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Ranking The Big Games Of The Decade: #6 2003 Big Game

[We are ranking the Big Games of the Aughts.  So far, we have 2007, 2000, 2001, and then 2006.  Now, the 6th best Big Game, 2003.]

When playing Big Game Word Association (which is all the rage at the TwistNHook household), it is usually not so difficult:

2002 - Catharsis

2001 - Devastation

2007 - Anger

2009 - Jubilation

2004 - Marshawn

But try to play the game with the 2003 Big Game.  What is the first thing that pops into your mind?  Nothing.  It's the least memorable Big Game of the decade (Win or lose).  Somehow in our rankings it managed to edge out 2006 as the 2nd worst win of the decade.  This is presumably because expectations were so high in 2006.  When Cal barely edged a remarkably bad Stanford team Cal fans did their best USC impersonation. "We only beat Stanford by 9?!?!?"

In 2003, Cal fans had no such delusions of grandeur.  Cal was an inconsistent and mediocre team.  Sure, we can giant kill USC in a triple OT classic and put up over 50 against Arizona and Washington.  But we started off 1-3 on the year and ended 8-6, including a brutal loss against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.  This was not a great Cal team, but things were trending the right direction.  After the jump, let's discuss Cal's 28-16 victory over Stanford in the 2003 Big Game.

When the 2003 season is discussed, of course, the first item that pops to mind is that Triple OT USC game.  I cherish everything about that game.  However, another key game that season had to be Cal's 54-7 rout of Washington.  Yes, you read that right.  54-7!  Read some of the highlights from that game:

Geoff McArthur had six catches for a career-high 180 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown reception in the opening seconds, and California set a school record with 729 total yards in a 54-7 rout of Washington on Saturday.

729 yards.  729 yards!!!!!!!!!!


Cal ended a 28-year home losing streak to the Huskies with the Golden Bears' most lopsided victory in the series since 1921 when they won 72-3.

We kept breaking losing streaks in those early Tedford years.  First win at Pullman since nineteen dickety three.  First win against Oregon State since the steam engine was invented.  Here, it was the first win against UW at home in 28 attempts.  And what a win!


J.J. Arrington carried 14 times for 185 yards in place of starter Adimchinobe Echemandu, the Pac-10's second-leading rusher held out with a sprained ankle, and the Bears averaged more than 10 yards per carry while rushing for 381 yards.

Averaged over 10 yards per carry.  That is so insane!  Rushed for 381 yards!

McArthur, the nation's second-leading receiver, had four catches for 131 yards in the first quarter and broke the school's all-time single-season record for receiving yards. McArthur now has 1,259 yards and has gone over 150 yards receiving four times this season.

Remember, this was the game right before the Big Game.  So, Cal had all the momentum going up against Stanford.

All that momentum helped Cal rack up a solid 0 points in the first 2+ quarters into the Big Game.  Stanford led 10-0 until about 11 minutes left in the 3rd quarter when GMac caught a 44 yard TD pass.  The problem was not necessarily that the offense was impotent up to that point.  In fact, looking at the stats you can see that Cal really dominated this Big Game, even if the score didn't reflect it for the first half and change:


FIRST DOWNS................... 31 14
Rushing..................... 11 2
Passing..................... 17 10
Penalty..................... 3 2
Rushing Attempts.............. 38 30
Yards Gained Rushing.......... 182 124
Yards Lost Rushing............ 8 47
NET YARDS RUSHING............. 174 77
NET YARDS PASSING............. 359 207
Passes Attempted............ 38 35
Passes Completed............ 26 16
Had Intercepted............. 1 1
TOTAL NET YARDS............... 533 284
Average Gain Per Play....... 7.0 4.4
Fumbles: Number-Lost.......... 7-3 1-1
Penalties: Number-Yards....... 5-43 5-45
Number of Punts-Yards......... 3-127 8-348
Average Per Punt............ 42.3 43.5
Punt Returns: Number-Yards.... 1-4 1-0
Kickoff Returns: Number-Yards. 1-15 3-59
Interceptions: Number-Yards... 1-0 1-10
Fumble Returns: Number-Yards.. 0-0 0-0
Miscellaneous Yards........... 0 0
Possession Time............... 34:04 25:56
Third-Down Conversions........ 2 of 10 4 of 16
Fourth-Down Conversions....... 1 of 2 0 of 1
Red-Zone Scores-Chances....... 2-3 1-3
Sacks By: Number-Yards........ 1-15 2-5


Over double the first downs.  Almost double the yards.  Almost 10 more minutes of possession.  Then, what was it that kept Cal from scoring a TD for so long?  As usual, it is the turn overs.  Killer killer turn overs.  Cal ended up throwing an interception and fumbling 7 (7!) times, losing 3 of them.  The list of fumbles reads like a who's who of Cal stars of that era:

FUMBLES: California-Echemandu, A. 2-1; Rodgers, Aaron 2-0; Arrington, JJ 1-0; Bethea, James
1-1; McArthur, Geoff 1-1.


