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Ranking The Big Games Of The 2000s: #2 2009

[We are ranking the Big Games of the Aughts.  So far, we have 2007, 2000, 2001, 2006, 2003, 2005, 2004, and 2008.  Now, the 2nd best Big Game, 2009.]

There is a moment in any football play when silence falls.  The fans, used to generally screaming their heads off, focus solely on the play as it develops.  This pregnant silence envelops the stadium, while the linemen crash into each other and the ball spirals through the air.  Nobody else notices it, because they are drinking in the play on the field.  Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with the 2009 Big Game.  Why is Twist talking about the silence of the fans during a play?  Let me tell you a secret.

I'm insane.

Ok, that's not really a secret.  We all knew that.  But I believe in realities that should clearly put me squarely in the "insane" category.  None of this faked the moon landing or secret government conspiracy to create the Amero for me.  No, I go straight to the top of the insanity pyramid.  Here is my super secret insanity:

I believe my actions in the stands somehow someway affect the game on the field.

I know!  I know!  What am I thinking?  That wearing my hat one way or my hat another way can affect whether Shane Vereen hits the hole quick enough.  Or whether I am taking a photo of a play as it develops will cause the linebacker to make a key tackle.  This is my suddenly not so secret shame, one I suspect is held by many others. 

So, when I talk about the key, most important moment of the 2009 Big Game, I talk about Mike Mohamed's interception of Andrew Luck. This play sealed the deal in the waning moments of the game.  Many people like to boast, remembering how delightful it was to watch this moment.  But I somehow someway had it in my head that, during that last drive, if I was watching the play, Stanford would do well.  Stupidest superstition a fan can have, but I like to think that I was rising above.  I was making a selfless sacrifice for the greater good!  AND YOU ALL OWE ME!  I mean what's more important?  Me experiencing Cal football?  Or Cal winning?  When my wide-eyed peepers witnessed Stanford running back Toby Gerhart jaunt 30 yards down the sideline, I went into full freak out mode.  I immediately stopped watching the game.  Then, this happened:

 S 1-10 C13   12-Luck, A pass incomplete to 82-Fleener, C (15-Nnabuife, B.).
      S 2-10 C13   12-Luck, A pass intercepted by 18-Mohamed, Mike at the CAL3, 18-Mohamed,
                   Mike return 6 yards to the CAL9.

VICTORY!  All credit goes to me for my ingenious "Don't watch the play" technique!  You're welcome, dear reader!  While others get to brag about watching the play,  I get to boast about how delightful it was to hear this moment.  The silence of the play interrupted by one of the greatest roars I've ever experienced.  Thousands upon thousands of Cal fans exhaling a scream as Stanfurd Stadium again becoming once and FOR ALL, Bear Territory.  I'M HYPED UP, ARE YOU??? I'M WRITING IN ALL CAPS, ARE YOU?????  LET'S LOOK AT THE 2009 BIG GAME!  GO BEARS!

The story of the 2009 Big Game is a rare one for the 2000s Big Game.  One where people thought Stanford was the better team.  Sure, in the earliest part of the decade that was the case.  However, after Sheriff Tedford rolled into town, things changed for the better.  From 2002-2008, Cal always seemed to be the better team heading into the Big Game.  However, in 2009, it was certainly iffy.

Both teams were 7-3, but Stanford had 2 more wins in the Pac10 than Cal (they had also played an extra game).  Cal had actually won 4 out of their last 5, but it didn't seem like a team on the rise.  2 of those wins came against weak UCLA and WSU teams.  The ASU victory, on the road, in the last minute was impressive, but ASU wasn't exactly a world beater.  Two weeks previous, superstar RB Jahvid Best had played his last ever down for Cal in a horiffic incident.  I'll spare you the gory details, which you all certainly remember, but it was a shaken team coming out of that OSU loss.  People feared that the Cal team that had gotten absolutely, positively, totally, and completely OBLITERATED by Oregon and USC earlier in the season would return. 

Then, the Arizona game happened.  Led by the Nik Foles Air Attack, Arizona was a resurgent team.  Cal got up late in the game 17-16 with a Giorgio Tavecchio field goal, his 4rd of the day.  Foles immediately led the Arizona team down the field and seemed ready to, at the very least, put Arizona in position for a game winning field goal.  Stunningly, he moved Arizona out of field goal position with an illegal double pass.  Yes, an illegal double pass.  Cal ended up holding on with a late touchdown run from Shane Vereen to make it 24-16. 


