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The 114th Big Game: Cal at Stanford Game Day Open Thread

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SCROLL BELOW TO THE COMMENTS FOR LINKS TO THE CURRENT QUARTER THREAD

Cal versus Stanford. Stanford versus Cal. The battle for the Axe. Loveable huggable Oski versus the abomination that is the Stanford Tree. The California Marching Band versus...versus...whatever the hell that is.

One of the great rivalries in college football records another chapter today, as Cal and Stanford do battle on The Farm in the 114th Big Game. The Bears (6-4 overall, 3-4 Pac-12), who are a 17-point underdog in this one, would like nothing better than to upset their rival, give themselves a signature win by which to define their 2011 season, and erase the memory of last year's 48-14 drubbing by Stanford at Memorial Stadium. On the other hand, the Cardinal (9-1 overall, 7-1 Pac-12) seek to retain the Axe by beating Cal for a second straight time for the first time since 2001 and keep their prospects alive for a BCS bowl bid.

Cal is coming off two straight wins, both of which were headlined by the productive running of running back Isi Sofele and the impressive play of the Cal defense. Needless to say, however, neither of Cal's previous two opponents (Washington State and Oregon State) is nearly as good as today's. Meanwhile, Stanford comes into today's renewal of the Big Game rivalry having lost its first game of the season. Until last week's 53-30 loss to Oregon, Stanford had dominated every opponent on its schedule this season and had its sights set on gaining a berth in the BCS National Championship game, led by quarterback Andrew Luck, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner and presumptive number one overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. While Stanford's national title hopes were rudely squashed by LaMichael James and the Oregon Ducks last week, it would be folly to expect the Cardinal to come into this game with its dauber down. This is the Big Game--and Cal will have to play its best game of the season if it wants to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Big Game history.

This is your official gameday thread. Use this post as your pregame thread as we approach kickoff. Right before kickoff, watch for the link to the first quarter open thread above and in the comments below. You will find links to the second, third, fourth, and postgame threads in those same places as the game goes on.

GO BEARS!

BASIC BIG GAME BROADCAST INFORMATION

Saturday, Nov. 19, 7:15 p.m. (PT)
Cal (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) vs. Stanford (9-1, 7-1 Pac-12)
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, CA

Live Coverage
TV: ESPN - Carter Blackburn (Play-by-Play), Brock Huard (Analyst), Shelley Smith (Sideline Reporter)
Cal Commercial Radio: KGO 810 AM (San Francisco) - Joe Starkey (Play-by-Play), Troy Taylor (Analyst, *Pregame Show), Todd McKim (Sideline Reporter, *Pregame Show), Lee Grosscup (^Postgame Show), Kate Scott (^Postgame Show) ^Postgame Show: Claremont Hotel Club & Spa, 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley, CA
IMG College/Cal Radio Network Affiliates: KFPT 790 AM (Fresno), KESP 970 AM (Modesto), KPRZ 1210 AM (San Diego), KMZT 1260 AM (Los Angeles), KTKZ 1380 AM (Sacramento), KFIG 1430 AM (Fresno).
All-Access Radio: The Cal commercial radio broadcast feed of the Cal-Stanford game can be heard on the Internet through the All-Access channel on CalBears.com. All-Access can be found under the Multimedia tab at the top of the page.
Cal Student Radio: KALX 90.7 FM, kalx.com (Berkeley) - Danny Freisinger (Play-by-Play), Elliott Schwimmer (Analyst), Beni Shpringer (Analyst)
Sirius XM Satellite Radio: The home team's commercial radio broadcast feed of the Cal-Stanford game can be heard on Sirius XM satellite radio. The home Stanford feed of the contest is available on Sirius channel 93 and XM channel 192.

...

Stanford holds an all-time series lead of 56-46-11 over the first 113 Big Games played between the teams. The series that began in 1892 with a 14-10 Stanford victory before an overflow crowd of 20,000 at the Haight Grounds in San Francisco is now the 10th-longest rivalry in NCAA Division I FBS football. Cal has won seven of nine since Jeff Tedford became the Bears' head coach in 2002, but the teams have split the last four contests between them including a 48-14 Stanford win in Berkeley last season. Cal's last victory over the Cardinal came on The Farm in 2009 in dramatic fashion when Mike Mohamed sealed a 34-28 victory by intercepting Andrew Luck at Cal's three-yard line in the waning moments of the game as the No. 14 Cardinal was driving for a potential game-winning score. Prior to Tedford's arrival, Stanford had its longest win streak of the series with seven consecutive Big Game victories from 1995-2001. Cal has won five in a row twice, from 1919-23 and 2002-06. The Bears also had an eight-year unbeaten string from 1947-54, winning six and tying twice.