Anyone who was anyone was fumbling.  Fortunately, Cal got most of them back, but turning the ball over 4 times is going to kill any offense. The turnovers certainly helped out Stanford, too.  It started on the very first play of the game:

Sgroi, Michael kickoff 64 yards to the CAL1, Bethea, James return 17
yards to the CAL18, fumble forced by Rushing, T.J., fumble by Bethea, James
recovered by STAN Sgroi, Michael at CAL16.
S 1-10 C16 STANFORD drive start at 14:51 (1st).
S 1-10 C16 Lemon, J.R. rush for 3 yards to the CAL13 (Maningo, Joe).
S 2-7 C13 Lemon, J.R. rush for 4 yards to the CAL9 (Gutierrez, Ryan).
S 3-3 C09 PENALTY CAL offside defense 5 yards to the CAL4, 1ST DOWN
S 1-G C04 Lemon, J.R. rush for loss of 1 yard to the CAL5 (Blay-Miezah,
F.;Beckham, Josh).
S 2-G C05 Lewis, Chris pass incomplete to Smith, Alex (Maningo, Joe).
S 3-G C05 Lewis, Chris pass incomplete to Marrero, David.
S 4-G C05 Sgroi, Michael field goal attempt from 22 GOOD, clock 12:30.


James Bethea fumbles the opening kick off.  The Cal D manages to make it a little interesting, given that they only have 16 yards to work with, but, still, they give up the field goal.  3-0 almost immediately.  Then, check out this series:

C 1-10 C20 CALIFORNIA drive start at 10:14 (1st).
C 1-10 C20 Echemandu, A. rush to the CAL26, fumble forced by Craven, Michael, fumble by
Echemandu, A. recovered by STAN Atogwe, O. at CAL24.
--------------- 1 plays, 4 yards, TOP 00:06 ---------------

S 1-10 C24 STANFORD drive start at 10:08 (1st).
S 1-10 C24 Lewis, Chris pass complete to Powell, Luke for 24 yards to the CAL0,
1ST DOWN STAN, TOUCHDOWN, clock 10:03.
Sgroi, Michael kick attempt good.


Cal gets the ball just a few minutes into the game, already down 3-0 after an early snafu.  Adimcinobe Echemandu rushes for 6 yards and then immediately fumbles.  Stanford only has to go 24 yards for the TD, which they accomplish in 1 play.  1 play!  Now, Cal is down, near immediately into the game 10-0.

Here is another interesting series:


  C 1-10 C13   CALIFORNIA drive start at 05:47 (1st).
C 1-10 C13 Arrington, JJ rush for 2 yards to the CAL15 (Bergeron, David).
C 2-8 C15 Rodgers, Aaron pass complete to McArthur, Geoff for 11 yards to the CAL26,
1ST DOWN CAL (Torrence, Leigh).
C 1-10 C26 Arrington, JJ rush for 3 yards to the CAL29 (Gordon, Amon;Bergeron, David).
C 2-7 C29 Arrington, JJ rush for 5 yards to the CAL34 (Craven, Michael).
C 3-2 C34 Rodgers, Aaron pass complete to Toler, Burl for 4 yards to the CAL38, 1ST
DOWN CAL (Bergeron, David).
C 1-10 C38 Rodgers, Aaron rush to the CAL39, fumble by Rodgers, Aaron recovered by CAL
Philip, Marvin at CAL39.
C 2-9 C39 Rodgers, Aaron pass incomplete to McArthur, Geoff.
C 3-9 C39 Rodgers, Aaron pass complete to McArthur, Geoff for 8 yards to the CAL47
(Torrence, Leigh).
C 4-1 C47 Arrington, JJ rush for no gain to the CAL47 (Carroll, Casey;Svitek, Will).
--------------- 9 plays, 34 yards, TOP 03:23 ---------------

Cal gets the ball at its own 13 and marches to midfield.  Then, in a scene interesting reminiscent of a road not traveled in the 2009 Big Game, Cal tries for it on 4th and 1 at the Stanford midfield.  They do NOT make it, giving Stanford key field position.  Fortunately, the Cal D stiffens on the day.  Here is another missed opportunity and a reason why Cal had so many more yards compared to Stanford than points compared to Stanford:

