BERKELEY-Not since 2004 has a Big Game at Memorial Stadium effectively been over by halftime. Not in six years has the final score been so lopsided as today's 48-14 final tally. And this time, it wasn't the home team in the driver's seat.
"It's very hard to swallow," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford, who lost his second Big Game in four years to Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. "This rivalry means a lot to a lot of people. We take a great deal of pride in it, we've had The Axe seven out of eight years, and it's very hard to swallow. You have a group of seniors in there that are not going to get another chance at this, so it's tough to take. We'll keep this on our minds for today and tomorrow, and then we've got to flush it. We've got to take the lessons learned from today and get better."
The No. 6 Cardinal (10-1, 7-1 in the Pac-10) might as well have taken custody of The Axe on its way to the locker room, as they parlayed a 31-point halftime lead into an eventual stomping of their cross-bay rivals, the first time that Harbaugh has beaten the Bears in Berkeley and the first time that Cal (5-6, 3-5) has lost The Axe at home since 1984.
"I thought our players put an exclamation point on things today by playing their best football, playing smart, playing disciplined, playing poised and just playing," Harbaugh said.
How bad was the loss for the Bears? This was the second-largest margin of victory-34 points-in the 113-year history of the Big Game, and the largest since a 41-0 Cardinal win in 1930. Stanford's 48 points were the most ever scored by the Cardinal against Cal, eclipsing 1996 (42-21) and 1981 (42-21). It is the sixth time that Stanford has hung at least 40 points on the Bears.
"Stanford's a great football team, the No. 6 team in the country, and you can't afford to make mistakes," Tedford said. "You've got to make sure that you're executing, and we didn't do it. Turnovers cost us down in the red zone-us getting in the red zone and turning the ball over-and then turning the ball over in their red zone to give them a short field. You can't do that against (Andrew) Luck and the rest of the team they have there."
The Bears defense, which had put on such a remarkable showing just one week prior against No. 1 Oregon, fell on hard times, at some points looking completely overwhelmed by the abilities of sophomore Stanford signal-caller Andrew Luck, who led the Cardinal to eight straight scoring drives.
"No, no, the Oregon game was the Oregon game; it was a week ago and this is the Big Game," Tedford said, when asked if there were some emotional let-down from last week's stellar defensive effort against the Ducks. "The intensity was there, so I don't believe that. They played better than we played, plain and simple. You can't make mistakes. We had an illegal formation on the big run that was going to take us down deep, just too many mistakes."
Luck, though, did not make mistakes, least of all, costly ones. He went 16-for-20 for 235 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed three times for 72 yards.
"You have to give Andrew Luck a lot of credit," Tedford said. "In my opinion, he's the best quarterback in the country. I haven't seen all the quarterbacks, but he plays about as well as anyone. He's a very accurate passer, he doesn't make mistakes. When he pulls it down, you can't arm tackle him. He's going to run through things. He has speed, athleticism. He's a great player, and I would suppose if he chose to come out, he'd be the first quarterback taken in the draft."
Luck was not sacked a single time in today's contest, marking the first time since a Sept. 17 loss at Nevada that the Bears have failed to record a sack.
"They did what they needed to do to get the job done," said senior defensive end Cameron Jordan on the Cardinal offensive line. "I wouldn't say they were the most physical we've faced, but I'm pretty sure that they schemed the best."
In the first half alone, Luck guided Stanford to 312 yards of total offense, while Cal could muster just 119, adding six penalties and two turnovers in the first quarter alone.
"It was a great first half," Harbaugh said. "I thought everything was going our way. I was just really proud of our players for keeping their composure and playing disciplined and smart. I thought the Cal team was talking a lot of trash before the game. Our guys really kept their cool and I think that was a big difference today."
After a game-opening field goal, Luck guided the Cardinal to four straight TDs before halftime, going 10-of-12 for 165 yards and two scoring strikes, while throwing no picks and staying off of his back.
"To his credit, he made a lot of good decisions," said Jordan. "You can only get frustrated so much before you have to look at yourself and see what I could have done better."
