Stanford Football: Zach Maynard

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week:

  1. And the winner in the North is ...? Could be Oregon. If the Ducks can get past visiting Stanford this week, they'll lock up the division and earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. They still have to go through Oregon State next week -- but wins over both of those clubs should help them in the BCS standings. Well, at least on the computer side. The Ducks hold the No. 1 spot in both human polls. So if they win out, they will be in the national championship game. The North Division winner could be Stanford, too. If the Cardinal win this weekend and close out with a victory at UCLA next week, Stanford and Oregon will each have one conference loss, with the Cardinal holding the tiebreaker.
  2. And the winner in the South is ...? We'll see Saturday, but we know it will be from Los Angeles. The USC-UCLA rivalry hasn't been one of late. UCLA's last victory over the Trojans came in 2006 -- a 13-9 win that snapped USC's NCAA record of 63 consecutive games scoring at least 20 points and also cost the Trojans a spot in the BCS title game. The scenario is winner-take-all -- regardless of what happens next week.
  3. On the bubble: Arizona State and Utah are both trying to make the postseason. ASU has the easier road, needing just one win to lock up bowl eligibility. And it hosts a Washington State team that is winless in conference play. Utah has to first beat Arizona at home this week, then win at Colorado next. The Utes are yet to win a road game this year.
  4. QB carousel: Seems like it wouldn't be a normal week in the Pac-12 if there weren't quarterback issues. Almost half of the league has uncertainty at the position heading into this weekend. Arizona's Matt Scott might not be able to go again this week; same for Cal's Zach Maynard. Nick Hirschman suffered a concussion last week for Colorado, Jeff Tuel was injured for Washington State, opening the door for Connor Halliday's five touchdowns. And the Sean Mannion-Cody Vaz back-and-forth continues at Oregon State, pending Vaz's health.
  5. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireUtah's chances at the postseason hinge on doing a better job stopping Ka'Deem Carey than Colorado.
    Quality matchups: If the Utes do want to get into the postseason, they'll have to find a way to slow down Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in last week's victory over Colorado. It's Utah's strength as a defense versus Arizona's strength as an offense. You can say the same for the Oregon-Stanford matchup, which pits Oregon's league-best rushing attack against Stanford's conference-leading rush defense.
  6. Gone in 60 seconds: Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, Stanford is the only FBS team that hasn't allowed a touchdown drive of three plays or fewer; it is also one of only five teams that has not allowed a touchdown in less than a minute. Oregon, of course, leads the FBS in touchdown drives that last one minute or less. Stopwatches at the ready.
  7. The SoCal tight-end factor: More super-cool stuff from the Stats & Info group: Matt Barkley and Brett Hundley have combined to throw 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions when targeting their tight ends. Hundley completes 75.6 percent of his passes when targeting a tight end; Barkley is at 67.2 percent. Could make for an interesting sidebar to Saturday's matchup.
  8. Off and running: Washington's Bishop Sankey heads to Colorado as one of the hottest running backs in the conference right now. He ha rushed for 351 yards and four touchdowns in his past two games and last week became the 11th player in UW history to reach the 1K milestone. Expect him to add to that total. Colorado ranks last in the conference against the run, yielding 227.6 yards per game on the ground to go with a conference-worst 25 rushing touchdowns allowed.
  9. Decisions, decisions: When California coach Jeff Tedford gets back to the Bay Area following the Bears' trip to Oregon State, he'll have sit down with athletic director Sandy Barbour to discuss the future of Cal football and what role -- if any -- he plays in it. Walking into that meeting with a victory over the No. 16 Beavers would probably go over better than closing out the year on a five-game losing streak.
The Pac-12 typically is the "Conference of Quarterbacks." In 2012, that's still the case. Only it's the "Conference of Quarterback Nuttiness."

Kevin sent me a note on Sunday: "Hey, Nostradamus, here's a curiosity ... 23 different Pac-12 quarterbacks attempted at least a pass this weekend."

It's crazy. We're at Week 11, and many Pac-12 teams need a "Hello, my name is ..." sticker on their quarterbacks' chest.

  • Colorado, Oregon State and Stanford have either changed starting quarterbacks over the past two weeks or are about to make a change.
  • Arizona and California are likely to have new starting quarterbacks on Saturday due to injury.
  • It looks as though when we emerge from the weekend, only five Pac-12 teams -- Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington -- will have started the same quarterback in every game.