 C 1-10 C20   CALIFORNIA drive start at 10:13 (2nd).
C 1-10 C20 Echemandu, A. rush for 3 yards to the CAL23 (Bergeron, David;Newberry,
C 2-7 C23 Rodgers, Aaron pass complete to Rust, John for 20 yards to the CAL43, 1ST
DOWN CAL (Atogwe, O.).
C 1-10 C43 Rodgers, Aaron pass incomplete to McArthur, Geoff (Atogwe, O.).
C 2-10 C43 Rodgers, Aaron pass incomplete to Hall, Brandon.
C 3-10 C43 Rodgers, Aaron pass complete to McArthur, Geoff for 9 yards to the STAN48
(Wilson, Stanley).
C 4-1 S48 Echemandu, A. rush for 4 yards to the STAN44, 1ST DOWN CAL (Atogwe,
C 1-10 S44 Echemandu, A. rush for loss of 2 yards to the STAN46 (Newberry, Jared).
C 2-12 S46 Rodgers, Aaron pass complete to Rust, John for 20 yards to the STAN26,
C 1-10 S26 Echemandu, A. pass incomplete to Rust, John (Atogwe, O.), PENALTY STAN
offside defense 5 yards to the STAN21, NO PLAY.
C 1-5 S21 Echemandu, A. rush for 2 yards to the STAN19 (Craven, Michael).
C 2-3 S19 Echemandu, A. rush for 5 yards to the STAN14, 1ST DOWN CAL (Jenkins,
C 1-10 S14 Echemandu, A. pass incomplete to Rust, John.
C 2-10 S14 Echemandu, A. rush for 1 yard to the STAN13 (Torrence, Leigh).
C 3-9 S13 Rodgers, Aaron pass incomplete to Gray, David.
C 4-9 S13 Fredrickson, T. field goal attempt from 30 MISSED - wide left, spot at
STAN20, clock 05:17.
--------------- 14 plays, 67 yards, TOP 04:56 ---------------

Cal receives the ball at the 20.  Marches downfield, mostly by pounding the ball with Echemandu.  A halfback pass is even thrown in there, although it doesn't work.  The drive stalls at the 13 and Tyler Frederickson proceeds to miss the chip shot.  14 plays.  67 yards.  4:56 TOP. 

0 points.

Oh well.  Of course, Stanford returned the favor on the next drive, going 64 yards on 11 plays and missing their own field goal.  It was a rough day for kickers overall.  Frederickson had another field goal blocked in the 3rd quarter.  Ai!  Look at his day:

Field goal attempts
Fredrickson, T. 2nd 05:17 30 yds - Missed
Fredrickson, T. 2nd 00:00 49 yds - Missed
Fredrickson, T. 3rd 04:38 48 yds - Blocked


Ruh roh!  Then, in the 4th quarter, the Cal offense finally stopped shooting itself in the foot and just let it all hang out:

4th 14:55 CAL - Strang, Vincent 14 yd pass from Rodgers, Aaron (Fredrickson, T. kick)
7 plays, 82 yards, TOP 2:50, CAL 14 - STAN 10
10:07 CAL - McArthur, Geoff 21 yd pass from Rodgers, Aaron (Fredrickson, T. kick)
2 plays, 34 yards, TOP 0:31, CAL 21 - STAN 10
01:39 CAL - Echemandu, A. 17 yd run (Fredrickson, T. kick)
11 plays, 70 yards, TOP 7:20, CAL 28 - STAN 10

Just a few seconds into the 4th quarter, Vinnie Strang catches the go ahead TD.  Cal gets up 14-10 and never looks back.  Geoff MacArthur scores his second TD of the day and then the running back formerly known as Joe Echema caps off the scoring with a 17 yard running to end a 70 yard 11 play drive.  That was a true thing of beauty.  Let's check this out:

  C 1-10 C30   CALIFORNIA drive start at 08:59 (4th).
C 1-10 C30 Arrington, JJ rush for 1 yard to the CAL31 (Hobson, Louis).
C 2-9 C31 Rodgers, Aaron pass complete to Lyman, Chase for 10 yards to the CAL41,
1ST DOWN CAL (Hobson, Louis).
C 1-10 C41 Echemandu, A. rush to the CAL49, fumble forced by Craven, Michael, fumble by
Echemandu, A. recovered by CAL Echemandu, A. at CAL49.
C 2-2 C49 Arrington, JJ rush for 4 yards to the STAN47, 1ST DOWN CAL (Gordon,
C 1-10 S47 Arrington, JJ rush to the STAN47, fumble forced by Jenkins, Julian, fumble
by Arrington, JJ recovered by CAL Murphy, Chris at STAN47.
C 2-10 S47 Echemandu, A. rush for 3 yards to the STAN44 (Newberry, Jared;Jenkins,
C 3-7 S44 Echemandu, A. rush for 9 yards to the STAN35, 1ST DOWN CAL (Newberry,
C 1-10 S35 Echemandu, A. rush for 3 yards to the STAN32 (Bergeron, David).
C 2-7 S32 Echemandu, A. rush for 6 yards to the STAN26 (Bergeron, David).
C 3-1 S26 Timeout California, clock 03:05.
C 3-1 S26 Echemandu, A. rush for no gain to the STAN26 (Svitek, Will), PENALTY STAN
offside defense 5 yards to the STAN21, 1ST DOWN CAL, NO PLAY.
C 1-10 S21 Echemandu, A. rush for 4 yards to the STAN17 (Newberry, Jared).
C 2-6 S17 Echemandu, A. rush for 17 yards to the STAN0, 1ST DOWN CAL,
TOUCHDOWN, clock 01:39.
Fredrickson, T. kick attempt good.

With Cal up 21-10, one solid drive could take a lot of time off the clock.  Cal has always had great running backs in the Tedford era, thanks to Coach Ron Gould.  In 2006, it was Marshawn and Forsett.  In 2009, it was Best and Vereen.  In 2003, it was Echemandu and Arrington.  Tedford just leaned on them the entire drive, even though Arrington actually fumbled at one point.  Thankfully, it was recovered by Cal.  There was only 1 pass attempt a 10 yard completion from Rodgers to Chase Lyman, who was not injured just long enough to catch a pass! 

I've spoken the entire time about the Cal offense, but much credit should be given to the Cal defense.  After Stanford got up 10-0 just a few minutes into the game (thanks to two Cal turnovers deep in their own territory), the D gave up no more points up until there were 0:00 seconds left in the game.  Yes, the desperation pass worked:

    00:00 STAN - Bradford, Mark 30 yd pass from Lewis, Chris (Lewis, Chris pass failed)
8 plays, 66 yards, TOP 1:39, CAL 28 - STAN 16


The Mark Bradford who, years later, would torment USC in the final seconds of a game catches his own end of game TD.  Of course, it was ultimately meaningless. Let the celebration begin!  Unlike the 1999 Big Game or the 2001 Big Game, the two previous ones at Stanford, there were no riots or even attempted riots.  There was just the simple joy of a Cal team winning at Stanford Stadium for the first time in what seemed like infinity years.  Plus one.

The numbers that jump out at me first are the receiving numbers:

Receiving             No.  Yds   TD Long
McArthur, Geoff 16 245 2 44
Rust, John 2 40 0 20


Yes, *that* John Rust!  In all seriousness, Geoff McArthur is one of the most forgotten WRs in recent Cal history, because he wasn't flashy like DeSean or The Hawk.  However, week in and week out he just plain put up great numbers.  The running numbers are still impressive, even if nothing can quite top the insanity of Cal's One Wide Receiver Policy.

Rushing              No Gain Loss  Net TD Lg  Avg
Echemandu, A. 16 89 2 87 1 17 5.4
Rodgers, Aaron 7 60 5 55 0 23 7.9
Arrington, JJ 14 33 1 32 0 11 2.3


Arrington didn't exactly have the greatest game, but Rodgers was able to scramble well.  Echemandu had a commanding performance at the tail end of the game when Cal needed to grind out the clock.  If MacArthur is one of the forgotten WRs, Adimchinobe Echemandu, Tedford's first great RB is sorely underappreciated by today's fans.  I doubt Stanford underappreciated him after the 2003 Big Game.  Finally, let's look at the passing attack:

Passing              Att-Cmp-Int Yds TD Long Sack
Rodgers, Aaron 37-26-1 359 3 44 2

Any way you slice those numbers, they look good.  Damn good.  Aaron Rodgers good.  70% completion rate!  3 TDs to only 1 interception. 

This is a game that Cal kept frustratingly close.  Sweeping in off the momentum of the UW shellacking, they could have easily destroyed Stanford by a much larger margin.  Both of Stanford's TDs have asteriks on them, the first coming with a ridiculously short field and the last being a desperation heave with zero ticks left on the clock.  In between, the Cal offense would march methodically down the field behind the staunch running of Adimchinobe Echemandu and the Rodgers-McArthur connection only to shoot itself in the foot.  Whether it was missing close field goals or fumbleitis, Cal kept letting Stanford right back into the game.  That is hard to do when Stanford is up 10-0 for the vast majority of the game.  Finally, Cal stopped stunting its offensive prowess and ran up 21 points in just one quarter. 

If only they were clicking on all cylinders the entire game.  Oh well.  A win is a win is a win is a win, right?  This was especially true considering it helped Cal get its first Bowl Game since 1996!  With each game in the Tedford era, streaks kept dying.  Whether it was losing to Stanford at Stanford Stadium or sitting the bowl season out, those days were done.  We were entering the Tedford Era.  GO BEARS!