Big Game is a storied rivalry that goes back to 1892. Almost four decades before becoming the 31st President of the United States Herbert Hoover was the student manager for the Stanford football team. Hoover was also friends with Herbert Lang, the Cal manager at the time. The two friends conspired to have their schools play a football game.
Seven years later a band of delinquents from Cal purloined the Stanford Axe and evaded police long enough to abscond back to Berkeley. After 120 meetings between the California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal it is safe to assume that Big Game is now something far greater than Herbert Hoover or a group of Malefactors would have ever imagined.
Stanford controls the series with a record of 63-46-11 all-time. The Cardinal has also controlled the series (and the Axe) recently having not lost to the Bears since 2009. As anticipated in a long rivalry, the opponents knew each other well, and emotions were high, which means records go out the window and the utmost care is applied as turnovers are deviating in such close games.
On Saturday, Cal and Stanford ground out the night, with both defensive lines forcing the quarterbacks to play out of their comfort zone. The running backs finished strong for both sides, Cal’s Patrick Laird finished with 153 yards and a score while the Cardinal trio of Bryce Love, Cameron Scarlett and Trevor Speights finished with a combined 196 yards.
Both defenses set the tone early, entrenching against offenses that wanted to run the the ball. While the Cal defense failed to record a sack or tackle for loss, they did a great job wrapping up at the point of attack. With an explosive runner like Bryce Love busting out huge runs consistently, containment is a big win for the defense. The Cal defense put in some serious work keeping the Stanford running game in check, holding Bryce Love to an impressively low 17 yards in the opening half.
Young quarterback K.J. Costello was the hero of the first half, with a 33-yard completion to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to set up the field goal on the opening drive. He later found Kaden Smith on a 17-yard score to put Stanford up 10-6 headed into half. While Costello’s 185 yards and a touchdown (w/ 1 int), was enough to keep the Cardinal offense balanced.
Cal put together three 40+ yard drives to find a pair of field goals. The long plays hurt Stanford early, with a 47-yard run from Laird along with a 20-yard reception from the running back. The stout Cardinal defense, however kept Cal out of the end zone in the first half.
Despite being in what Cardinal head coach David Shaw called “agonizing pain”, Love showed mental and physical toughness by coming back in the second half. He was able to take a 57-yard run to the house on the first Stanford drive of the half, putting them up 17-6. Love finished with 101 yards despite not finishing the game, showing the grit that embodies the Big Game rivalry. It is the ninth 100-yard game of the season for Love and his 1,723 yards this season give him the third most career rushing yards in Stanford history.
But the Cal offense came back with a strong 75-yard drive, with Laird scampering for runs of 39 and 17 on the drive before finding the end zone. Ross Bowers ran into the end zone on the 2-point conversion to bring the score to a tight 17-14. While the offense was quiet after the first drive on the Stanford side, the defense was impactful. Safety Justin Reid was making tackles everywhere, leading the team with 10 tackles, while the other safety Ben Edwards snagged a late fourth quarter pick.
As the Cardinal drove down the field to drain the clock, a gutsy 4th and 1 call to stay on the field and run the ball with Scarlett sealed the game.
The Cardinal showed versatility in a tight rivalry game, with Costello leading the team and getting most of his 185 yards in the opening half. They then switched the script and tightened up the defense and ran the ball really well in the second half, after only gaining 35 yards on the ground to start. Throw in the uncharacteristically risky call from Shaw, and this was a complete performance from Stanford.
The play from Love to gain over 100 yards and stay in the game to lead his team to victory despite the injury to his ankle happening him speaks to his character along with his commitment. Maybe a way to try and edge out Oklahoma quarterback baker Mayfield after his antics against Kansas.