Coming into the Big Game, Cal hoped to build off of the momentum from this surprising and very enjoyable victory.  Stanford, on the other hand, seemed on top of the world.  They had a 3 game winning streak.  They had scored over 50 points in the last two weeks when they crushed eventual Pac10 champion Oregon and perenial national powerhouse LA!  What they had just accomplished was unthinkable.  Sure, Cal had its nice win over an Arizona school that had put up more than 40 over Stanford, but Stanford had just What'syourdealed all over Oregon and USC, who had both dominated Cal.


IMG_9683 (via Monica's Dad)

It looked like it might be ugly.  And initially, all Cal fears were realized.  On the 3rd play from scrimmage, Toby Gerhart tore out our hearts:

  S 3-2  S39   7-Gerhart, T rush for 61 yards to the CAL0, 1ST DOWN STANFORD,
                   TOUCHDOWN, clock 13:24.

Immediately, Cal was down 7-0.  A few punts were exchanged before Stanford broke through with this sequence:

 C 4-4  C18   19-Anger, Bryan punt 1 yards to the CAL19, downed (blocked by 93-Thomas, C).
--------------- 3 plays, 6 yards, TOP 02:12 ---------------

      S 1-10 C19   STANFORD drive start at 06:55.
      S 1-10 C19   7-Gerhart, T rush for 2 yards to the CAL17 (44-Alualu, Tyson).
      S 2-8  C17   12-Luck, A pass incomplete to 8-Whalen, R.
      S 3-8  C17   12-Luck, A rush for 16 yards to the CAL1, 1ST DOWN STANFORD
                   (97-Jordan, Cameron).
      S 1-G  C01   7-Gerhart, T rush for loss of 1 yard to the CAL2 (18-Mohamed,
                   Mike;44-Alualu, Tyson).
      S 2-G  C02   7-Gerhart, T rush for 2 yards to the CAL0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 04:46.
                   39-Whitaker, N kick attempt good.

Stnaford blocked a Bryan Anger punt deep in Cal territory.  The Cal D made Stanford work for it, but with only 19 yards to go and Andrew Luck running his tucus off, Stanford was tough to stop.  Cal was quickly down 14-0 and it looked bad.  However, everything seemed to change after that point.  Cal's offense remember that the best defense is a good offense.  And the easiest way to keep Toby Gerhart out of the end zone was to keep him on the side lines.  Look at the drives that the Cal offense is pulling off in the middle portion of this game:

CAL      1st C26  04:40  Kickoff       S04  00:53 *FIELD GOAL    10-70   3:47#
CAL      2nd C22  14:00  Punt          S16  09:25  Interception  13-62   4:35#
CAL      2nd C15  06:33  Punt          S00  00:45 *TOUCHDOWN     14-85   5:48#
CAL      3rd C08  14:57  Kickoff       S00  09:55 *TOUCHDOWN     11-92   5:02#
CAL      3rd C28  08:52  Missed FG     S00  03:50 *TOUCHDOWN     10-72   5:02#

10 plays for 70 yards.  Only for a field goal, but it keeps Gerhart off the field.  13 plays for 62 yards.  Ok, ended with a rough interception, but still.  14 plays for 85 yards ends with a touchdown.  And what a key touchdown that was. 

Let's take a closer look at that drive.

C 1-10 C15   CALIFORNIA drive start at 06:33.
  C 1-10 C15   13-Riley, Kevin pass complete to 0E-Lagemann, Alex for 7 yards to the CAL22.
  C 2-3  C22   34-Vereen, Shane rush for 10 yards to the CAL32, 1ST DOWN CAL
               (22-McNally, B;27-Bademosi, J).
  C 1-10 C32   13-Riley, Kevin pass incomplete.
  C 2-10 C32   13-Riley, Kevin pass complete to 1-Jones, Marvin for 9 yards to the CAL41
               (27-Bademosi, J).
  C 3-1  C41   34-Vereen, Shane rush for 4 yards to the CAL45, 1ST DOWN CAL
               (98-Masifilo, M;41-McAndrew, T).
  C 1-10 C45   13-Riley, Kevin rush for 8 yards to the STANFORD47, out-of-bounds
               (26-Howell, D).
  C 2-2  S47   13-Riley, Kevin pass incomplete to 84-Calvin, Michael, dropped pass.
  C 3-2  S47   13-Riley, Kevin rush for 5 yards to the STANFORD42, 1ST DOWN CAL
               (94-Keiser, T).
  C 1-10 S42   13-Riley, Kevin pass incomplete to 86-Tucker, Verran (9-Sherman, R).
  C 2-10 S42   13-Riley, Kevin pass complete to 0E-Lagemann, Alex for 8 yards to the
  C 3-2  S34   13-Riley, Kevin pass complete to 0E-Lagemann, Alex for 16 yards to the
               STANFORD18, 1ST DOWN CAL.
  C 1-10 S18   34-Vereen, Shane rush for 12 yards to the STANFORD6, 1ST DOWN CAL
               (26-Howell, D).
  C 1-G  S06   34-Vereen, Shane rush for 5 yards to the STANFORD1 (54-Udofia, E;26-Howell,
  C 2-G  S01   34-Vereen, Shane rush for 1 yard to the STANFORD0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 00:45.
               16-D'Amato, Vince kick attempt good.