The Bears, in turn, shot themselves in the foot on multiple drives on both sides of the ball, getting flagged six times in the first half for 60 yards. Three of those penalties led to Stanford scores. After junior quarterback Brock Mansion fumbled two snaps on the first drive of the game-the second of which was recovered by the Cardinal on the Cal 26-redshirt freshman Steve Williams was called for a pass interference penalty, giving Stanford the ball at the 11 with four downs to score.
"I just pulled out a little early," Mansion said of the first fumbled snap. "I knew we had a guy coming, and the third snap was a cadence issue. I anticipated it a little differently than we had practiced. But, if anything, it was kind of motivating. It gets you upset a little bit, makes you a little mad and gives you more motivation to never let it happen again and make a play because of the one you just messed up."
But neither Mansion nor the Bears were able to recover, on either side of the ball.
"You can't afford to waste plays, and you can't afford to turn the football over," Tedford said. "That was costly to give them a short field, even though the defense made a big stop there and they only got a field goal out of that. We just have to execute better. We can't afford to do that against a great football team."
On the next drive, Luck faced a third-and-four at his own 11, and tried to find Doug Baldwin at the 40-yard line, but good blanket defense by Josh Hill caused the pass to fall incomplete. However, back at the line of scrimmage, there was a yellow hankie laying on the turf. Offsides on Mychal Kendricks. New set of downs. Cue: Luck.
The sophomore signal-caller handed the ball off to Jeremy Stewart for a loss of one, then completed a six-yard pass to Konrad Reuland. On third-and-five, Luck took the shotgun snap and was set upon by a bevy of Bears defenders. He stepped up to the line, pulled the ball down and ran up the middle, breaking several tackles-including one by Sean Cattouse-before being forced down at the Cal 21-a 58-yard gain.
"It was just a lesson for me," Cattouse said. "At the last second, I got caught between making that big hit and wrapping him up. He's a big, strong guy, and from there I knew I would have to come up with some force and wrap up his legs."
Jordan was the primary defender at the point of attack, collapsing the pocket and prompting the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Luck to take off.
"He's a pretty good quarterback with some pretty good pocket presence," Jordan said. "He knew when to step up, and he made the right decisions today. Technically, I was trying to collapse the pocket, and I guess we did that well enough for him to step up and through it. He took off, and I thought he had decent speed."
Three plays and one pass interference call later, Stanford was up 10-0, and didn't look back.
"It's hard to slow Stanford down, consistently, all the time," Tedford said. "They're going to make plays. Luck did a good job of pulling the ball down, scrambling out to the side, and he's so accurate with the football, hitting them right between the numbers when he's throwing it to them. The receivers made some big catches, too. We had some good coverage on certain plays, and he's putting the ball where the guys are making it."
Two of those tosses came at the expense of cornerback Bryant Nnabuife. The first-a second-quarter, second-and-12 play-action pass from Luck-was destined for Baldwin over the middle, but Baldwin was sandwiched in between Nnabuife and Cattouse. All three went up for the ball, but Baldwin came down with it for a 47-yard catch.
The second came with just 22 seconds left in the half, when, on a first-and-10 at the Cal 19 following an interception, Luck hit a leaping Baldwin on a long corner pass with perfect touch for a touchdown, again, over Nnabuife.
"It's just gratifying when the guys are playing the way they're capable," Harbaugh said of Baldwin. "Doug Baldwin was just huge in this game. He was getting grabbed a lot. The young corners were holding him, but he was still making the plays. That big catch down here between two guys and the one in the end zone was huge. Doug is really having an amazing year."
Baldwin caught five balls for a game-high 97 yards and one touchdown.
"There's a touchdown in the end zone down there, where Buffie is right on him and (Luck) throws it high and behind the guy and he makes a great catch," Tedford said. "Then the one down the middle, we had two guys on him and the guy goes up and makes a great catch, so he has confidence in his receivers and they made plays."
Tedford said that he doesn't believe that the absence of Marc Anthony and Darian Hagan-both out with injuries-did not affect pass coverage.
"We had a couple big PI penalties early in the game, that hurt us a bit," Tedford said. "On one, I think their feet just got tangled up. I didn't know that was a PI, but it got called and that got them down even closer, so those two PIs were costly."