Further, consider the youth movement.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan may see an increase in looks as the Cardinal deploy a new package in their offense.
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireRedshirt freshman Kevin Hogan will make his first start for the Cardinal on Saturday against Oregon State.
Last weekend, the conference's three freshman starters -- Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Utah's Travis Wilson -- combined to complete 60 of 72 passes for 763 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. That works out to a 210.8 efficiency rating.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, is No. 1 in the nation with a 174.49 mark.

Meanwhile, most of the conference's veteran quarterbacks are struggling. In the Pac-12's pass efficiency rankings, the bottom six includes two seniors and three juniors.

In the preseason, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price looked like the sure first- and second-team All-Pac-12 quarterbacks. Not so much any more.

While Barkley is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 30 TD passes -- eight more than any other conference quarterback -- few would describe the preseason Heisman front-runner's season as successful.

Price has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).

When quarterbacks have been the story this year, it's often been about benchings.

Stanford-Oregon State is a critical showdown of North Division teams, but the Cardinal just replaced Josh Nunes with Kevin Hogan, and Cody Vaz will make his fourth start but just his second as the Beavers' No. 1 quarterback over Sean Mannion. (Vaz started two games after Mannion suffered a knee injury.)

Experience at quarterback is typically viewed as critical for success. That has not proved true this year. Mannion, Price, Cal's Zach Maynard, Colorado's Jordan Webb, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays and Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday each owned significant experience entering the season. And each has been underwhelming.

Whereas, when you toss Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly into the mix, it's mostly the young, first-year starters out front. You might even include Arizona's fifth-year senior Matt Scott in that pool as a first-year starter.

There's still plenty of football to be played. Barkley still might end up first-team All-Pac-12.

But the first 10 weeks in the "Conference of Quarterbacks" has taught us two things: 1) There are no sure things; 2) If you don't like your quarterback, wait a week. Things might change.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 7, 2012
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So much offense! So much defense! So hard to choose ...


  1. Josh Nunes, QB, Stanford: The goat of last week's Washington-whooping, Nunes was absolutely clutch in leading the Cardinal from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 54-48 overtime victory at home over Arizona. He engineered back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter -- including a steely 4th-and-9 toss that helped set up the tying score. Nunes accounted for five Stanford touchdowns, completing 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and two scores while also rushing for 33 yards on seven carries and three touchdowns.
  2. Nickell Robey, CB, USC: Leaned heavily toward the USC quarterback, but Robey was so solid that we couldn't pass him up. He had seven tackles (four solo), forced a fumble and had the nail-in-the-coffin interception that he returned 38 yards for a score with 9:30 left in USC's 38-28 victory at Utah on Thursday. The Trojans had a 10-point lead at the time, so the game wasn't exactly wrapped up. Robey saw to that.
  3. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State: In the preseason, we talked about there being two true lockdown corners in the conference. Poyer is one of them (see the above entry for the other one). When the offense was struggling, it was Poyer and the Beavers defense that kept Oregon State in the game. Poyer tallied three interceptions to help keep the Beavers undefeated, while also breaking up a pass, notching a tackle for a loss and finishing with four stops in the 19-6 win at Washington State.
  4. Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: With the exception of a couple of handoff-exchange issues, Maynard played fantastic football, throwing four touchdowns and running in a fifth in a 43-17 upset win over UCLA. He completed 25 of 30 passes (83.3 percent) for 295 yards to keep the Bruins winless at Cal since 1998. His 1-yard rushing touchdown was his second of the season on the ground. Nice bounce-back performance after a 9-for-28 showing the previous game against Arizona State.
  5. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: In the biggest game of his young career, Mariota tossed four touchdown passes and completed 15 of 24 balls to lead the Ducks to yet another blowout win -- 52-21 this time -- over the Washington Huskies. He also ran for 40 yards on seven carries and kept plays alive with his feet. He had one pick, but for the most part he showed good decision making on when to throw and when to throw it away. The Pac-12 blog sees marked improvement in Mariota each week.
  6. Matt Scott/Ka'Deem Carey, QB/RB, Arizona: We normally don't hand out stickers in defeat, so Scott and Carey can get a half-sticker each. But both deserve the recognition for fantastic performances. Carey rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns against the conference's No. 1 rush defense. Scott was 45-of-69 for a career-high 491 yards with three scores. Those numbers are too good to go unrecognized.

