Stanford football (3-8, 2-7 Pac-12) was routed once again on Saturday evening and stripped of The Axe, falling 41-11 to Cal (4-6, 4-4 Pac-12).
After Stanford had won nine Big Games in a row, this defeat marks the second time in three years that Cal has emerged victorious. This is the sixth straight loss for the Cardinal and the third straight by at least 21 points. It is the fourth consecutive game in which Stanford has failed to score more than 14 points.
Entering the game, the Cardinal got a boost from the news that sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee, junior cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly and junior safety Jonathan McGill, among others, would all return from injury.
“Loved being back out there, being comfortable again,” McGill said. “Hoped the result obviously would have been different, but it was great being back out there.”
Stanford had the better of the scoring opportunities to open the game but could not convert. McKee was picked off as he tried to find an open sophomore wide receiver Bryce Farrell downfield, and head coach David Shaw elected to go for it on fourth down inside the Cal five-yard line on two different attempts in the first quarter — neither of which were converted.
“So fourth down, both times, try to call plays that we felt good about,” Shaw said. “You know, one ended up being a bad call. The other one probably, if it was executed better, had a chance.”
It was Cal that struck first. Quarterback Chase Garbers found wide receiver Trevon Clark, who had the entire field in front of him to run in for an 84-yard score. The Cardinal offense continued to sputter, and Cal made Stanford pay once again with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to double the lead to 14-0.
Stanford was able to get on the board before the break when sophomore kicker Joshua Karty converted a 32-yard field goal to cut the Golden Bears’ lead to 14-3 as time expired.
It did not get any better for the Cardinal after halftime. Stanford did nothing with its first two drives of the half, and Cal was able to capitalize. The Golden Bears’ first two possessions of the second half resulted in field goals, extending the lead to 20-3. Then on Cal’s third drive, running back Marcel Dancy found a hole and took it 76 yards to the end zone, leaving the Cardinal facing a 24-point deficit after three quarters.
“And then typical, you know, one guy misses a tackle, then we’re off to the races,” Shaw said. “So not good enough by any stretch of the imagination.”
Stanford finally found the end zone in the final frame. A 14-play drive was capped off by a 1-yard rush from junior running back Austin Jones, and McKee found sophomore wide receiver John Humphreys in the end zone for the 2-point conversion to make it a two-possession game, 27-11, early in the fourth quarter.
A surprise onside kick attempt by the Cardinal failed, and the Bears used the short field to get the game back to three possessions. In just four plays, California went 39 yards for the score, capped by a 2-yard rush for Dancy. Cal led 34-11 with 10-and-a-half minutes to go.
The Golden Bears continued to pour it on as they recorded another rushing touchdown and picked off McKee for the second time. Stanford could not put any more points on the board.
The game finished 41-11 in Cal’s favor, and its fans poured onto the field.
“Really disappointing,” Shaw said. “Coming off of probably the best week of practice we probably had all year, bunch of guys back. Some of those guys coming back may be a little rusty, but they played hard. They played hard.”
Stanford gave up 352 yards on the ground, good for an average of 10.4 yards-per-carry. The Cardinal were outgained 636 to 282, with the 636 yards of total offense by Cal being a Big Game record.
The Axe is gone, and Stanford has one more game before the book closes on 2021: a matchup against No. 8 Notre Dame (10-1).
“It’s huge,” McKee said, who finished with 239 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. “We have to practice angry. We’ve obviously had a lot of games that didn’t go the way that we wanted to. And so we kind of have to practice with a chip on our shoulder and come out and not just expect for things to change but to come out and play angry.”
Kickoff versus the Irish is set for Saturday at 5 p.m. PT on FOX.