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November 19, 2011
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Listen to this week's Bear Republic Podcast HERE.
Read more Big Game previews about the running game, senior placekicker Giorgio Tavecchio's motivations heading into his final Big Game, senior safety Sean Cattouse's search for a measure of retribution and the Bears' All-Academic offensive linemen.
Be sure to watch videos of each head coach at the Big Game Luncheon. Who's going to be playing outside linebacker? Find out HERE.
BERKELEY -- Stanford's tight end Zach Ertz is out. The Cardinal's star wide receiver Chris Owusu is out for the season.
California is without its two starting outside linebackers: David Wilkerson and Chris McCain.
Four game-changers, all on the bench.
Stanford (9-1, 7-1 in Pac-12) is ranked ninth in the nation. The Bears (6-4, 4-4) are considerably lower, somewhere down in the numbers not reported by any poll. Throw out the records, throw out the predictions, throw out 2,000 allotted tickets.
"I think early in my career here, it was really hard to understand. Until you're a part of something for a while, I think it's hard," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "You hear about tradition, and the more you see alumni and the more you see when you've been on the positive end of the game and you've been on the wrong side of it, the emotion that goes along with it, what it means to the fans and the alums, it's tradition. It's been going on for a long time and so, now, you don't only hear the stories about it, but you've been a part of it. When you don't have The Axe, it means something. I think that's a critical thing for everyone to understand."
Over the past several seasons, it's been the Cardinal who have taken the leap that the Bears were once poised to make after two 10-win seasons in three years from 2004-06. Instead of Cal rising to sustained national prominence, the Bears have fallen on hard times while Stanford has become a fixture in the top-10, winning a BCS bowl last season and is hunting for another such berth this season. Cal has slipped to the point where just getting bowl-eligible is being celebrated after last year's 5-7 record.
"I think things are cyclical sometimes, and we were up for a while, but they were still always competitive games with Stanford," Tedford said. "They've done a great job of getting to a certain level right now, but it takes a lot to sustain for year after year, 10 years of sustaining it at a high level, and so, the cycle that goes along, you hope that, we're 6-4 right now, and bowl-eligible, but we have a big game this week and yes, you're always, the expectations and the goals are always to play at a higher level, and that's what we're going to continue to strive for."
The Bears have a chance today to spoil a lot of things for the Cardinal: not just a BCS berth, but the Heisman hopes of quarterback Andrew Luck.
"Everybody understands how explosive their offense is," Tedford said. "They're very balanced and it's no secret about Andrew Luck. There's no secret about what they try to get done, offensively. I think our guys play hard. I think we can be physical. We haven't played a team like this yet that lines up and runs the ball downhill like they do. Very few people, as physical as you can be, are able to completely stop them, and it's going to be a challenge for our defense, and we're going to have to come out and be physical and do a good job of tackling and hopefully, be able to neutralize the line of scrimmage, and not let them into the secondary and let them have big plays."
Cal also will have the chance to buck the trend of losing on national television. The past two times the Bears appeared on ESPN this season, they have not rolled on, but rolled over, falling 43-15 to Oregon and 30-9 to USC.
"We're not even worried about the ESPN and all that stuff," said senior linebacker D.J. Holt. "We're televised every week, so we just go out and play. That's the way I see it, and it's a big spectator game, so you know people are watching. We're not really worried about anybody else. It's all about us. We're trying to eliminate all the outside distractions and just stay focused on Stanford."
While the defense tries to stop Luck and one of the best rushing attacks in the conference, junior quarterback Zach Maynard and the Cal offense will try to put points on the board as they've done over the past two weeks.
"It's a team sport, so I don't look at individuals, really. Everybody has to work as one. He's a great quarterback, and they have a great team. We have a great team, too, so we're going to go out there and fight," Maynard said.
Maynard ranks sixth in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game with 288.5, but he is 10th in the league in passing efficiency with a 122.8 mark.
The Cardinal have the league's No. 2 scoring defense, the No. 2 total defense, the No. 1 rushing defense and the No. 5 passing defense, allowing opposing QBs to complete 61.8 percent of their passes (fifth-lowest in the league) for 2,361 yards, 6.9 yards per completion (fifth-lowest) and 236.1 yards per game.
Maynard and the Bears have the No. 7 passing offense in the conference, with 2,501 yards, 7.1 yards per attempt and 14 passing touchdowns, averaging 250.1 yards per game through the air. Cal are is of four teams in the conference to have thrown double-digit interceptions, tying with Washington for third-most with 11 picks behind Oregon State (16) and Arizona (13). However, Stanford has just four picks on defense -- the fewest in the conference.
"One of their DBs, No. 3 (senior safety Michael Thomas), he's a pretty athletic, fast guy with a knack for the ball," Maynard said of the No. 46 tackler in the Pac-12, who has 46 stops to his name. "He's one of their best guys. One of their linebackers -- No. 17 (sophomore inside backer A.J. Tarpley) -- he's pretty athletic, too. Their whole defense is pretty good. They do a good job.
"They do a lot of stuff. They have a great defensive coordinator. They do a lot of good stuff. They don't let teams score a lot. Oregon is the one team that just happened to score on them a lot with their speedy offense, but Oregon does that a lot to a lot of defenses. We just have to be prepared."
The Bears are dead last in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, behind the Beavers, with a 120.0 passer rating and a 53.4 completion percentage -- also the lowest in the conference Stanford is No. 4 in passing efficiency defense, allowing a 128.8 rating.
"The season's been great for me," Maynard said of his first year at the helm. "Lots of ups and downs, a lot of learning experiences for me, on the road and also at home. It went by so fast. I just remember going from spring ball, and now, close to the end of the season, we have two more games left and a bowl game, so it's blown past and it's been fun."
This week, Maynard made a point of trusting his arm, his body and his refined mechanics.
"It's come around huge," Maynard said. "Me and coach [Marcus] Arroyo have been working on my mechanics, keeping my arms tight to my body, staying poised, keeping my feet under me for more throws and not rushing in the game ? I just feel like, if I prepare well, I have all the confidence in my body and my arm and it's all going to mesh together as one. The main thing is just not making bad decisions, just taking the check down, and, if it's not there, not forcing balls and running when I have to.
"I just have to prepare, just like we've been doing these past two weeks. We're doing a great job. I feel like everybody's comfortable and everybody knows what they have to accomplish, and we're going to do the same thing for this game ? Preparation is key. As long as we prepare well, we're going to do a good job on the field, just leave 110 percent on the field, no matter who it is we're going up against."