have ended with Stanford up 21-7 instead of down 10-3.  But it didn't and you don't get points for going 91 yards on 11 plays.  Or 70 yards on 11 plays.  You get points for doing what Cal did in the second half.  Punching the ball in the endzone!  After the jump, let's take a closer look at this Jekyll and Hyde game.

The 2008 team was really a Jekyll and Hyde team.  At home, Cal was dominant, beating Michigan State to start the season and going 7-0.  Oh the road, unless you were playing in Pullman, WA, it was a totally different story.  Cal went 1-4 on the road, losing to Maryland, Arizona, USC, and OSU.  Another aspect of the Jekyll and Hyde story was the revolving door at QB.  Longshore?  Riley?  Riley?  Longshore?  Rilshore?  Longley?  Goldberg?  McGarnigal?  Who knew who was starting for Cal!  In some games, whether due to injury or ineffectiveness, both QBs played.  Tedford was mixing and matching to try to find the right QB at the right time.  Sometimes Riley would play well, as he did against MSU:

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - Kevin Riley passed for 202 yards and two second-half touchdowns, and Shane Vereen broke an 81-yard scoring run with 4:21 left in California 's 38-31 victory over Michigan State on Saturday night.

Other times, Longshore would play well, as he did in a monsoon against Oregon:

Nate Longshore stepped in for injured Kevin Riley and passed for 136 yards for the Golden Bears (6-2, 4-1 Pac-10), who stayed in the thick of the conference race with their fourth victory in their last five meetings with Oregon.

Heading into the Stanford game, however, Cal was in a bit of a rut.  Losses to USC and OSU, on the road, the weeks before, had put Cal fans in a foul mood.  Stanford fans were not much happier, coming off of two losses themselves.  However, they were desperate for a win.  At 5-6, a win would put them at 6-6 and in contention for a possible goal.  Not the Rose Bowl, but like Cal in 2003, Stanford fans were desperate for any bowl game!  The Stanford team needed this game!  Of course, they were riding high off of their stunning victory over Cal the year before in the worst and most perplexing Cal loss of the decade.  It was two teams ready to get off the shneid that met that fateful day in 2008.


For all the discussion of Stanford dominating the first half, it was Cal that jumped out to a fast start.  Literally.  Jahvid Best had a 60 yard run on the second play of the game.  Watch Danzig's highlight video above and you'll see him dodge a few tackles and make his way north.  Unfortunately, the drive ended with a field goal:

      C 1-10 C20   Best, Jahvid rush PR for 6 yards to the CAL26, out-of-bounds (Wopamo
                   Osaisai).
      C 2-4  C26   Best, Jahvid rush LA for 60 yards to the STAN14, 1ST DOWN CAL,
                   out-of-bounds (Kris Evans).
      C 1-10 S14   Vereen, Shane rush over left tackle for 3 yards to the STAN11 (Will
                   Powers;Pannel Egboh).
      C 2-7  S11   Riley, Kevin LL pass incomplete to Morrah, Cameron.
      C 3-7  S11   [SHOT], Riley, Kevin EZ pass incomplete to Ross, Jeremy.
      C 4-7  S11   TAVECCHIO, G. field goal attempt from 28 GOOD, clock 13:04.

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via TheNick

After that, Stanford did jump out to a massive start.  They more or less flat out dominated the first half, beating Cal pillar to post.  Thanks to Tyson Alualu stripping Toby Gerhart, Cal managed to keep Stanford out of the end zone at the last possible moment.  Then, Riley struck!

C 1-10 C41   Riley, Kevin slant pass complete to Vereen, Shane for 59 yards to the
                   STAN0, 1ST DOWN CAL, TOUCHDOWN, clock 04:10, TAVECCHIO, G. kick
                   attempt good.

Vereen actually caught this ball right in front of me and it was truly gorgeous.  Cal was up 10-0, but Stanford had one more punch in them.  They marched back down the field and even have 3 shots inside the Cal 10.  Check this out:

S 1-G  C09   Tavi Pritchard RR pass complete to Anthony Kimble for 8 yards to the CAL1
               (Ezeff, Marcus;FOLLETT, Zack).
  S 2-G  C01   Clock 00:21.
  S 2-G  C01   Toby Gerhart rush over left guard for no gain to the CAL1 (Alualu, Tyson).
  S 3-G  C01   Timeout Stanford, clock 00:15.
  S 3-G  C01   Toby Gerhart rush right for loss of 2 yards to the CAL3 (Follett, Zack;KANE,
               Mika).

Tavi Pritchard brought them down to the one and then Stanford tried to just stuff it down Cal's throat.  NOT IN OUR DOMICILE! 

