Stanford football (3-7, 1-7 Pac-12) and its fans have big plans this weekend, as they will be making a short trip up the Bay to face Cal (3-7, 1-6 Pac-12) in the 125th Big Game matchup.
As the season is winding down, both Stanford and Cal have reached a point where only a rivalry triumph will salvage the season.
Back in California after losing to Utah, the Cardinal are looking for redemption. The team’s third straight loss since defeating Arizona State in a close game did not turn out as they had hoped: Stanford scored the first touchdown of the game in the first quarter, only to give up 42 points to Utah in the following quarters. The Cardinal fell short of their desire to score high and play aggressively enough to defeat a ranked opponent, losing the chance for bowl eligibility.
However, motivation for a strong end to the season persists. When asked about how Stanford’s previous losses frame preparation for a big upcoming game, Head coach David Shaw emphasized that the team’s previous losses were in rearview.
“Not a big game — the big game,” Shaw said.” We’ve got some seniors that have given this program a lot. The Axe is about the seniors. The tradition of holding it and taking pictures with it, you know. It’s been a while since we’ve had it, and with all the things behind us, I can’t worry about any of that stuff. Right now, we’re trying to get that Axe for the seniors. That’s the focus, nothing else.”
It does not seem like many of the previously injured starters will be suiting up to play. Nothing can be guaranteed, however, as fifth-year safety Patrick Fields returned to the field against Utah, despite the plan being for him to sit the game out. According to Shaw, Fields was medically cleared to play but felt he would perform better in the remaining games if he had another week off. He is expected to return to the lineup this weekend.
To ensure a win this weekend, Stanford will need to enact aggressive coordination — as it has been attempting for weeks — taking advantage of every opportunity.
For the first time this month, Cal faces an opponent at home. A home-field advantage might be just what the team needs, as their loss to Oregon State last weekend was one of six straight losses. The Bears are in need of a luck reversal.
Cal’s season thus far has been comparable to Stanford’s, as both teams have had games of commendable performances alongside lesser performances. Cal put up 49 points on Arizona and 35 points against No. 7 USC. They kept things close against No. 15 Washington and No. 12 Oregon. This team has proven it can drive to and protect the end zone. But, like the Cardinal, the Bears lack consistency, which is reflected in their record this season.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of “The Play,” the final play in the 1982 Big Game where a Cal player collided with a member of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band at Berkeley Memorial Stadium. Whether the outcome — and chaos — of that game will be repeated this weekend remains an open question, though the odds seem to be in Stanford’s favor, as the Cardinal haven’t seen defeat in Berkeley, Calif. since 2008.
The big kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. PT on Saturday.