Cal made an about face from a shaky start with its 43-17 victory over UCLA on Oct. 6, but the Golden Bears made another about face, this time in the wrong direction, in its 21-3 loss to Stanford on Oct. 20.
The loss was disappointing for Cal (3-5, 2-3 in the Pac-12) for three reasons:
--In the big-picture context, the loss ended the Bears' promising two-game winning streak and seriously jeopardized Cal's chances of earning a bowl berth and a winning season.
--This particular game was discouraging because the Bears' offense, which seemed to be improving after being so productive against UCLA and Washington State, fell flat against Stanford's standout defense. The Bears were held to their lowest scoring output of the season while being limited to three yards rushing after being effective on the ground the previous two games. "Offensively, that was a poor performance," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It was a frustrating day offensively, without a doubt."
--Finally, this poor showing took place against the Bears' Bay Area rival in what is known as the Big Game. Any loss is disappointing, but losing to Stanford, and looking bad in the process, does not sit well with Cal fans.
Granted, Stanford has an outstanding defense.
"Their defense is as good as any defense we have played in this conference for years," Tedford said.
Nonetheless, there were boos from the home crowd at Memorial Stadium during the game as the offense failed time and again to get anything going.
The Cal defense was not great against a Stanford offense that has struggled on the road, but it played well enough to win.
Two of the three Stanford touchdowns came on short-field drives. The first was a 34-yard drive set up by a 37-yard punt return, and the third came on a 20-yard pass one play after Keenan Allen fumbled the ball away at the Cal 20.
The Bears did give up 189 rushing yards to Stanford tailback Stepfan Taylor, but Cal's problem was its offense. The Bears were outgained, 475-217, and 78 of Cal's yards came on its final possession of the fourth quarter when the Bears were all but out of the game.
That drive was reflective of the Bears' offensive frustrations, as Cal got as far as the Stanford seven-yard-line before C.J. Anderson lost two yards on a second-down run, Zach Maynard was sacked on third down and Maynard threw an interception on fourth down.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Cal plays at Utah on Oct. 27. Even though it is on the road, this is a game Cal has to win to have any shot at a bowl berth and a successful season. The Utes (2-5) have lost four in a row after their 21-7 loss to Oregon State on Oct. 20. Utah has a pretty good defense, but not as good as the Stanford defense that stymied the Bears. And Utah has struggled on offense because of quarterback issues. After that, Cal hosts Washington before finishing with games against the two Oregon schools.
--Cal must win three of its remaining four games to get to a bowl, and with games against two top 10 teams, Oregon and Oregon State, the Bears might miss out on a postseason berth for the second time in three years. The Bears also could finish with a losing record for the second time in three years after having winning records in each Jeff Tedford's first eight seasons. Finally, the Bears are hoping to avoid a losing conference record for a third consecutive season, after having a losing conference record in only one of Tedford's first eight seasons at Cal.
--Coach Jeff Tedford is 7-4 against Stanford, but he has lost three in a row to the Bears' Bay Area rival.
--Perhaps the most disappointing possession for Cal came in the second quarter with Stanford leading, 7-0. Keenan Allen's 29-yard punt return put the ball at the Stanford 25-yard line, and Cal moved to the Cardinal two-yard line, where it had a first down. But C.J. Anderson's run lost a yard, and Isi Sofele's run lost another yard. After Zach Maynard ran for no gain, the Bears were forced to kick a 21-yard field goal, their only score of the game. On Stanford's first offensive play after that, Josh Nunes hit Zach Ertz on 68-yard pass play that set up Stanford's second touchdown. Less than a minute after it seemed Cal would tie the score, 7-7, the Bears trailed 14-3.
--Cal's 217 yards of total offense against Stanford was a season low. The previous low was 250 against USC. Cal's previous low in scoring this season was the nine points it scored against USC. The Bears scored 74 points in its previous two games combined.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Brendan Bigelow again showed his big-play potential, but he also showed his inexperience. His 40-yard kickoff return and his 31-yard gain on a sideline pass to set up Cal's only score demonstrated that he is capable of game-breaking plays. But he also fumbled a handoff that gave Stanford the ball and gained no yards on two rushing attempts.
LOOKING GOOD: Cal's defense was not great, but it shut Stanford out in the second half, and made only one glaring mistake -- a blown coverage on Zach Ertz's 68-yard reception. The Bears did not allow any long scoring drives. Technically, Stanford scored its second second on a 75-yard drive, but 68 of those came on that completion to Ertz. The other two Stanford drives covered 34 and 20 yards.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Cal running game that was so effective against Washington State and UCLA simply disappeared against Stanford. Certainly Stanford's standout run defense figured to make things tougher for Cal's backs, but by no means did the Bears expect to be limited to three yards rushing, by far the lowest of the season. Cal's tailback trio of C.J. Anderson, Isi Sofele and Brendan Bigelow, who had combined for 249 rushing yards against Washington State and 184 against UCLA, totaled 18 yards on 19 carries against Stanford.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a bit frustrating when you know in previous weeks you can run the ball effectively. The running game wasn't as strong. It wasn't there." -- Cal QB Zach Maynard, on the Bears being limited to three yards rushing against Stanford.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
WR Keenan Allen was limited to four catches and 43 receiving yards against Stanford, but he has 200 career receptions, two shy of the Cal record held by Geoff McArthur. Allen has caught a pass in all 32 games in which he has played, which is the longest such streak in the Pac-12 and the eighth longest in the nation.
--K Vincenzo D'Amato made a 21-yard field goal against Stanford and has hit on seven straight field-goal attempts after missing four in a row.
--RB C.J. Anderson, who had 151 yards rushing against UCLA and 112 against Washington State, was limited to five yards on seven carries against Stanford.
--QB Zach Maynard was sacked four times by Stanford, and the Bears have yielded 33 for the season, the most in the nation.
--DL Aaron Tipoti, who missed the previous three games because of a knee injury, was in the starting lineup against Stanford.
--CB Marc Anthony, who missed virtually all of the last two games because of a knee injury, started against Stanford and played the whole game. He had his fifth career interception.
--G Dominic Galas, who had been out because of a torn pectoral muscle, played for the first time this season against Stanford.