Its Big Game week in the bay area. Despite all the nostalgia, history and traditions that come with this week nothing can fully detract from how bad Bears have looked the past few weeks. Last week’s loss at Washington State decreased the probability of a Cal post season just a little bit more and the sliver of hope that remains will only be made reality by Cal winning tough contests against Stanford and UCLA.
The Bears have to beat two rivals to get to the post season, starting with Stanford. This week we’ll take a look at what’s ahead for the Bears in this upcoming tough Big Game matchup.
Beating Stanford on Offense – Stop the Run.
It is well documented that the Cardinal have struggled on the offensive side of the ball. Stretching the field vertically has not been Stanford’s strength, especially with the talent vacuum this year following Kevin Hogan’s graduation. A quarterback controversy that has lasted throughout the year has the Stanford air attack out of sync. Redshirt Sophomore Keller Chryst has taken over the reins from early season starter Ryan Burns, but both have only combined for a total of 1,872 yards and 10 passing touchdowns. By contrast, the ground game for Stanford has resurged in the latter part of this year. Christian McCaffery looks to be hitting his stride after some early season struggles and has amassed over 1,100rushing yards. He definitely carries the majority of the workload for the Cardinal, who have a total of 1,857 on the ground so far this season. By Contrast, the Cardinal have only 1,543 yards in the air this season.
The key to stopping the Cardinal offensively on Saturday centers on stopping Christian McCaffery and the run game. Cal’s entire defense is depleted, with injuries in the secondary being the biggest issue. However with Stanford’s one dimensional offense, the Bears may be able to slow down the Cardinal if they can win in the trenches. If the Bears can key in on Christian McCaffery and limit his production, the defense is going to get some stops. As we’ve seen this season, when Stanford struggles to find their rhythm on offense things get ugly for them. This has to be that sort of game for Cal to have a shot. The Bears need to disrupt McCaffery, not let him get the ball in space and make sure that they play assignment football to keep MacCaffery in check. If the Bears can succeed in that, the pressure will be on inexperienced QB Chryst to keep pace with the Bear Raid.
Beating Stanford on Defense – Win in the Trenches.
Stanford has been a defense first team in their recent rise to prominence. Although this is a down year for the Cardinal, their defense is still formidable. The Cardinal are in the top 20 in the nation in fewest points allowed - undoubtedly, their success starts with their defensive line. Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips have terrorized opposing offensive lines - these disruptive players often draw double teams from opposing offensive lines and free up the deep and talented Stanford line backing corps to bring blitz pressure that disrupts offensive timing. The backers are led by Sophomore Joey Alfieri, who leads his position group in tackles for loss on the season. Look for this formidable front seven combination to try and bring the pressure on Saturday. If there is a “weak” spot on this defense it has to be the secondary. Although they have a couple of standout players, they’ve given up yards and points to the up tempo passing attacks of Oregon and Washington State this season. This unit needs to be exploited for Cal to be successful this week.
If Cal is going to win here, the offensive line is going to have to put together a stellar performance. The Stanford defense is all about controlling the line of scrimmage, disrupting the point of attack and disrupting the opposition’s rhythm. Stanford has proven they have disruptive talent, but Cal has also shown a knack for beating the blitz. If Davis Webb can get the ball out of his hands quickly, use quick timing routes to establish tempo and possibly have the screen game serve as a proxy for the conventional run game, the Bears might get the Cardinal on their heels. This is an explosive offense that has shown flashes of greatness in beating the blitz and standing up to physical defenses such as Texas and Utah. If the Bears can start hot and get the offense into rhythm on Saturday night, they will force Stanford to play outside themselves to keep up. Davis Webb, Chad Hansen, Demetris Robertson, the receiving corps and offensive lines are all going to have to play excellent football on Saturday night to have a shot, but they’ve done it before.
Let’s see if the Bears can find a way to get the Axe back for Cal in front of their home crowd this week.