Last year, a highly touted Stanford Cardinal team was hovering on the edge of a Rose Bowl berth and coming off of two impressive victories of the two powers in the Pac-10, upsetting the soon-to-be Pasadena-bound Oregon Ducks and steamrolling the USC Trojans in Los Angeles. The Cardinal seemed to be the overwhelming favorites in their matchup with their Bay Area rivals, riding their Heisman candidate Toby Gerhart and up-and-coming quarterback in Andrew Luck to take over as the Bay Area's best.
But Cal turned the tables on them, as both Shane Vereen and Kevin Riley outperformed their counterparts. Vereen rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries and three touchdowns, and Riley threw 17 of 31 for 235 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception, as Cal controlled the football and kept the Cardinal from touching the ball for vast stretches of the game, converting 11 of 19 third downs. While Gerhart had a solid 136 yards on 20 carries, four touchdowns and a beastly 29 yard catch, almost half of those yards came on his opening score and he was held in check for most of the game after Stanford went up 14-0. The Cardinal defense proceeded to give up 31 of the next 38 points and Luck could never get going, completing only 10 of 30 passes and 157 yards. Most damningly, Luck got the Cardinal to the red zone down six with under two minutes left, but threw the game-clinching interception to Mike Mohamed. The loss ended the Cardinal's faint Rose Bowl chances, and the Axe went back to Berkeley.
Now, the Big Game shifts back to Strawberry Canyon, and things seem to look even tougher for Cal to score the upset. Despite the loss of Gerhart, the Cardinal have not let up, starting their season 9-1 behind their Heisman-contending quarterback and an offensive line that is mighty difficult to shed blocks against. Other than struggles with Arizona St. last week and getting blown out by Oregon in Autzen after letting a 21-3 lead, Stanford's offense has been fairly unstoppable, racking up 466 total yards a game (14th in the nation), 24.9 first downs (tied for 10th in the nation) and 39.8 points per game (9th in the nation).
The Cal defense was great last week in holding down Oregon, but can they do it two weeks in a row? The special teams appears to have regressed back to last year's horrible form and the offense could not get anything going after the opening drive behind new starting quarterback Brock Mansion, forcing Vereen to keep the offense moving. The Cardinal defense has greatly improved from last season and has proven they can grind with almost anyone. It could come down to the home-field advantage for Cal; the Golden Bears are 4-1 at home and have seen offenses (no matter how diverse or impressive) grind to a halt in Memorial.
What will happen this week? Anything goes in the Big Game.