Coming off a big with against UW, and with ND next week, I was thinking (for a moment) that Stanford might overlook Cal. A little…
However, Stanford MUST beat Cal to win the Pac-12 North. Even then, they’re depending on UW beating WSU in Seattle next week — and that’s with WSU having a bye this week! UW plays Utah this week, at home.
So, with the Big Game rivalry, and with the Pac-12 North title on the line, Stanford can’t afford to let up or overlook Cal. Big Game is way more important than ND!
Stop Stanford’s running game, and you stop Stanford.
I think UW figured they’d stop Stanford’s run with something close to their standard defensive set. Not enough respect, IMO — and it killed ’em. (That, and the tendency toward over-confidence that comes with a Top Ten ranking!) Stanford’s OL is also peaking at the right time. They played their best game of the season against the Huskies.
It might come down to Bryce Love’s ankle. He looked pretty gimpy at the end of the UW game.
I think Cal stuffs the box, outnumbers the zone reads, does plenty of disguised blitzes, gets Stanford’s OL confused about their assignments (hopefully), forces them into 3rd & longs, gets a couple early stops, and forces Costello to beat them. So once again, 3rd-&-longs will be critical. Look for Cal’s defense to keep Costello guessing by showing all-out blitz, then putting 8 in coverage, hoping to bait them into a blitz-beating play, like a screen pass, that they can stop short of the 1st down marker.
Cal will be looking to gamble & get lucky on defense, and to limit the inevitable big plays when they guess wrong. Chances are, they’ll be missing Devante Downs. Cal is still undersized in the front 7, and depends on scheme to get stops. That only goes so far against an experienced OL like Stanford’s.
On offense, Cal will most likely have a difficult time moving the ball. They’ll need some turnovers & short fields to make a dent on the scoreboard. But they have a ton of heart, and they’re persistent & resilient. They’ll get a few scores out of sheer grit & determination.
Most likely: A poor turnout among the Cal faithful diminishes the Bears’ spirit just enough to turn the spiritual pre-game tide. Sadly, Stanford beats the spread.
But early stops & turnovers could easily get Cal’s underdog spirit rolling, and make big problems for Stanford (whose fans were mostly no-shows against UW, having already written off their team’s chances against the Huskies).
Plenty of tickets left on StubHub in every section of the stadium for very reasonable prices!
Another factor: Every time I write Cal off, they play over their heads & win big!