On the afternoon, the Bears were flagged nine times for 95 yards, something that several players attributed to the high emotional pitch of the contest which was evident even before the coin flip, when the entire Cal roster followed the four team captains out to midfield for the toss, jumping and hollering and rallying the crowd. The Cardinal responded in kind, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Bears and a personal foul call against Stanford for a few extracurriculars.
"There was just a lot of emotion going into the game on both sides," Tedford said. "Obviously, both teams wanted to win badly. It's an emotional, rivalry game. They were under control. They were fired up to play. I don't think they were out of control."
Not even the stellar play of true freshman Keenan Allen could salvage an anemic offensive performance. In the first half, Allen accounted for 140 all-purpose yards, including 102 yards on four kickoff returns, 21 yards on four catches and 17 yards on two rushing attempts as Cal tried to find new and creative ways to get the ball into his hands.
"It just happened that way, that the reads took us there," Tedford said. "On any given pass play, you know, there's places where you're going to go with the football, but the coverage took us there and he got quite a bit of action today."
But the problem wasn't with Allen-who finished the day with a career-high 188 all-purpose yards-so much as it was with the rest of the offense.
"It is frustrating," Allen said. "I just try to go out there and give it my all, but when we lose, I feel like I did it for no reason."
Trouble started brewing on the Bears' first drive of the game, when Mansion-starting just his third game as a collegiate quarterback-fumbled those two snaps.
"Absolutely, yeah, it affected us," Tedford said. "We got flustered. You don't fumble a snap and give them the ball in the red zone to start the game. There were a lot of plays to be made, and we didn't play well enough to win."
The day didn't get much better for Mansion, as junior wide receiver Marvin Jones failed to come up with several well-placed long balls early, and Mansion threw two picks trying to force balls into narrowing windows.
"It kind of snowballed from there," said junior tailback Shane Vereen. "It's kind of hard to rebound from things that we're doing like that. It happened all game: we shot ourselves in the foot, offensively, multiple, multiple times. Against a good team like Stanford, those are costly. I don't think it was Brock being rattled, or anything, it was just him trying to rush the play, trying to get the ball and get out of there as quickly as possible instead of doing the little things and taking his time. But that was across-the-board today. We had too many penalties, missed blocks, pressure on the quarterback, those are things that we need to go back and we need to fix. We should have been able to recover. It was early enough in the game where it shouldn't matter and we should be able to put it behind us and move on and have a much better game than we did."
Mansion went 19-for-37 with two picks and one touchdown on the day, totaling 173 yards through the air. In the first half, Mansion was 8-of-16 with two picks for just 57 yards. His first interception came when he rolled right out of the shotgun on third-and-10 on the Cardinal 25, and tried to hit the sure-handed Alex Lagemann at the Stanford five, but the pesky Richard Sherman had other plans.
"They were in their cover-two look, and our receiver was still behind the corner," Mansion said. "I was rolling out, and was just running away from where I was throwing, and I thought I had put enough on it, but as the results show, I didn't."
His second pick came late in the second quarter, when instead of running up the middle with a clear path to a first down, Mansion tried to force a pass in to Allen just five yards in front of him.
"It was one of those things that's kind of a QB no-no," Mansion said. "You don't cross your body. It's very rare that good things happen when you're in that posture, throwing back across the field. On both of those interceptions, if I'm able to set my feet and throw, those are completions and I can put more on it and we would be talking about a touchdown and a completion.
"I've been concentrating on keeping my eyes downfield, and at the time, I was looking for guys to hit. After the play, I talked to the guys upstairs, and they said, 'Just run.'"
It only got worse for the Bears in the second half, when the Cardinal started things off with a morale-killing, eight-play, 64-yard scoring drive, going up 38-0 thanks to 58 passing yards from Luck and a 14-yard TD scamper by Stepfan Taylor.
"He's amazing," Taylor said of Luck. "He's the greatest player I've seen. He makes it a lot easier. It's hard to play defense out there against him; he can run and pass. We all see him week-in and week-out, and he's a great quarterback."
On the Cardinal's next drive, Anthony Wilkerson joined the fray with a rushing touchdown of his own to put Stanford up 45-0.