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

June, 19, 2012
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following year, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others, have to bounce back from an injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2012.

Monday we took a look at six players from the South Division. Today our focus shifts to the North.

[+] EnlargeZach Maynard
AP Photo/George NikitinZach Maynard led the Golden Bears to a 7-6 record last season.
Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: Is there any quarterback in the conference more maligned than the guy in Berkeley? No doubt, he hit a low point midway through last season with a three-game stretch against USC, Utah and UCLA where he had one touchdown to seven interceptions. His completion percentage was one of the lowest in the conference last year (57 percent). But all accounts are that he had a solid spring and gained a stronger control of the offense. He has pieces in place this year -- an A-list receiver, a solid running game, a very good defense behind him -- so if he's going to silence his critics, this will be his best chance.

Josh Huff, WR, Oregon: On the surface, the obvious pick here is Kenjon Barner with the oh-so-obligatory "can he be the featured back" question. Let's go ahead and address that right now. Yes, he can. There, that was easy. Huff, however, has yet to really show what he's capable of. Last year he was partly hampered by injury (31 catches, 430 yards, two touchdowns) and Lavasier Tuinei was the preferred target. No doubt, the potential is there (see how he made Stanford defenders look silly on his 59-yard touchdown catch). Huff's status remains up in the air pending next month's trial for a DUI citation, so we'll have to see how that plays out. The Ducks have so much offensive potency that they don't need him to be great. But wouldn't it be a whole lot better if he was?

Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: The beauty of football is that it's not a stat-driven, individual game. A wide receiver can be a great blocker or decoy and never get the statistical credit, but his teammates and coaches know his contributions. With that said, if Wheaton wants to be counted among the elite wide receivers in the conference -- and he absolutely should be -- he'll need to have more than just one receiving touchdown, which was the case in 2011. The fact that Oregon State's running game should be better helps, and Sean Mannion's continued growth is also a plus. He's an underappreciated talent around the conference who's out to prove he belongs in the conversation with the league's elite receivers.

Wayne Lyons, DB, Stanford: When your coach says you'll be up for the nation's top defensive back award by the time your career is through -- before you've put together a complete season -- that's his way of not-so-discreetly applying pressure. David Shaw expects big things out of Lyons -- and the highly touted defensive back will have to deliver. He's fully recovered from a foot injury he suffered last fall that nagged him for two games before shutting it down for the year. Stanford's secondary was dreadfully exposed against Oregon and Oklahoma State. The pressure is on Lyons to produce immediately (say, Week 3 against USC?).

Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: And Baylor just scored again ... Haha. Didn't we all have a nice little chuckle at that one on Dec. 30. Well, the joke was stale by New Year's Eve. However, the lasting image of what Baylor's offense did to Washington is still very much fresh. The Huskies defense got an overhaul in the offseason -- and it's up to a veteran like Trufant to give the unit more punch and less punch line. Not easy, considering the Huskies allowed a whopping 35.9 points per game last year. But Trufant isn't alone in his efforts. He has good support in the secondary with safeties Justin Glenn and Sean Parker (the three combined for 207 tackles last season) and Trufant added a pair of picks. He's a very good defender who is going to have to become a great defender in 2012 to not only prove he can play at the next level, but to show it's time to stop cracking wise about Washington's D.

Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State: Outside of new head coach Mike Leach, no name coming out of Pullman, Wash., this spring has been uttered more than Jeff Tuel. A prototypical NFL quarterback with the arm and the arsenal to boot, all of the pieces are in place for Tuel to have a big season. But injuries have prevented him from reaching his true potential. This offense, which puts the quarterback center stage like no other, should go a long way in helping him reach it. He's picked it up quickly, which should come as no surprise. But there are still Connor Halliday advocates ready to take their shots at Tuel. He's got to prove he deserves to be the guy. Provo, Utah, seems like a good place to start.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard receivers

June, 8, 2012
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We've looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers and the 1,000-yard rushers in the Pac-12 over the last few days. But this is the conference of wide receivers -- a place for Biletnikoff's boys to run free and unabated up and down the field. So who's going to be in 2012's 1K club?