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via TrisWeb

Pb226387

via TrisWeb

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via TrisWeb

Alualu and Follet shut Gerhart down in a huge development. We discussed this huge goal line stand here.  Certainly, 10-7 is far different than 10-3, going into the second half.

Houdini magic(k) aside, Cal should not have been in a position to double its lead quickly into the second half.  However, with this one play immediately into the second half, Cal put itself right in that position:

              Stanford elects to receive; Cal will defend north goal.
      C 2-12 C29   Start of 3rd quarter, clock 15:00, CAL ball on CAL30.
--------------- 1 plays, minus 2 yards, TOP 00:05 ---------------

                   TAVECCHIO, G. kickoff 52 yards to the STAN18, out-of-bounds, STAN ball
                   on STAN40.
  S 1-10 S40   Clock 15:00.
  S 1-10 S40   STAN ball on STAN40.
  S 1-10 S40   Tavi Pritchard pass intercepted by Young, Eddie at the STAN45, Young, Eddie
               return 17 yards to the STAN28 (Toby Gerhart).
--------------- 1 plays, 0 yards, TOP 03:02 ---------------

Ok, so let's see here.  Stanford is receiving.  The Italian Stallion kicks off and it goes out of bounds.  Ruh roh!  And now Stanford has the ball at their 40 and surely they will continue to push the Cal D and wait a second, Eddie Young, what were your thoughts about that???  Oh yes, I agree.  You should intercept that ball and take it back 28 yards.  On the first play from scrimmage.

Continuing Tedford's all-day plan of a steady diet of Best/Vereen, Cal rushed down the field and immediately cashed in on with an awesome TD:

      C 1-10 S28   CAL ball on STAN28.
      C 1-10 S28   [SHOT], Best, Jahvid rush up middle for 8 yards to the STAN20 (Chike
                   Amajoyi).
      C 2-2  S20   Ta'ufo'ou, Will rush up middle for 4 yards to the STAN16, 1ST DOWN
                   CAL
(Matth Masifilo;Chike Amajoyi).
      C 1-10 S16   Riley, Kevin middle pass complete to Best, Jahvid for 11 yards to the
                   STAN5, 1ST DOWN CAL (Bo McNally).
      C 1-G  S05   Best, Jahvid rush right for 1 yard to the STAN4, out-of-bounds (Pat
                   Maynor).
                   Best took  direct snap from center.
      C 2-G  S04   Vereen, Shane rush up middle for 3 yards to the STAN1 (Will Powers;Sean
                   Wiser).
      C 3-G  S01   Timeout Stanford, clock 12:03.
      C 3-G  S01   Riley, Kevin EZ pass complete to Morrah, Cameron for 1 yard to the
                   STAN0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 11:58, TAVECCHIO, G. kick attempt good.

It says that Riley threw a pass to Cameron Morrah for a 1 yard TD.  However, it was much more awesome than that!  Tedford called a misdirection play that left Cameron Morrah all alone in the southeast corner of the South end zone.  This all took place right in front of me and seemed to last 400 years.  Morrah was wide open and Riley started to throw the pass.  His arm moved in slow motion and the ball slowly spiraled through the air like we were playing in sort of giant bowl of molasses.  As a Cal fan, I assumed that, up until the point at which Morrah actually caught the ball with his hands, somehow someway this would completely fail.  Surprisingly, it did not!  Cal was up 17-3.  GO BEARS!

We were off to the races!

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via imgs.sfgate.com

That wasn't even the craziest TD of the day.  After Rulon Davis sacked Pritchard for an 8 yard loss, Stanford had to punt on the next drive and Cal was back in the driver's seat!  This was fun:

      C 1-10 C50   CAL drive start at 10:32.
      C 1-10 C50   Best, Jahvid rush ML for 36 yards to the STAN14, 1ST DOWN CAL
                   (Wopamo Osaisai;Kris Evans).
      C 1-10 S14   Riley, Kevin middle pass complete to Tucker, Verran for no gain to the
                   STAN14, Best, Jahvid for 14 yards to the STAN0, 1ST DOWN CAL,
                   TOUCHDOWN, clock 09:55.
                   TAVECCHIO, G. kick attempt good.

First up, Jahvid Best has a huge rush.  Then, a hook and lateral play.  It is confusing to read there, but basically Kevin Riley threw the ball to WR Verran Tucker, who immediately lateraled it to Jahvid Best.  Best sprinted in for another score, putting up Cal 24-3.  24-3!  All this was happening near the South goalzone, too.  Thanks, geography!  Another great play of trickeration.