Taylor and Wilkerson were part of a three-headed rushing monster for the Cardinal, teaming with Luck to amass 198 of Stanford's 232 yards on the ground. By himself, Taylor tallied three of Stanford's four rushing TDs on 15 carries for 59 yards.
Following Wilkerson's run, Cardinal placekicker Nate Whitaker booted his second field goal of the game, a 40-yarder to make it 48-0.
Cal finally showed some life in the fourth quarter, with Allen literally pitching in to help prevent the shutout. On first-and-15 at the Stanford 31, Mansion completed a 14-yard pass to Allen in the left flat to put the Bears at the Cardinal 17. What happened next easily tops the season highlight reel.
Lining up in the wildcat, Allen took the snap, rolled right, was presented with three defenders in his face, slipped out to the left, and with the play seemingly completely and utterly broken, found Jones over the middle for Cal's first touchdown. Allen has run that play several times before, but has never actually been able to set his feet and let it rip.
"We came out in a different formation, but it's the same concept, though," Allen said. "Roll out to the right with Marvin in the corner route. The corner covered it well, so it was locked down there. I just tried to roll out, and Marvin came with me and I made the pass."
On Cal's last play of the game, the Bears were able to muster one more scoring drive, again keyed by Allen. After catching a pass in the backfield from Mansion, Allen pitched the ball to Isi Sofele, who took the ball 12 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't think it was a lack of effort," Tedford said. "I don't think it was a lack of effort. I think it was they made plays and we didn't make plays. I don't think it had anything to do with effort. You have to give them credit. We have two guys on the guy they throw deep to, and they jump up and make a catch. It had nothing to do with effort. It had to do with execution. We have a guy running down the sideline and he's probably going to score, and it's underthrown and gets intercepted. That's got nothing to do with effort. A better performance? Yeah, you hope for a better performance, but I don't think it had anything to do with a lack of effort."
• Jones' TD catch from Allen was the 10th of his career. It also marked the first time that Allen has thrown a pass, completed a pass and thrown a touchdown pass. His eight catches were a career-high.
• Tight end Jarrett Sparks made his first two receptions of the season for 18 yards.
• Cattouse had a career-high 15 tackles.
• The 95-yard scoring drive keyed by Luck's 58-yard run was the longest scoring drive that the Bears have allowed this season, tied with another 95-yarder by USC. Luck's 58-yard run was also the longest rush by a Cal opponent this year. The run was a career-best for Luck and the third time this season that he's run for 50 yards or more on a single play.
• The Bears were penalized nine times for 95 yards, far above their season average of 6.4 flags and 51.6 yards.
• Vereen reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season, finishing up with 63 rushing yards on 16 carries. He now ahs team- and career-highs of 1,061 yards rushing and 209 carries. For his career, Vereen has now passed Jahvid Best and stands at seventh all-time at Cal with 2,728 rushing yards.
• Cal has now suffered back-to-back losses at Memorial Stadium for the first time since Sept. 21 and 28, 2002, when the Bears fell 23-21 to Air Force and 48-38 to Washington State.
• Bryan Anger had three punts, including a season-long of 71 this afternoon. That 71-yarder marks his third punt of more than 70 yards against the Cardinal in his career.
• Harbaugh is now 2-2 in Big Games. With his 10th win this season, he holds the distinction of the first Cardinal coach to reach that plateau since 1926, when Stanford went 10-0-1, tying Alabama in the Rose Bowl.
• Tedford now owns an all-time 72-41 record, two wins behind Cal's all-time wins leader (Andy Smith, with 74 from 1916-1925). His record in Big Games has dropped to 7-2.
• The Cardinal's 446 points this season is second all-time to the 2009 squad's 461. Today also marked the 11th time that Stanford has scored at least 30 points in a season, a school record.
• Luck's two TDs today give him 24 on the season, tied for third all-time on the single-season list. John Elway-who was present on the sidelines-and Steve Stenstrom share the record of 27 TD passes in a season.
• Sherman's interception of Mansion is his fifth career pick and third of the season. Thomas' pick was the first of his career.
• The Cardinal are now 5-1 on the road this year.