First, here's last year's 1,000-yard receivers:
With only four returning 1K receivers coming back from last season -- and two of them are on the same team -- how does that bode for the rest of the teams in the conference?

Arizona: The Wildcats lose their top three receivers from last year -- including headliner Juron Criner and his 956 receiving yards. Big boy Dan Buckner (6-foot-4, 214) returns after 42 catches and 606 yards last year, when he averaged 14.4 yards per catch. But the Wildcats will run the ball more this year. Buckner will likely improve on his numbers, but reaching 1K will be tough.

Arizona State: Another team shifting its mentality from pass first to run first, and they lose their top receiver in Robinson. Jamal Miles had 60 catches and six touchdowns last year, but only 361 yards. His yard total should go up as the No. 1 guy, but with more focus on the run game, 1,000 yards might be a stretch.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireWith quarterback (and half-brother) Zach Maynard more comfortable, Keenan Allen could put on a show for Cal during his junior season.
Cal: Keenan Allen. Yes. Quarterback Zach Maynard reportedly had a great spring and looks more comfortable in the offense -- and Allen might be the best all-around receiver in the conference (that phrase will be written a couple of times throughout this post). The Bears will lean heavily on Allen and he'll reward them with another 1,000 yard season.

Colorado: Prior to Paul Richardson's injury, it still would have been 50-50 with a new quarterback. But without their top receiving threat it leaves relatively inexperienced players like Tyler McCulloch and Nelson Spruce in the mix. The quarterback position is still in flux and with a pretty good offensive line and a talented running back in Tony Jones, the Buffs' focus will probably be more ground-based.

Oregon: Whether De'Anthony Thomas reaches 1,000-1,000 is a debate for another day. But I like his chances of 1,000 yards receiving. He caught 46 balls for 605 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Coach Chip Kelly finds creative ways to get Thomas the ball in space and then he just takes off. He'll make the new quarterback look good and suck up receiving yards in the process. My crisp $1 bill says yes to 1K.

Oregon State: Markus Wheaton returns after catching 73 balls for 986 yards. He's an extremely gifted wide receiver who is often forgotten among the Pac-12's A-list of pass catchers. But he shouldn't be. Sean Mannion should be more steady in his second year and as Brandin Cooks develops opposite Wheaton, it should open up more opportunities. He'll break 1K this season.

Stanford: Run-first team. The top three receivers (which includes tight end Coby Fleener) are gone and the leading, returning receiver is fullback Ryan Hewitt. Even if Andrew Luck were back it would be tough. The Cardinal spread the ball around so much that it's unlikely one guy would get all the catches. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery, however, is a rising star in the conference and should have a very good season. He's Stanford's best chance at 1K.

UCLA: If the Bruins can get the quarterback spot situated and if they take to the new pass-happy offense relatively quickly, there is a good chance someone could emerge as a 1K receiver. Joseph Fauria is the strongest pass catcher, but Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvray will have plenty of chances to emerge.

USC: Yes and yes. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are two of the best wide receivers in the country and with the quarterback they have throwing the ball, there is no reason to think both won't return as 1,000-yard receivers. This one is a no-brainer.

Utah: The Utes were dead last in the conference last year in passing offense. That's expected to change with new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson taking a more aggressive approach and quarterback Jordan Wynn staying healthy, they hope. When DeVonte Christopher did catch the ball (42 times) he made the most of it with one of the league's highest averages per catch (15.8). But running the ball is still going to be Utah's bread and butter. The numbers will improve, but a 1K receiver will be tough.

Washington: This is a tough call. Quarterback Keith Price has another year of experience, but there is so much distribution in the Huskies offense -- which includes a tight end who should see the ball at least five to seven times per game -- that there might not be a chance for one guy to separate himself. Kasen Williams and James Johnson both have big-play potential -- which might be part of the problem because they could take yards away from each other. And without Chris Polk running the ball, teams might not be as quick to send safeties down to defend the run.

Washington State: Not if, but when. Marquess Wilson, last year's yardage runner up is in a system that's tailor-made for him. Of the league's top receivers -- Allen, Woods, Lee, Wheaton -- Wilson might be the best of them all (doesn't that make for a fun debate?). There are plenty of other good receivers at Washington State. But Wilson is the guy. He'll clear 1K about the time you're recovering from your Halloween candy hangover.
Taking a cue from the guys at the Big Ten blog, who recently looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers in that conference in 2012, I thought it would be worth a look at the Pac-12 group.

