With two of America's esteemed universities located less than an hour apart right here in the Bay Area, it only seems natural that Cal and Stanford should learn from each other. After all, Nobel Prize winners and distinguished scholars dot both campuses.
But in the ongoing battle between the two schools to get the most
brilliant minds to lunch in their faculty clubs, something gets lost.
And that's the competition between their athletic departments, which
is more exciting than observing two Nobelists arm-wrestling.
Though Cal hates to admit it, Stanford currently has the upper
hand in the sporting arena. Stanford is voted almost annually as the
nation's finest collegiate sports program, based on championship
trophies, not endowments, where Stanford also ranks No. 1.
And with Stanford's healthy graduation numbers among its
athletes, Cal is looking for another place to hide. Nevertheless, the
two schools feed off each other on the playing fields, and have for
years. One school's success breeds change on the other's campus.
Take this century alone. Jeff Tedford's success led to Jim
Harbaugh's hiring at Stanford. Harbaugh's success led him to the San
Francisco 49ers. His replacement on The Farm, David Shaw, continued
that success, and when Tedford faltered, he was replaced by Sonny
Thus Cal and Stanford keep a watchful eye on each other, which
explains, in part, why Mike Montgomery has coached basketball at both
institutions. But it's Cal turn to watch Stanford more closely,
especially in football where Stanford has re-made its image by
creating a throwback model for the entire country to learn from.
Stanford, historically, has been Quarterback U. Throwing the
football has been its legacy, from Frankie Albert to Bobby Garrett to
John Brodie to Jim Plunkett to John Elway. Its line play, excluding
the Thunder Chickens in 1970-71, was an afterthought.
No longer. Harbaugh built a winning program on big, tough
linemen, offensively and defensively, who overpowered teams. Running
the football became the norm at Stanford, where the Cardinal continue to physically wear down opponents under Shaw's stewardship.
That image-reversal wasn't easy to accomplish, given that
Stanford has a much smaller undergraduate enrollment than Cal, thus is
forced to recruit nationally to get promising student-athletes to meet
its stringent entrance requirements.
But, somehow, Harbaugh molded an old-time steam rolling ground
attack while also stacking up five solid running backs and four pro
style tight ends, amazingly, in the shortest amount of time. Given his
difficulty, academically, of turning around a moribund football
program, it was the best coaching turnaround since....Tedford in 2002.
It all boils down to recognizing the circumstances you're facing, then making a Maserati out of a Miata. Stanford, even
with its top-10 ranking, doesn't blow out opponents....except Cal two
weeks ago. Shaw, like Harbaugh before him, grinds out seven-point
victories by beating up the opposition and eventually breaking its
Now it's Cal's time to learn from Stanford, both on the gridiron
and, ahem, in the classroom. And it will be a huge challenge because
Dykes' coaching philosophy is as different from Shaw's as the weather
in Antarctica and Death Valley. Dykes has installed a "Bear Raid"
offense to Berkeley that is as wide open, and uncertain, as Mouse
Davis' "Run-and-Shoot" disaster 30-some years ago.
Cal has had its own Quarterback U, from Paul Larsen to Craig
Morton to Steve Bartkowski to Joe Roth to Pat Barnes. But the Bears'
success, since the late 1800s, has been predominantly running the
football, from Vic Bottari and Sam Chapman to Jackie Jensen to Johnny
Olszewski to Chuck Muncie to Russell White to Marshawn Lynch.
But Dykes' preference is to launch to football, time and time
again. This worked, to a point, at his previous stop, Louisiana Tech,
where his teams had the nation's most potent offense and the nation's
most inept defense. That's no way to get to the Rose Bowl.
At the moment, Cal is sinking from that same big offense, bad
defense approach. The Bears were 1-11 in Dykes' debut, which isn't
entirely his fault as he inherited a 3-9 team and then was beset with
key defensive injuries.
Dykes must be allowed three years to show a turnaround -- the
standard amount of time for new coaches handed losing programs. But
it's important that he find an offensive concept that works best. And
the one at Stanford, though totally against his philosophy, might be
his only hope.
Controlling the football takes time off the clock, and the
time-tested way to achieve that goal is to run the football. With
Cal's porous defense, what choice does Dykes have? Throwing incomplete
passes only stops the clock, thereby giving opponents more
opportunities to wreak havoc on the Bears defense, especially its
Freshman Jared Goff threw more completions than incompletions
this year, and he has a chance to become one of Cal's great
quarterbacks. But Cal's wispy backs are easily tackled, and only
Daniel Lasco brings toughness. Perhaps Dykes will prove a master
recruiter and land coveted running back Joe Mixon from nearby Freedom
High. he could take the pressure off Goff, who must get 40 points a
game, at least, to outscore Cal's overmatched defense.
However Dykes chooses to approach the 2014 season and beyond, his
primary focus must be to control the football. Otherwise, Cal has
little chance of winning. Dykes has so many running backs and wide
receivers, perhaps he could shift some of them to defense, where
bodies are sorely needed.
Stanford shifted Richard Sherman from wide receiver to
cornerback, and he's now an All-Pro corner with the Seattle Seahawks.
Another way for Cal to learn from Stanford.
Yes, Cal is the country's No. 1 public university, but Stanford
is among the country's top five private universities. That said,
there's no comparing their football programs.
Therefore, Cal doesn't have to look too far to find a winning
football model. Just across the Bay, in fact.
Retired Oakland Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse writes
periodically for bearinsider.com. Read his two e-books, "Before Boxing
Lost Its Punch" and the Cal-related novel "White Lightning", on
amazon.com at $5.99 apiece.