This was a key drive for Cal.  First, Kevin Riley is showing the leather here.  While Vereen was the star of the game, here Riley was doing the heavy lifting.  Second, cal was converting key 3rd downs.  3rd and 1, Vereen runs for the first.  3rd and 2 at the Stanford 47, Riley scrambles for the first.  3rd and 2 at the Stnaford 34, Riley to Laggemann complete for the first.  I presume Lagemann was falling to the ground as he caught that first down ball. 


IMG_9715 (via Monica's Dad)

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Vereen scored this touchdown to put Cal back into the game at 10-14 with 45 seconds left in the half.  So, Cal gets a momentum shifting TD right as both teams are heading into the locker room.  A game that looked out of control early as Stanford raced out to a 14-0 lead turns into a 14-10 game at half.  Clearly, a huge drive.


IMG_9833 (via Monica's Dad)

Cal comes out of the haltime, drives down the field in 11 plays for a TD score.  92 yards in 11 plays.  Just grinding it out, Shane Vereen run after Shane Vereen run.  Now, Cal is up 17-14.  It's run D has stiffened and even when Gerhart can get on the field, he is doing minimal damage.  You knew that Gerhart was going to get his and certainly he did, but take away that 60 yard run from the 3rd play and it's not as good a day for him.


IMG_9503 (via Monica's Dad)

Cal and Stanford start trading TDs and we soon find ourselves at 31-21, Cal.  Shane Vereen is on pace for an amazing day that is hard to figure at the stadium.  You just don't realize it without the TV announcer telling you these things.  This is where things start to get interesting.  There are a series of calls on both sides of the field that loom VERY large at the tail end of this game.

1) Tedford choosing to punt on 4th and short rather than going for it--next drive led to a quick Furd TD to cut the lead to 3

2) Harbaugh going for it on 4th and 8 deep in his own territory--led to a Cal FG that made it a touchdown game;

3) Tedford choosing to kneel and center the ball on 3rd and goal--prevented a chance for a Cal TD, settled for the FG;

4) Harbaugh passing the ball on 1st and 2nd down with Gerhart available--led to the game-clinching interception.

We discussed them in complete detail here.  Let's take them more generally here. 


IMG_9793 (via Monica's Dad)

1) Tedford choosing to punt on 4th and short rather than going for it--next drive led to a quick Furd TD to cut the lead to 3

Cal is up 10, driving down the field and gets close to midfield.  This happens:

 C 2-7  C40   34-Vereen, Shane rush for 6 yards to the CAL46 (23-Yancy, A).
  C 3-1  C46   13-Riley, Kevin rush for no gain to the CAL46 (44-Macaluso, N).
  C 4-1  C46   19-Anger, Bryan punt 41 yards to the STANFORD13, fair catch by 4-Terrell, D.


IMG_9535 (via Monica's Dad)

On 4th and 1 at midfield, Tedford decides to play it safe.  They are up 10, the Cal D has been doing pretty well since Stanford raced out to a 14-0 lead early.  Some express the view that Riley doing the QB sneak on 3rd down was odd.  Have them run a normal play on 3rd with the QB sneak on 4th.  There is validity to that criticism, but it doesn't necessarily change the fact that Anger pinned Stanford at their own 13.  The Cal D should have been able to keep Stanford from scoring. 


IMG_9942 (via Monica's Dad)

Which is why it was great that Cal immediately gave up a 37 yard pass to Stanford!  *sigh*  In 1:45, Stanford raced down the field, scoring on another Toby Gerhart TD run.  Now, Cal is up 31-28.  This is hearts jumping into throats time for Cal fans.  Cal has to respond!  Cal has to regain control of the game.  They respond by gaining one 1st down, stalling, and then punting it away.  Fortunately, we get to the second controversial decision of the endgame.