For the B1g boys, 3,000 yards might seem like a bench mark. In the Pac-12, it's more common, given the brand of football played in the league and seemingly never-ending parade of amazing throwers and catchers who grace the Pac-12 each year. Heck, the conference had two 4,000-yard passers on 2011 in Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler.

But those two are gone -- and so are their head coaches, coordinators and offensive schemes.

Here are the members of the 3K club last season:

  • Foles, Arizona, 4,329
  • Osweiler, Arizona State, 4,036
  • Matt Barkley, USC, 3,528 (returning)
  • Andrew Luck, Stanford, 3,517
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 3,328 (returning)
  • Keith Price, Washington, 3,063 (returning)
[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC's Matt Barkley seems like a sure bet to throw for 3,000-plus yards this coming season.
Now let's look at the conference quarterbacks in 2012 and see who has the best chance of cracking the 3K mark.

Matt Scott, Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's spread option is primarily run-first, and I couldn't find a 3,000-yard passer to his credit as a head coach. The closest anyone got was Denard Robinson, who hit 2,570 in 2010. History says probably not.

TBD, Arizona State: Another up-tempo, run-first offense -- though Todd Graham has had more success in the air. G.J. Kinne hit 3,650 passing yards for Tulsa in 2010, but that was also his second year in the system. With a workhorse running back like Cameron Marshall, a deep running back corps and a green quarterback, 3K seems unlikely.

Zach Maynard, Cal: Just 10 more yards. Just one more little swing pass or one broken tackle and Maynard would have joined the 3K club after throwing for 2,990 yards last season. All indications are that he had a good spring, and he looks more comfortable in the offense. Plus, he's got one of the best receivers in the country in Keenan Allen. Maynard should get there.

TBD, Colorado: Tyler Hansen ( who is now gone) almost got there last season, throwing for 2,883 yards even though his leading receiver in catches was running back Rodney Stewart (who is now gone). Toney Clemons (who is now gone) led in yards, and Paul Richardson (who is out for the season with a knee injury) was second. The odds are slim that Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman will improve off Hansen's numbers with so much turnover.

TBD, Oregon: Does it really matter? Darron Thomas knocked on the door last season with 2,761 yards. But establishing the pass isn't exactly priority No. 1 for the Ducks. Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of De'Anthony Thomas, who can turn 5-yard passes into 50-yard completions. But with the Ducks carrying a 62-38 run-pass percentage last season, it's unlikely they'll stray from that formula, which means it's unlikely a new quarterback will reach 3K.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: One of six quarterbacks in the conference last season to break 3K, Mannion threw for 3,328 yards in his debut campaign. Vows from coach Mike Riley to re-commit to the running game should actually enhance Mannion's numbers. And with receivers like Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks on the outside, there is no reason to think he won't top 3,000 again.

TBD, Stanford: Despite a run-first, pro-style attack, Luck still threw for 3,517 yards. The Cardinal were 55-45 in their run-pass ratio last season, and a lot of Luck's aerial success came from his ability to successfully sell play-action and distribute the ball among many position groups. But the top three receivers (Griff Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener) are gone, and you can't bank on the new quarterback being as efficient as Luck. Expect a healthy dose of running back Stepfan Taylor, meaning Luck's replacement probably won't break 3K.

TBD, UCLA: The Bruins joined Utah last season as the only teams that did not have a passer ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in the conference. That will change this season with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone -- the architect of Osweiler's 4K season. The ball will be in the air a lot more than it was in the pistol offense. But seeing as there is so much uncertainty still -- and we could see multiple quarterbacks this season -- it's too tough to call. If one guy starts the entire season, I could see it.

Matt Barkley, USC: Yes, yes, 3,000 times, yes.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: I'd say it's 50-50 for Wynn at this point. The Utes have a very good running back in John White, and coach Kyle Whittingham likes the control game. But Wynn did toss 2,334 yards in 2010 in 10 games. If DeVonte Christopher has the big season many are predicting, and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson dials up the aggressiveness, I could see it happening. As always, unfortunately, every conversation regarding Wynn has to be stipulated with an "if he stays healthy" until he proves otherwise.

