Stanford faces Cal in Berkeley on Saturday in the 117th iteration of the Big Game, looking to continue its recent domination of its cross-bay archrival. This year’s contest is likely to be a much closer battle than last year’s 63-13 rout that gave the Cardinal their fourth straight victory in the series. In advance of this weekend’s matchup, The Stanford Daily’s Winston Shi spoke with The Daily Californian’s sports editor, Riley McAtee, to discuss the game.
The Stanford Daily (TSD): Cal isn’t the punchline it was last year. I’ll keep this short and sweet: What happened?
Riley McAtee (RM): The offense has basically come together. Last year’s offense was fairly deceptive, as after some big performances early in the season fans got the idea that the team could score on anyone. In reality, it was a below-average unit, based on efficiency metrics. The flashes of potential we saw last year have become much more consistent this season. The receiving corps is among the best in the Pac-12 and Daniel Lasco has emerged as a feature running back. The result is an offense that is near the top in the country, which has balanced out a defense that still ranks toward the bottom.
TSD: Cal’s Bear Raid has been doing really well so far this season. Aside from the 7-point collapse against Washington, the fewest points the Bears have scored all season was 30 points last week against USC. What did the Huskies do so well to shut down the Bears, and what did USC do to slow them down?
RM: I really think that the Huskies’ defensive line was the difference in that game, especially when it came to rushing Jared Goff. Cal was able to move the ball up and down the field that game, but fumbles killed several promising drives early and prevented the Bears from getting points. Goff was sacked four times and Cal as a team fumbled the football five times, losing three of them. A lot of those turnovers came at key points, too. Just think about Shaq Thompson’s 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown and you can realize what I mean.
Goff definitely doesn’t look as comfortable under pressure (not that any quarterback does) and I think that’s how the Huskies were so effective both at forcing turnovers and shutting down Cal’s offense. If Stanford can do the same on Saturday, the Cardinal will be in good shape.
TSD: Is Jared Goff’s emergence primarily due to external factors: that is, scheme and an improved line? Will the Cardinal be able to dare Goff to beat them with his arm?
RM: The line is improved and the entire team is more comfortable with the Bear Raid scheme, but Goff also looks much better outside of that. He has a zip to his passes that he didn’t have last season. I used to think he didn’t have the greatest arm — not that he had a noodle or anything, but that his arm strength would never be a cornerstone of his game — but this year I’ve seen him make every throw in the book. Forget scheme and the talented receivers around Goff: I think he’s shown enough based on just his own play to have a future in the NFL. Goff is impressive.
TSD: Defensively, the fewest points Cal has surrendered to a Pac-12 team this season is 31. Stanford’s offense has sputtered this year, but can the Bears stop the Cardinal?
RM: Cal hasn’t really stopped an FBS team at all over the past two seasons, so I think that trend will continue Saturday. This team wins by outrunning its defense, and I think Cal can do that. So Stanford will probably put up some points in this game, but even if the Cardinal break 30 I think that the Bears have the ability to score more. When this team does win, that’s essentially the only way it does.
TSD: Do you have a prediction for the game? What does Cal need to do to beat Stanford, and the other way around?
RM: For Stanford to win, they need to look at the Washington game and the first half of the USC game and bring out a similar game plan, defensively. That means disrupting the offensive line and breaking into the backfield, especially to disrupt Goff. For the Bears it’s just the opposite — if Cal can keep Goff upright I think it can do enough to eke out a win.
I won’t put a number on it yet, but I’ll give Stanford the edge going into this one.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) November 19, 2014
Contact Winston Shi at wshi94 ‘at’ stanford.edu.