2) Harbaugh going for it on 4th and 8 deep in his own territory--led to a Cal FG that made it a touchdown game;

      S 1-10 S21   STANFORD drive start at 04:18.
S 1-10 S21 12-Luck, A pass incomplete to 82-Fleener, C.
S 2-10 S21 7-Gerhart, T rush for 2 yards to the STANFORD23 (96-Payne, Kendrick).
S 3-8 S23 12-Luck, A pass incomplete to 81-Owusu, C.
S 4-8 S23 12-Luck, A pass incomplete to 83-Dray, J.
--------------- 4 plays, 2 yards, TOP 00:50 ---------------


Stanford starts throwing the ball, but Andrew Luck has no................luck (I know, I know).  On their own 23, Harbaugh decides to go for it on 4th and 8.  WHAT?!?!?!?  Luck throws an incomplete and Cal fans think "WE GOT THIS ONE!"  Not so fast, my friends. 


IMG_9618 (via Monica's Dad)

3) Tedford choosing to kneel and center the ball on 3rd and goal--prevented a chance for a Cal TD, settled for the FG;


 C 1-10 S23   CALIFORNIA drive start at 03:28.
C 1-10 S23 34-Vereen, Shane rush for 12 yards to the STANFORD11, 1ST DOWN CAL.
C 1-10 S11 34-Vereen, Shane rush for no gain to the STANFORD11 (11-Skov, S).
C 2-10 S11 Timeout Stanford, clock 02:55.
C 2-10 S11 34-Vereen, Shane rush for 2 yards to the STANFORD9 (44-Macaluso, N).
C 3-8 S09 Timeout Stanford, clock 02:50.
C 3-8 S09 13-Riley, Kevin rush for loss of 2 yards to the STANFORD11.
C 4-10 S11 16-D'Amato, Vince field goal attempt from 28 GOOD, clock 02:42.



IMG_9968 (via Monica's Dad)

Cal has 3:28 left on the clock.  Stanford has 3 time outs.  Cal is at Stanford's 23.  They have a choice here.  Either be aggressive and go for the game icing touchdown.  Or slow the game down, force Stanford to use up all its time outs and hopefully get at least a field goal, if not also the game icing touchdown.  Tedford opts for the latter, to the frustration of many fans.  He goes for not the best case outcome, but the least worst.  Let's take out the fumble/interception possibilities, because they are somewhat equal in both avenues.  Tedford is concerned that if they can't score the TD, they might leave Stanford with tons of time and 2 timeouts.  So, he wants to get rid of the timeouts.  The time outs are huge to him, apparently.  That will take Gerhart out of the game and Gerhart is the key to the Stanford offense.  We just saw Luck throw 3 incompletions the drive before. 


IMG_9772 (via Monica's Dad)

Tedford is basically saying, the safe play is to take the easy 3, which forces Stanford to score a TD and leave them with no timeouts to do so.  Since the most likely scenario on the conservative avenue (3 points, Stanford has less time, no timeouts) is better than the most likely scenario on the aggressive avenue (3 points, Stanford has more time and some timeouts), Tedford decides to go conservative.  Very controversial and if you go back to the post from November when we discussed this in full, you'll see much discussion about those plays.  Either way, Tedford's plan works.  Cal is now up by 6, Stanford has 2:39 and no time outs.  They have to march down the field, which is why it's great that Stanford returns the kick off to its own 42.  Oy!


IMG_9777 (via Monica's Dad)

Of course, the last controversial decision is up now.

4) Harbaugh passing the ball on 1st and 2nd down with Gerhart available--led to the game-clinching interception.

Tedford's plan has partially failed, insomuch as Stanford makes it all the way down to the goal line, thanks to one Twist N. Hook watching the entire time!  However, Tedford's plan also works, insomuch as Stanford cannot risk a running play.  This forces Andrew Luck to throw, throw, throw.  Mikey Mo makes the key interception. 



LET THE PARTY BEGIN! Or more accurately for me, let the 45 minute rush the field commence.  I was way up on the second deck of the Erector Set known as new Stanford Stadium.  It took forever to weave through the Stanford fans down to the field, many of which actively seemed to try to block us.  BUT THEIR DEFENSE SUCKED EVEN AFTER THE GAME, BECAUSE I MADE IT DOWN!