Ba-biggame_0499482914_medium

via imgs.sfgate.com

Cal scored another couple of touchdowns, including a long TD run by Jahvid Best (music to my ears!).  The Cal D had some more great moments, including intercepting Pritchard again and stopping Gerhart on a 4th and 1 at the Cal 28. 

Let's take a look at the game stats:

                           STAN      CAL

FIRST DOWNS...................       23       17
  Rushing.....................        7       10
  Passing.....................       14        4
  Penalty.....................        2        3
NET YARDS RUSHING.............      123      287
  Rushing Attempts............       37       38
  Average Per Rush............      3.3      7.6
  Rushing Touchdowns..........        1        2
  Yards Gained Rushing........      158      308
  Yards Lost Rushing..........       35       21
NET YARDS PASSING.............      312      101
  Completions-Attempts-Int....  23-39-3   7-11-1
  Average Per Attempt.........      8.0      9.2
  Average Per Completion......     13.6     14.4
  Passing Touchdowns..........        1        3
TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS...........      435      388
  Total offense plays.........       76       49
  Average Gain Per Play.......      5.7      7.9
Fumbles: Number-Lost..........      1-1      0-0
Penalties: Number-Yards.......     7-54     3-25
PUNTS-YARDS...................    4-136    4-241
  Average Yards Per Punt......     34.0     60.2
  Net Yards Per Punt..........     32.5     55.2
  Inside 20...................        0        3
  50+ Yards...................        0        3
  Touchbacks..................        0        1
  Fair catch..................        2        1
KICKOFFS-YARDS................    2-109    7-388
  Average Yards Per Kickoff...     54.5     55.4
  Net Yards Per Kickoff.......     44.5     40.9
  Touchbacks..................        1        0
Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD.    0-0-0    1-6-0
  Average Per Return..........      0.0      6.0
Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD  5-102-0    0-0-0
  Average Per Return..........     20.4      0.0
Interceptions: Number-Yds-TD..    1-0-0   3-27-0
Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD.    0-0-0    0-0-0
Miscellaneous Yards...........        0        0
Possession Time...............    36:26    23:34
  1st Quarter.................     7:25     7:35
  2nd Quarter.................    10:29     4:31
  3rd Quarter.................    11:23     3:37
  4th Quarter.................     7:09     7:51
Third-Down Conversions........  4 of 13   3 of 9
Fourth-Down Conversions.......   2 of 3   1 of 1
Red-Zone Scores-Chances.......      2-4      4-5
Sacks By: Number-Yards........     1-15     4-31
PAT Kicks.....................      1-2      4-4
Field Goals...................      1-2      1-1

Stanford had more yards than Cal and 3 times as many passing yards as Cal.  We'll talk about the Cal passing game in a moment, but this was clearly a rushing attack.  Note the difference in time of possession.  Over 13 more minutes for Stnaford.  They particularly dominated the second and third quarter with over 10 minutes each.  An interesting note is that Cal punted as many times as Stanford:  4.  However, Cal had nearly 100 more punt yards.  Was this because Bryan Anger is a stud?  Was this because Stanford was punting closer to Cal territory?  Not sure, but that is quite the difference.

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via imgs.sfgate.com

Rushing totals:

Rushing         No Gain Loss  Net TD Lg  Avg
--------------------------------------------
Best, Jahvid    19  205    4  201  2 60 10.6
Vereen, Shane   12   56    0   56  0 16  4.7

The tandem of Best and Vereen (or Besreen) was stellar.  Best, in particular, had over 200 yards and averaged 10.6 yards a carry.  That..............is good.  He also had 2 touchdowns, including that sweet hook and lateral.

The flipside is that Cal didn't ask a lot of its passing game. 

Passing         Att-Cmp-Int Yds TD Long Sack
--------------------------------------------
Riley, Kevin      11-7-1    101  3   59    1

Riley didn't do bad, per se.  But he only had 11 attempts.  It helped that once Cal got up big, we were running a lot.  What is really, really interesting here is who Riley was throwing to:

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via imgs.sfgate.com

Receiving        No.  Yds   TD Long
-----------------------------------
Best, Jahvid       3   35    1   15
Vereen, Shane      1   59    1   59
Riley, Kevin       1    6    0    6
Morrah, Cameron    1    1    1    1
Tucker, Verran     1    0    0    0
Totals...          7  101    3   59

1 pass to a WR.  1 pass to a WR!  And it was the hook and lateral play.  1 pass to a WR for a grand total of 0 yards.  WHAT?!?!?!??  Vereen had that sweet TD down the sideline.  So......that was interesting.  Hey, when you have a running back like Jahvid Best, what more do you need?  Then, PARTY TIME!

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Let's leave with one last delightful memory:

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