Keith Price, Washington: Had it not been for a career-high 438 passing yards against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, Price would have come up way short of the 3K club. But he's in. And without Chris Polk to lean on, we could see Price's passing numbers go up. Prior to the bowl game, he only had one 300-yard game. He has a good chance to repeat as a 3,000-yard passer, but it's not a lock.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Mike Leach hasn't named him the starter, but, come on. He lit it up in the spring, and showed to be a quick study in learning the new offense. With a deep and talented crop of wide receivers -- headlined by Marquess Wilson -- and an offense that throws three out of every four times, Tuel should easily clear 3K.

Stanford weekend rewind

November, 21, 2011
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Saturday night had all of the ingredients for another historical Big Game. But Coby Fleener's recovery of the onside kick in the final minute dashed Cal's hopes of a crazy comeback. Before we start looking ahead to Saturday's regular season finale against Notre Dame, let's take a look back at a few highlights from the 114th Big Game.

[+] EnlargeRyan Hewitt
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCardinal fullback Ryan Hewitt is congratulated by tight end Davis Dudchock (back) after scoring a touchdown against California.
Highlight reel: Jarek Lancaster's sack on Zach Maynard in the third quarter was instinctual linebacking at its finest. Lancaster wasn't going in on a designed blitz. He reacted almost immediately to Maynard rolling to his left, he shed a blocker and then turned up field before throwing Maynard to the ground. Those are the kinds of plays that make defensive coaches giddy.

Best play: Ty Montgomery's 34-yard touchdown run was a text-book end around. A little motion to get the momentum going, then great blocking by Jonathan Martin and Griff Whalen. Loved the hustle by center Sam Schwartzstein to try and get downfield to make a block. But Montgomery was just too darn fast for his own linemen -- and the Cal defense. This guy has some serious speed.

Who's hot: No one hotter right now than fullback Ryan Hewitt. From various receiving positions -- tight end, receiver, slot and fullback, he caught all seven balls thrown his way against Cal for 64 yards and a receiving touchdown. He also got the job done in two short-yardage running situations.

Who's not: On the whole the offensive line. Still too many leaks and too much penetration. After going four games with just one negative play, running back Stepfan Taylor was brought down four times in the backfield -- and that's penetration. Plus, quarterback Andrew Luck was sacked twice against Cal, making it five in the last two games.

The good: A win anytime is good. A win against Cal is better. A win when four teams ranked ahead of you in the BCS standings all lose in the same weekend is absolutely smashing.

The bad: Still too many missed tackles in the open field. It got better with the return of safety Delano Howell, who had five solo stops. But still way more than you'd like to see 11 games into the season.

Big Game rivalry lives up to billing

November, 20, 2011
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STANFORD, Calif. -- David Shaw was having flashbacks. In seconds, the Stanford head coach and former Cardinal wide receiver was re-running every funky play and freaky scenario and wacky finish that have been historic staples of the Big Game.

Here’s the scene on a rainy Saturday night at Stanford Stadium: Cal scores a touchdown with 14 seconds left to cut Stanford’s lead to 31-28. Here comes the onside kick. Anything can happen, right? A Cal recovery and Hail Mary? The ball bounces off of seven Stanford players and Cal converts a 65-yard field goal? It’s the Big Game. Seems plausible. At least at the time.

“I got The Play going through my head. I got the 1990 crazy game with the onside kicks going through my head,” Shaw said. “We just supported our defense. Even if they went down and scored, we made them take so much time off the clock. We knew if we got the onside kick the game was over.”

And it was. The onside kick went right to tight end Coby Fleener, who caught the ball on the one hop, cradled and dropped. No crazy bounces. No students or trombones appeared on the field until the clock read 0:00. Game over. Stanford wins the 114th Big Game. The Axe stays in Palo Alto for at least another year.

“There is still with 14 seconds – you’re thinking about The Play – you never know what can happen – ‘The band is on the field,’” said defensive end Ben Gardner, recalling Joe Starkey’s famous call from the 1982 game. “Luckily, the band stayed in their seats and Coby was able to recover the onside kick. He saved us.”

Aside from the late-game Cal heroics, it was standard Stanford. A slow start on offense before the Cardinal picked it up in the second half and – seemingly— pulled away behind two touchdown passes from Andrew Luck.

Andrew Luck
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck shook off an unproductive first half to throw two second-half touchdown passes.
The Cardinal were coming off their first loss of the season – a 53-30 schooling by the Oregon Ducks – that dashed (maybe?) their national title hopes. Luck in particular didn’t have that great of a game. Like his teammates, he was anxious to get back on the field.

“The best medicine, I guess is football when you’ve lost a game,” said Luck, who finished 20-of-30 for 257 yards, an interception (which came when Ty Montgomery slipped and fell on his route) and two touchdowns. “It was good to get out and play a quality opponent in a rivalry game.”

And despite the rain and the cold, the rivalry game proved to be as advertised. The Cardinal struck first. Following a Cal fumble, Montgomery scored on a 34-yard end-around. But after a Giorgio Tavecchio field goal and Luck’s interception – his fifth in four games – Cal took a 10-7 lead.

“It was tough sledding,” Shaw said. “We didn’t make some plays early in the game that I thought we should have and they took advantage of it and came storming back … It wasn’t pretty. But doggone it we fought to the end and got the win.”

The Cardinal returned to their ground game in the second quarter, rushing for 85 yards, which included a 6-yard Tyler Gaffney touchdown run.

Then Luck took off in the third quarter, completing 8 of 10 passes for 135 yards and tossing touchdowns to Levine Toilolo and Ryan Hewitt.

But Cal quarterback Zach Maynard wouldn’t let the Axe go that easily. He orchestrated a touchdown drive early in the fourth and the final-minute dramatics that ended with the onside kick.

Safety Delano Howell called it a character victory for the Cardinal.

“We understood that how we responded to the loss last week was a challenge to our character,” said Howell, who finished with seven tackles and a fumble recovery. “Grown men, they respond in a positive way. They don’t reflect on the past or use that in a negative manner or in an adverse way. In order to prove who we were as a team, we had to come out and make a statement tonight.”

And there were, of course, the standard missed tackles in the open field. Wouldn’t be a Stanford game without them. But it’s a win – and that’s exactly what this team needed in the wake of last week’s crippling loss to the Ducks.

“I think we were looser as a team,” Gardner said. “The nature of last week’s game, the national implications. Now we’re playing like a team with nothing to lose, because we don’t. We’re a team fighting for a BCS bowl and we know that. But we knew we had to come out and play looser than we did last week because we made too many mistakes last week and that’s partly because we were tight. At the same time, it’s Cal. We knew they’d try to punch us in the mouth. We had to play our game. It wasn’t always pretty. But we got the win and the Axe is staying here.”

For Luck, it caps a conference career that ends with back-to-back wins over Stanford’s oldest rival.

“It means a lot,” he said. “It will mean more once the season is over when you get to reminisce. But I feel very grateful and blessed to have won two games in a row against them and retain the Axe for at least another year.”

Final: Stanford 31, Cal 28

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
10:47
PM ET
STANFORD, Calif. – The Cardinal overcame a sluggish first half to top Cal 31-28 in the 114th Big Game. And, per usual for this gathering, it came down to the final minute.

Cal made a game of it in the fourth quarter, cutting a 28-13 deficit to 28-21 with 10:53 remaining. Zach Maynard connected with Spencer Hagan for a 3-yard touchdown pass, then converted the 2-point conversion to Marvin Jones.

But the Cardinal went on a 14-play drive, eating up 57 yards and 7 minutes, 40 seconds that ended in a 35-yard Jordan Williamson field goal – making it a two-possession game with three minutes remaining.

The Bears drove to the Stanford 1-yard line with 18 seconds left and C.J. Anderson scored to cut Stanford’s lead to 31-28. But the Bears were unable to recover the onside kick. It went right to Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener, who made the catch in the air and then fell to the ground to secure the win.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck shook off a bumpy first half to finish 20-of-30 for 257 yards and two second-half touchdowns. He also threw an interception for the fourth consecutive game – though it came when his receiver slipped on the wet grass.

Tyler Gaffney and Ty Montgomery each had rushing touchdowns and fullback Ryan Hewitt and tight end Levine Toilolo had touchdown receptions.

Maynard finished 20-of-29 with 279 yards and two touchdowns.

