Takeaways: Laird's Effort Not Enough, Cal falls to Stanford 17-14
It was a different feel of a game this year, with Cal on the edge of bowl eligibility, Bryce Love hobbled, and Justin Wilcox looking for the Axe in his first year as coach. It felt different during the game, as the Bears moved the ball with the run game, working the ball down the field with Patrick Laird runs and Ross Bowers RPOs. There just wasn't enough of a finish, as the Bears couldn't regain the Axe, falling 17-14 to Stanford in the 120th edition of the Big Game.
Patrick Laird finished with 20 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown, as the junior running back had another strong performance, and he now stands at 949 yards for the season with a chance to eclipses the 1000 yard mark in the Bears season finale against UCLA in Pasadena. Laird carried the Bears as much as he could, but the game came down to a 4th and 1 on the Cal 18 that the Bears had to stop. Cameron Scarlett got 2, and that was all she wrote.
Ross Bowers had the Bears driving on the possession beforehand, but he threw an ill-advised deep ball to Jeremiah Hawkins, the ball hung up in the air and Stanford's Ben Edwards got the interception, and Stanford wasted the clock away.
The Bears had multiple chances here, and three plays stick out among the rest that turned the game.
Bryce Love's 57 yarder
Aside from the long touchdown run, Love had 13 carries for 44 yards. The Bears had stymied the 'power toss' play that Stanford runs ad nauseum, but on this one, the Bears loaded the box against the 3 TE, 2 back set, and committed the cardinal sin. They lost contain, and even on a bum ankle, Love beat the defense to the end zone, as the Bears' pursuit angles weren't enough.
For the most part, Cal held the toss play in check, but there's a telling statistic for the Bears. They didn't have a single tackle for loss during the game, and this might be telling as far as the size advantages Stanford has. The Bears kept Chris Palmer in at nose tackle, and the 330 pounder fared well in the middle, but there needs to be more size and more length going forward. There is a change in that though
Right down the road today, future Cal tackle Atonio Mafi and Serra took down Nick Alftin's Mitty squad, and both guys will be pivotal in getting the size and length that the Bears need on the defensive line.
Ross Bowers' Deep Ball to Jeremiah Hawkins
With 1st and 10 inside the opposing 50, that's one of the times to take a deep shot. Bowers stepped up in the pocket, and fired a deep one to Hawkins. It hung, and in addition, Hawkins stemmed his route wrong, which led to the Edwards interception.
There's a change that needs to happen in that regard, as Bowers had a decent, if not spectacular game up to that point. He pulled and made the right throws on RPOs. He had just converted a 3rd and 12, finding Veasy on a deep out for 18 yards. He completed a number of rhythm throws to Vic Wharton and Jordan Veasy, throwing to a spot. Jordan Kunaszyk may have summed up the performance best, noting that you can't just be perfect on 54 of 57 snaps. Cal had 57 offensive snaps. They stalled on three drives and settled for field goals and they had a bad interception. Those decided the game.
Gain of 7 on 3rd and 13 to start the second quarter
This may have been by design, but Patrick Laird got the ball on a swing to start the quarter, as the Bears had been moved back by a false start. Laird didn't have blockers, and the Cal RB got the Bears to the 30. Matt Anderson, who had nailed a 44 yarder with plenty to spare, hit it off the crossbar from 47. A yard more would have done it. The five yards from the false start would have done it. It's a question to look at when they get back in the film room.
- First fake punt attempt for the Bears, and Dylan Klumph made the toughest run you'll ever see from a punter. Put his head down, and got 3 on 4th and 2.
- Laird's day was excellent, as he continues to work the cutback lanes, those are getting bigger and bigger each week. Steve Greatwood is looking like the best hire Justin Wilcox made, as the line gets better and better each week. Laird shed a number of tackles on the day, pushing for extra yards, and he has a great of going over the 1000 yard mark, as a Cal running back hasn't done that since Daniel Lasco in 2014.
- Vic Enwere didn't get a single carry on the evening. Zion Echols got two
- Cal went 5-6 on converting 3rd downs in the second half. Part of this came from getting better situations, getting a couple 3rd and 1s to Malik McMorris on fullback dives, but also just playing better and making plays when they counted.
- QB draw on the 2 pt conversion was well done, with motion from Laird to draw a defender out of the box.
- Stanford ran Cameron Scarlett 11 straight times to end the contest. Cal couldn't stop him enough to get the ball back
- Gerran Brown looked like the top defender early, popping Bryce Love on a couple of his early runs. Jordan Kunaszyk led the team with 8 tackles on the afternoon, Brown had 7
- More RPO action after the Bears had a ton of success with it against Oregon State. It consistently got yards, as the Bears played a more methodical game
- The rollout, out route to Kanawai Noa has been scouted, and the Bears need to find new ways to get him open, as Noa was blanketed on 3rd downs.
- Mike Saffell was injured in the 3rd quarter, after making his second consecutive start. He did not return, as Valentino Daltoso came in for him. Ryan Gibson came in at left guard at points, and helped clear a hole for Laird's 39 yard run that set up the sole TD for the Bears.
The Bears get one final shot at bowl eligibility, with a Black Friday matchup at UCLA. Justin Wilcox noted that this one will sting for 24 hours, then they have to move on, and move on they will.