Fullback Malik McMorris rumbles for big gain -Photo by Cal Athletics
BERKELEY, CA -Heading into the 119th annual Big Game with a three game losing streak and six game series losing streak to Stanford, the Bears hoped to right the ship and revive postseason bowl hopes but a 2nd half Stanford scoring barrage in a steady game-long drizzle saw both streaks continue in the Bears' loss in Berkeley.
The key to the game, as usual, was to contain All-American running back Christian McCaffrey for the Bears to have a legitimate chance at pulling the upset. Ouside of a 31-yard gain in Stanford's second scoring drive, the Bears were fairly effective in containing the talented back in a competitive 1st half, but the 2nd half was an entirely different story, as McCaffrey exploded for over 200 yards, finishing with 284 total rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal's win.
"I'm disappointed in the way the night played out," said Cal head coach Sonny Dykes.
"I thought going into halftime we were in a pretty good position. And then we came out in the third quarter and didn't maximize our possessions on offense. We punted them down inside the 10-yard line and gave up a big run, a 90-yard touchdown run. That was the momentum swing. At that point, Stanford had the momentum and we never seemed to get it back.
"We have to be able to play better defense. That's what it comes down to, ultimately. You can't give up 350 rushing yards against anybody and expect to have a chance to win. That's clearly something we need to get fixed. That puts a lot of pressure on you offensively. You feel like you have to score every possession and you can't do that against a good defensive football team."
The day started off well for Cal, holding Stanford on their first possession then scoring quickly from their first play from scrimmage, with quarterback Davis Webb hitting his favorite target -league-leading receiver Chad Hansen- on a quick slant the speedy receiver took across the field and straight through Stanford defense for a 70-yard touchdown down the sideline.
Stanford answered right back, taking advantage of a short field after a 15-yard personal foul, a short pooch kickoff by Noah Beito and an 11-yard return gave them the ball at Cal 45. It took the Cardinal just two plays -a 29-yard Keller Chryst pass to receiver Greg Taboada and an 18-yard touchdown keeper by Chryst- to knot the score at 7 after the PAT by kicker Conrad Ukropina 4:04 into the game.
The score stayed tied till the Bears put together a methodical 13-play, 83-yard drive, taking the 14-7 lead on a 7-yard Tre Watson touchdown run and a Matt Anderson PAT. The play of the drive featured 310 lb fullback Malik McMorris hauling in a screen and rumbling for a 20-yard game, much to the crowd's delight.
It was the last lead the Bears would enjoy.
Again, Stanford answered right back, driving 70 yards in nine plays, with Chryst hitting tight end Dalton Schultz for a nine-yard touchdown completion in the flat with 8:48 left in the half.
The Bears looked to have a chance to build some momentum going into the half as they drove from their 35 to the Stanford 21 but their drive stalled and usually-reliable kicker Matt Anderson missed the 39-yard field goal attempt to keep the game tied.
Instead, Stanford took some momentum into the half, picking up a 40-yard Ukropina field goal as the half expired to take a 17-14 halftime lead.
With the Bears set to receive the 2nd half kickoff, it looked to be a more than winnable game but they were unable to sustain any offensive momentum or to keep McCaffrey from getting his game in gear to put the game away for Stanford.
Pinning Stanford at their 8 after a Webb pooch kick, the Bears showed their penchant for lopsided 3rd quarters, giving up a 90-yard McCaffrey touchdown run to extend their lead to 10, 24-14.
With two defensive backs coming up in run support, three unblocked Bear defenders let McCaffrey run virtually untouched on his long touchdown romp through the heart of the Cal defense -a backbreaking failure to execute.
"It's just very tough losing a rivalry game, and losing a game period," said safety Jaylinn Hawkins -one of the culprits on McCaffrey's long td run. "But this game was very special, and we just have to keep fighting. We have to have that never-give-up attitude as a team and never give up, no matter what."
In danger of letting the game slip away, the Bears hung tough, trailing by just a touchdown after an Anderson field goal and a second Watson touchdown run from eight yards out to bring Cal within seven at 31-24 heading into the 4th quarter.
That was as close as the Bears would get, however, with Stanford scoring twice more in the 4th quarter to take an insurmountable lead. Only an acrobatic 16-yard touchdown reception by Hansen -his second of the game after hauling in seven catches for 114 yards and two td's to lead the Bears- with three minutes remaining closed out the scoring.
"It sucks, losing to your rival in Stanford, and the scenario we were in to lose that game, it's not fun for anybody," said Webb. "We're a little beat up right now, but this team will be tested for how badly we want to finish this season strong. We haven't beaten UCLA in a while, either, so it's a great opportunity for our team, and we look forward to getting back to work tomorrow and finishing the season the way it should be."
The Bears have had the misfortune of catching several teams that struggled early, only to right the ship and come in hot against Cal. Stanford was no exception, winners now of four straight after losing three of four when McCaffrey was injured or limited.
The same applied to USC, who got out of the gate 1-3 and haven't lost since, as well as Washington State, who lost two of their first three only to go on a seven-game winning streak before facing the Bears.
The same will not be true of final regular season opponent UCLA, who has struggled all season long and came into tonight's rivalry showdown with USC with the same 4-6 record that Cal entered play with today.
Cal's only hope of seeing postseason play is to defeat UCLA in Berkeley next week then hope for enough slots to be open to bowl games to receive an invitation with five wins on an academic exception should not enough teams reach bowl eligibility with six wins to fill each bowl opening.
In the meantime, the Bears will have to figure out a way to get some momentum and overcome their defensive shortcomings with a bevy of injuries and generally ineffective play.
Gametime is expected to be announced tomorrow for the regular season finale.
To view postgame videos with Cal head coach Sonny Dykes, defensive end Devante Wilson, safety Jaylinn Hawkins, receiver Chad Hansen and quarterback Davis Webb, use the embedded viewers below: