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‘Furd Defensive Preview

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Bring Back the Axe!

Washington v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As a public service announcement to the majority of the purported Stanford football fans, your team is playing this weekend. Looks like it’s time for your students and alumni to dust off the good ole cardinal and white gear, which has most likely been sitting undisturbed since last Big Game, and converge on the Farm.

2017 Defensive Highlights

Previous Opponents: Rice (W, 62-7); USC (L, 24-42); SDSU (L, 17-20); UCLA (W, 58-34); ASU (W, 34-24); Utah (W, 23-20); Oregon (W, 49-7); Oregon St. (W, 15-14); WSU (L, 21-24); UW (W, 30-22)

Total Yards Allowed: 3,931 (1,734 rush, 2,197 pass)

Opponent 3rd Down Conversions: 58-134 (43.3%)

Sacks: 12 (84 yards)

It is difficult to pin down exactly how to characterize this Stanford defense under the direction of Lance Anderson. They have shown glimpses of excellence, as in their efforts against Oregon and UW, and eyebrow-raising moments of question, like yielding 42 points to SC and allowing Oregon State to nearly pull out the W. However, I am reluctant to label the Cardinal D as feast-or-famine, since they have (as much as it pains me to admit) exhibited more good than bad over the course of the 2017 campaign.

Their admittedly impressive games against the Huskies and the Ducks, where they managed to hold the opponent offenses to 190 yards and 33 yards in the air respectively, do highlight the potential strength of the Cardinal secondary. Justin Reid (5 INT) and the Stanford cornerbacks have been able to expose the likes of Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold, capturing 2 interceptions against each of these two “elite” Pac-12 QB’s. Yet, they are not without flaw. Luke Falk was able to light up the Furd defensive backs, with 337 yards passing for 3 TD’s with only a single interception as a blemish.

Moving forward on the field, be on the lookout for DT Harrison Phillips (73 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks) and ILB Bobby Okereke (67 tackles, 4.0 sacks for 35 yards) to possibly pester Ross Bowers up front. Based on our O-line’s previous bouts with lapsed pass protection, I am always wary of players with impressive TFL and sack stats. However, the increased reliability of the run game via Patrick Laird seen against Oregon State could alleviate pocket woes.

Keys to Cal’s Success

The Bears stand poised to take back the Axe. Stanford has looked vulnerable this season in ways it has not in the previous few.

First, the Bears will need leverage the atmosphere of the Big Game. Let’s be honest, Stanford Stadium is not the most menacing place to play away. However, entirely new coaching staffs often have a difficult time capturing the vitriol of rivalry games and using it to fuel player performance. Luckily Justin Wilcox has some experience with the Bears prior to this year. In fact, Coach Wilcox has repeatedly mentioned how he thinks this is “one of the greatest rivalries in college football (see interview with CBS SF Bay Area below). So hopefully the coaches can bring the intensity and stress the importance of winning their first Big Game since 2009 not only for the rivalry, but for post-season significance.

Secondly, continue the balanced attack. Laird exploded last week to give the Bears the ground game necessary to overpower the Beavers. Patrick will need to step up again this week in Palo Alto to draw the attention of the Cardinal secondary, leaving Bowers opportunities to drop in some dimes. I expect Stanford to scout Laird thoroughly, but his shiftiness can be an x-factor for the Bears come Saturday.

Finally, the Bears need to be confident and fearless. The weight of 8 consecutive Big Game losses can be great, but this 2017 squad has the ability to stun the CFB world. In a season where most fans expected to simply demolish the Dykes influences and piece together a rebuilding season, Justin Wilcox and this Cal team has given Golden Bears of all ages an exciting season of extremely competitive football.

Final Thoughts

I’m always looking for an opportunity to quote the California Drinking Song, so here we go: “We’ll win the game or know the reason why (STANFORD SUCKS!)”

Speaking for at least myself and the several Cal fans in my immediate family, it irks me/us to no end that Stanford has been able to retain the Axe for this long. In the name of all that is Aaron Rodgers, bring it back to Berkeley where it belongs.