Cal running back Isi Sofele rushed for 85 yards on 22 carries.

First Q: Cal 10, Stanford 7

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
8:07
PM ET
STANFORD, Calif. -- Turnovers have been the name of the game in the first 15 minutes.

With a steady rain coming down, Stanford capitalized on a wayward pitch by Cal quarterback Zach Maynard on the second play of the game. Ben Gardner recovered the fumble and a couple of plays later, freshman wide receiver Ty Montgomery scored on a 34-yard end around.

With a 7-3 lead, Andrew Luck was intercepted -- by Cal's Steve Williams after Montgomery slipped and fell during his route. It was returned for a touchdown. Luck has thrown an interception in four straight games.

Penalties on the return negated the touchdown, but only temporarily. Three plays later Maynard connected with Keenan Allen on a 17-yard touchdown pass to put the Bears up 10-7.

The rain also seems to be having an impact on the field. Aside from the Montgomery slip, other players have been slipping and sliding throughout the first 15 minutes.

Luck is 4-of-9 for 36 yards and an interception.

Allen has six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.

Big Game means plenty to Cal

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
9:15
AM ET
California's Sean Cattouse is a good safety. A sure tackler. An NFL prospect. And you already know where this is going, right?

Cattouse was cast as the part of roadkill for one of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's most replayed highlights -- his 58-yard scramble in last year's Big Game blowout of the Bears. "Roadkill" is not a role any football player wants.

"A lot of jokes. It's all fun and games," Cattouse said when asked -- again and again -- this week about the play. "I'm just more sickened with myself with how I went about trying to tackle him. It looked like nothing I've done before."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAndrew Luck and the Cardinal won back the Axe after beating Cal 48-14 last season.
How much do you think Cattouse enjoys hearing about that play? How much do you think he wants a rematch with Luck, one on one? And how much do you think all the Cal players enjoy hearing about how super-awesome Luck and the Cardinal are?

The Big Game is always a big game. It's a rivalry game between elite schools that like to tout how they are more elite really than the other.

And it means plenty to Cal.

For one, they'd get the Axe back. While the Bears have split the last four Big Games, they have won seven of nine under coach Jeff Tedford.

Tedford is another issue. While he's been successful against the Bears' biggest rival -- Stanford was riding its longest winning streak in the series with seven consecutive Big Game victories from 1995-2001 when he arrived in Berkeley -- there is considerable fan frustration with his program's inconsistency over the past few years. A win over a highly ranked Stanford team would mute that, at least in the short term.

Further, Cal is playing for its own stakes. If it beats the Cardinal, it improves to 7-4 and moves up in the pecking order with bowl selections.

That said, there are unintended consequences of playing the spoiler. It would cost the Pac-12 about $6 million because Stanford wouldn't be the pick for an at-large BCS bowl berth. And then the Cardinal likely would end up in the Alamo Bowl, which would knock every other bowl-eligible team down a notch.

"It's not about spoiling anything for them," Cal quarterback Zach Maynard said. "It's a huge rivalry game for us."

Cal also has a strong history of upsets in the series, particularly when the Cardinal boasts a celebrated quarterback.

The Bears beat John Elway twice, producing the greatest play in college football history -- "The Play," in fact -- to do so in 1982. They knocked off Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett in 1970. And, of course, they upset Luck in 2009, 34-28, with Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed grabbing an interception in the waning moments with Stanford on the Bears' 3-yard line.

That, in fact, was one of the worst games of Luck's career. He was 10-of-30 for 157 yards with no touchdowns.

Before that game, Tedford repeatedly tweaked his players with how the media and fans believed then-No. 14 Stanford and running back Toby Gerhart were too physical for the Bears. In response, Cal's Shane Vereen rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries with three touchdowns and outplayed Gerhart.

It was a successful motivational angle that Tedford might revisit. Young people often seem to respond well to the underdog, no-respect role.

"Those are always motivational pieces," Tedford said. "We have a great deal of respect for them. Their accolades -- they are worthy of them."

Still, in the end, all rivalry games are like this. There are Cal men and Stanford men. Blues and Cardinal. And when they meet -- their own and the other -- they will remember who won, and when and how it went down.

Said Cattouse, "It's a big game every year. Every year we want to win it."

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