IMG_0131 (via Monica's Dad)





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IMG_0316 (via Monica's Dad)


IMG_0328 (via Monica's Dad)


IMG_0333 (via Monica's Dad)

Let's finish off this look at the 2009 Big Game by looking at some of the stats.

                                    CAL STANFORD

FIRST DOWNS................... 31 16
Rushing..................... 14 9
Passing..................... 14 7
Penalty..................... 3 0
NET YARDS RUSHING............. 242 188
Rushing Attempts............ 57 28
Average Per Rush............ 4.2 6.7
Rushing Touchdowns.......... 3 4
Yards Gained Rushing........ 257 207
Yards Lost Rushing.......... 15 19
NET YARDS PASSING............. 235 157
Completions-Attempts-Int.... 17-31-1 10-30-1
Average Per Attempt......... 7.6 5.2
Average Per Completion...... 13.8 15.7
Passing Touchdowns.......... 1 0
TOTAL OFFENSE YARDS........... 477 345
Total offense plays......... 88 58
Average Gain Per Play....... 5.4 5.9
Fumbles: Number-Lost.......... 1-0 2-0
Penalties: Number-Yards....... 2-23 3-30
PUNTS-YARDS................... 4-115 4-169
Average Yards Per Punt...... 28.8 42.2
Net Yards Per Punt.......... 28.8 40.8
Inside 20................... 1 2
50+ Yards................... 0 0
Touchbacks.................. 0 0
Fair catch.................. 1 1
KICKOFFS-YARDS................ 7-374 5-340
Average Yards Per Kickoff... 53.4 68.0
Net Yards Per Kickoff....... 32.9 46.0
Touchbacks.................. 0 0
Punt returns: Number-Yards-TD. 1-6-0 0-0-0
Average Per Return.......... 6.0 0.0
Kickoff returns: Number-Yds-TD 5-110-0 7-144-0
Average Per Return.......... 22.0 20.6
Interceptions: Number-Yds-TD.. 1-6-0 1-0-0
Fumble Returns: Number-Yds-TD. 0-0-0 0-0-0
Miscellaneous Yards........... 0 0
Possession Time............... 39:06 20:54
1st Quarter................. 7:42 7:18
2nd Quarter................. 10:23 4:37
3rd Quarter................. 10:19 4:41
4th Quarter................. 10:42 4:18
Third-Down Conversions........ 11 of 19 6 of 12
Fourth-Down Conversions....... 0 of 0 0 of 1
Red-Zone Scores-Chances....... 6-7 3-4
Sacks By: Number-Yards........ 0-0 0-0
PAT Kicks..................... 4-4 4-4
Field Goals................... 2-2 0-1



Despite the vaunted Stanford offensive juggernaut that threw down 50+ against USC and Oregon, Cal actually outplayed Stanford offensively.  More yards, more first downs, better completion percentage.  Better across the board.  Cal ran 30 more offensive plays!  30!  That is what those long drives did.  They successfully kept the Stanford offense off the field.  I mean look at possession time.  Cal basically had the ball for 40 minutes of the 60 minute game.  40 minutes, that's huge. How did Cal control the ball so well?  By rushing:

Rushing              No Gain Loss  Net TD Lg  Avg
Vereen, Shane 42 199 6 193 3 36 4.6
Riley, Kevin 9 33 5 28 0 9 3.1

Huge day out of Vereen.  Epic.  Legendary.  One for the ages.  It was not apparent that he was having this day at the stadium, because you just don't realize it.  But 42 rushes!  193 yards!  3 TDs!  He was running from every angle.  He was running out of the Wildcat.  And did I mention he apparently had a torn meniscus during this game?

In comparison, let's look at Gerhart:


Rushing              No Gain Loss  Net TD Lg  Avg
Gerhart, T 20 139 3 136 4 61 6.8

Certainly a great day, but subtract 61 out of that and you have 19 rushes for 78 yards with an average of 4 yards a carry.  Again, not bad, but not enough on this day!

Passing Cmp-Att-Int Yds TD Long Sack
Riley, Kevin 17-31-1 235 1 23 0
Totals... 17-31-1 235 1 23 0

Riley had an OK day.  54% completion percentage is not good, but was much better than Andrew Luck's 10/30 day.  Clearly, the key to this day was Vereen just grinding out yard after yard and the Cal D holding Luck to a terrible day.  Gerhart got his, but the Cal D managed to minimize the damage as much as possible.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a golf legend's life to ruin. 









IMG_9741 (via Monica's Dad)

I was saying boo.  GO BEARS!