ManBearCal previewed the mighty Stanford offense. The Cal defense certainly has its work cut out for it: while Andrew Luck might be the best known Stanford Cardinal, there is much more to the Cardinal offense than Luck.

It's no fun to acknowledge this, but...Stanford's good. Really good. Better than us. They've got a quarterback that's become the media's darling...despite having a face only a mother could love. They've got a strong running game, powered by a stable of fatbacks and a big, talented offensive line. They make up for a mediocre and dinged up WR corps by utilizing a bunch of tight ends that can run and catch just as well (if not better) than the wide receivers, but can also block. They keep their offensive gameplan simple. Run the ball until the defense overcommits, then run a play action and find the guy who's the most open. They are fantastic in the red zone. They have very few three and outs. They rarely turn the ball over (12 turnovers on the year...5 of which came last week vs Oregon). This offense hums.

They were also afforded the luxury of being better than every team they've played this year, and so the above plan was typically executed without issue. Then Oregon slapped them around a little bit last week. The shine came off this Stanford offense. They could be handled. They could be forced out of their comfort zone. And all of a sudden, some of the little deficiencies become so much more obvious. Where's the deep threat at receiver? Where's the game breaker at running back? And once they got further behind... "Are they running a spread now?" Yes, they were. And that's not their game.

Our defense matches up well with this offense. Really, we do. We can match their strength and we should have the experience to not succumb to the play action. Statistically, we are the second best defense that Stanford has faced this year. The first? Oregon of course. And they "held" Stanford to 30 points. The problem is, Oregon can hold a team to thirty points and still win. Unless our opponent is Colorado, we can't say the same. Our offense isn't good consistent enough. Hate to say it, but I'm pretty damn sure we're gonna lose this game. And I don't really think it'll be close. Stanford is a good team, and we don't beat good teams. Common sense has cornered and annihilated every foreign cell of hope that has passed through my body as I've analyzed this Stanford team. I just don't see how we can beat them.

ManBearCal isn't just trying to appease the Juju. He's speaking the truth. There's a reason why Stanford was (until last week) in the national championship picture.

So if Cal is going to regain The Axe, the Bears' offense might have to get it into high gear and score more than 30 or more points -- something the Cal offense has done only twice this season against FBS competition. (NOTE: While the Bears have scored 30 or more points four times this season, the offense scored 30 on its own against only Colorado and Washington State; there were defensive touchdowns against Fresno State and Utah. Come to think of it, Cal scoring on defense today would be nice, amirite?) norcalnick gave us the lowdown on the matchup between the Cal offense and the Stanford defense.

Against the run

3.32 yards/carry, 22nd in the nation

I feel like this is where the game is going to be won. Over the last two weeks Cal’s offensive line (penalties aside) has been dominant, and Isi Sofele and company have looked great. But those two teams have run defenses ranked in the lower half of the nation.

Stanford is hardly invulnerable against the run – both USC and Oregon gashed them for multiple big plays. But Cal’s running game, while solid, isn’t as good as USC’s run offense and isn’t in the stratosphere of Oregon’s. Perhaps the best comparison would be Washington’s run offense, which managed a robust 6.6 yards/carry. Unfortunately, two plays netted 107 yards while the remaining 26 runs only managed 65 yards, and Washington was forced to abandon the run early when Stanford raced to a big lead.

Bottom line – this game is the final test for an improving offensive line. They have the talent to perform just like they did in 2009, but it will take a strong, mistake free effort.

Against the pass

6.9 yards/attempt, 54th in the nation

The weaker half (in a relative sense) of Stanford’s defense also happens to be the weak half of Cal’s offense. And while the yards/attempt stat is mediocre, it’s offset by the fact that Stanford averages a tad more than 3 sacks/game. If the offensive line can keep Maynard’s jersey clean there will probably be open receivers – Stanford has given up a pretty high completion percentage – but protecting the quarterback is easier said than done.

The model against the Stanford defense hasn’t changed. Kevin Riley created the blueprint in 2009, in perhaps his best game as a Bear. Controlled, calm, accurate. Hit your receivers underneath, hit your receivers on the sideline, manipulate the pocket, and stay upright. But Stanford’s defense has gotten better since then and most Cal fans probably don’t think Maynard has a game like that in him. This is the week to prove those doubters wrong.

But it's the Big Game, right? Anything can happen, right?