Stanford welcomes Cal for 116th Big Game

Nov. 22, 2013, 1:39 a.m.

It’s that time of year again.

Three blasts from the train whistle pierce the chilly Stanford air at the top of every hour. The water in the school’s normally picturesque fountains is replaced by a sinister cardinal red brew. At the apex of The Claw sits a lone teddy bear, brutally impaled by the topmost spike in full view of students sporting “Beat Cal” shirts in increasing numbers.

That can only mean one thing: It’s time for Big Game.

When the 116th installment of the cross-Bay rivalry takes place on Saturday at Stanford Stadium between the No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12) and the California Golden Bears (1-10, 0-8), all of the animosity between the two archrival schools will come to a head on the field as the Cardinal will look to keep its stranglehold on the Stanford Axe for the fourth consecutive year.

(The Stanford Daily)
Fifth-year senior inside linebacker Shayne Skov (11) and the rest of the Cardinal front seven will look to take advantage of a weak Cal offensive line in Big Game. (The Stanford Daily)

“You show up here, and you’re not supposed to like [Cal],” said senior wide receiver Jeff Trojan. “Seeing the environment and seeing the interaction of our players and their players throughout the years and seeing how everything goes — they don’t act kindly to you, you don’t act kindly to them, and then once you’re a senior you don’t like them because of that.”

Stanford will be looking to rebound from one of its toughest losses in recent memory to a resurgent USC team at the Coliseum that was marred by poor execution and missed opportunities on offense. The nation’s 120th-ranked defense — allowing an eye-popping 523 yards per game due in large part to the statistically worst secondary in the FBS — is likely just what junior quarterback Kevin Hogan needs to get back on track and reestablish his command of the passing game.

Senior defensive tackle David Parry insisted that the Cardinal would still enter Saturday’s game hungry and motivated against a Cal team that many of Stanford’s players believe is better than its record indicates.

“I think that last Saturday against USC is just enough motivation on its own,” Parry said. “[The Bears are] a much better team than their record shows. We have no room to let off and take it easy on anyone.”

“They’ve got really good skill positions,” added head coach David Shaw. “Say whatever you want about their record, but they’ve got good receivers, they’ve got good backs, they’ve got speed and athleticism, they’ve got an outstanding young quarterback, so they can put points up if you’re not ready for them.”

For Cal, Big Game is the final stop in one of the most forgettable seasons in the storied program’s history. The necessity to adjust to a new system with a true freshman quarterback under first-year head coach Sonny Dykes has proved overwhelming to the Golden Bears, whose lone victory came against Portland State — a middling FCS team that led as late as the third quarter before Cal pushed back late to eke out a one-score victory.

Since then, everything has gone downhill for the Bears. Cal will skid into Saturday’s matchup on a nine-game tailspin, with its futility emphasized last week by a demoralizing 17-point loss to lowly Colorado.

Although true freshman quarterback Jared Goff has put up solid numbers through the air in his first collegiate season, his weak offensive line has crippled his ability to take control of games. The Bears rank near the bottom of the country in both rushing offense and sacks allowed. Because of this, Goff has been forced to attack through the air early and often in a fast-paced offense with limited success due to the one-dimensionality of the offense’s capabilities.

Junior running back Remound Wright  might see more playing time against Cal to provide additional depth after starter Tyler Gaffney has taken several beatings in the past few games. (The Stanford Daily)
Junior running back Remound Wright might see more playing time against Cal to provide additional depth after starter Tyler Gaffney has taken several beatings in the past few games. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

“[Defensive coordinator Derek] Mason warned [the defense] that they’re going to have a lot of plays this game,” said junior cornerback Wayne Lyons. “We thought that we’re going to have a good rotation going with all of the defensive backs getting a lot of reps in. Everyone is going to get an opportunity to cover.”

If Lyons and the Cardinal secondary can play tight coverage throughout the game and limit Goff’s opportunities to do damage through the air, Stanford’s defense should easily win the battle against the Cal offense. Coming off of a tough matchup against one of the most skilled receiving duos in the country in USC’s Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, Stanford’s secondary should be battle-tested and ready to take on the Golden Bear receivers.

Meanwhile, Cal’s inability to match up with Stanford on both lines will mean that both the Cardinal’s front seven and run game should be expected to put up big numbers.

Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy leads the nation in sacks and has been lethal coming from the outside for Stanford’s defense. He and fifth-year senior inside linebacker Shayne Skov will be looking to put pressure on Goff all afternoon against a battered offensive line that has failed in keeping Goff’s jersey clean all season. On the other side of the ball, the Cardinal offensive line should have little trouble opening holes for senior tailback Tyler Gaffney and the remainder of Stanford’s running back corps.

While experts, fans and odds-makers alike around the country expect Stanford to run all over the Bears — the Cardinal opened as 31-point favorites — Stanford doesn’t expect the Bears to roll over.

“We know they’re going to give us their best shot; they always do,” Trojan said. “It’s a rivalry game; anything can happen.”

But all of the animosity that Cal will carry onto the field on Saturday in its quest to reclaim the Stanford Axe will be matched by the Cardinal, which will be fueled by the presence of one of its hated rivals and a desire to exorcise the demons from a tough loss to another.

“They stole our Axe [in the past],” Trojan said. “It’s our Axe. They come in and try to take our Axe, so I don’t like them for that. If you try to take something that’s mine, I’m not going to like you.”

Kickoff at Stanford Stadium is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, with television coverage on Fox Sports 1.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’

Do-Hyoung Park '16, M.S. '17 is the Minnesota Twins beat reporter at, having somehow ensured that his endless hours sunk into The Daily became a shockingly viable career. He was previously the Chief Operating Officer and Business Manager at The Stanford Daily for FY17-18. He also covered Stanford football and baseball for five seasons as a student and served two terms as sports editor and four terms on the copy desk. He was also a color commentator for KZSU 90.1 FM's football broadcast team for the 2015-16 Rose Bowl season.

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