Last year around this time, we collective Cal fans made our trek to the friendly and ugly Stanfurd confines in Palo Alto for the Big Game. This was the year in which we were supposed to finally end the stranglehold Stanfurd had on the axe. We had the best quarterback at Cal since Aaron Rodgers and a loaded roster of NFL-ready upperclassmen capable of putting a crooked figure on any defense. The result of that game didn’t go as planned and several people pointed to game mismanagement as a large reason for Cal enduring yet another defeat by our dreaded rivals. There was however, a large contingency of those fans who were inspired by that game and saw a team starting to find an identity and make progress towards what could be a winning tradition in Berkeley each year. I was one of those people.
Fast forward one year later and it is time for myself and many others to reflect back and admit we perhaps overlooked crucial flaws, as we often do in this life, when trying to convince ourselves of false realities. What started as one-off issues have now become clear patterns, more maddening and frustrating as the season has progressed. The culmination of that frustration might have been today’s game against Stanfurd at Memorial Stadium. It is quite clear this team we watched today has talent: James Looney, Darius Allensworth, Davis Webb, Chad Hansen, Khalfani Muhammad, Chris Borrayo and many others all have the potential to play on Sundays. However it was abundantly clear that we lack the coaching to help those players see their talent materialize to the highest extent at the collegiate level.
Cal was at least a 10.5-point underdog for the majority of the week coming into this game, devastated by injuries defensively at the hands of a brutal November schedule. However the Bears had shown a propensity for upsets at home and were finally getting some key pieces healthy on the offensive side of the ball. Even the worlds biggest cynic would still have given Cal some chance at winning this game simply because it is the Big Game and crazy things like the play do happen. What we saw in the first half was in fact evidence that Cal—the beat-up, tired team—could actually win the game. The offense regained its early-season flow and was delivering an even, balanced attack that kept Stanfurd off, while limiting all-world lineman Solomon Thomas. Cal was in position to win this football game.
Yet against ranked teams—and particularly teams who are favored by double digits—you generally need a more aggressive approach to turn the tables. Instead of a field goal, you need a touchdown that keeps the game closer than perhaps it really should be. Instead of kicking away from their dangerous returners, you use an onside kick similar to what Hawaii tried in the season opener in Australia. The point is, you need something to tilt the odds in your favor as they inherently start stacked against you. This is in particular why it can be so disheartening when your team—the team favored to lose—refuses to buy into that mentality. That left us kicking meaningless field goals, pooch punting the ball in favorable field position and led to the Bears losing this football game by a 14-point margin. Trade the Anderson missed field goal in the second quarter for a touchdown and we already have a whole different game headed into the fourth quarter tied.
Alas it wasn’t meant to be for the Bears against Stanfurd and many losing streaks continue to weigh heavily on Cal. Cal has now lost the Big Game seven-straight years and hasn’t beaten a conference California school in the Dykes era. The 2016 Bears have lost four-straight games—and none of them were particularly close—and will look to right the ship against a bad UCLA team in their final game of the season. Check out the wrap below!
The start of the game couldn’t have been any better for Cal. Devante Wilson played like a man possessed, sacking Keller Chryst and forcing Stanfurd into an early punt. Cal’s first possession would not disappoint. Davis Webb immediately hit Chad Hansen on a slant and Hansen turned on the burners to take the ball 70 yards for the score. 7–0 Bears.
However, Dwayne Wallace would be flagged on the scoring play for unsportsmanlike conduct which would be assessed on the kickoff. The ensuing kickoff was abysmal and Stanfurd started with the ball already in Cal territory. The Cardinal would immediately answer, scoring on a Keller Chryst 16-yard run. 7–7.
On the next Cal possession, the Bears would move the ball well, but the drive stalled nearing Stanfurd territory and Davis Webb would pooch punt the ball at the Cal 48. The Bears defense rallied and eventually forced Stanfurd into a fourth-down situation at the Cal 35. David Shaw, who at this point is blazing his own path in conservative play calling, decided to punt the ball, which was well-executed for the Cardinal.
On the next Cal possession, Webb would find Vic Wharton running open down the sideline, but Wharton dropped the ball—one of many crucial drops that plagued Cal all evening. Cal once again would punt. Right before the end of the quarter, Cal would build momentum on a big play by who else but the world’s favorite fullback, Malik McMorris. The quarter would conclude 7–7.
The second quarter would also start well for the Bears with Tre Watson leading his team downfield. Tre would cap off the drive on an excellent run putting the Bears up 14–7.
This was about the time when the Christian McCaffrey show started. McCaffrey took a screen pass, juked Josh Drayden out of his shoes for a 12-yard gain, and on the next play ran the ball for 31 more yards down to the 12-yard line. On third and goal, Chryst would find Dalton Schultz for a nine-yard score evening the game at 14–14.
The Bears would answer back with Khalfani Muhammad leading the team downfield and into Cardinal territory. The Bears would end up with a fourth-and-short scenario and Sonny would call on Matt Anderson to try and reclaim the lead. Anderson’s kick would miss and the Bears would come away with nothing despite the offense moving the ball effectively. Yet the Bears defense would hold Stanfurd again and force them into a punt. The Bears next drive also stalled, giving the ball right back to Stanfurd who would drive down the field before the half and kick a field goal to reclaim the lead. At the break, it was Stanfurd 17, Cal 14.
The Bears received the kickoff, but dealt with a series of drops that ruined their ability to get their offense going early in the quarter. On the very next possession with the Cardinal pinned at their ten-yard line, McCaffrey would run 90 yards to the house for a touchdown to put the Cardinal up by two scores. 24–14, Stanfurd.
Cal would have an answer as Webb found Khalfani Muhammad for a big gain, sealed nicely by an Addison Ooms block on the outside. The Bears would once again settle for a field goal rather than trying to score a touchdown—this one would sail through and the score was 24–17, Stanfurd.
The next Cardinal possession would be devastating as McCaffrey would break the single Big Game record for rushing yards and also cap off a long drive to put Stanfurd up 14 once more. 31–17, Stanfurd.
Cal would battle back again with Davis Webb hitting various receivers while moving the ball well through the air. The drive was capped off with an impressive Tre Watson run where his momentum was initially stopped but he kept his legs moving to power his way into the end zone. 31–24, Stanfurd.
During the next Stanfurd possession, their absent pass game would finally come to life. Chryst found JJ Arcega-Whiteside for a massive 59-yard gain behind Marloshawn Franklin. The Bears defense would try and stage a goal-line stand, but inevitably McCaffrey found his way into the end zone. 38–24 Stanfurd.
The Bears would then have a series of possessions that inexplicably ended with punts despite the 14-point deficit. Stanfurd would then stage their final scoring drive, capped off by a Trenton Irwin 30-yard touchdown reception.
With the game very much out of reach, Cal would score once more to make the scoreboard more respectable. Webb found Hansen on a true 50/50 pass and Hansen came down with the ball as well as the defender for the touchdown. Stanfurd would recover the football on the onside kick and the 119th Big Game had reached its conclusion. Final score, Stanfurd 45, Cal 31.