GAME NOTES: One of the Pac-12 Conference's premier rivalry games will be held on Saturday as the Stanford Cardinal host the California Golden Bears in the 'Big Game' at Stanford Stadium.
These two programs have met 115 times since first matching up in 1892. In that time Stanford has taken home a victory 58 times, while California has 46 triumphs. There have also been 11 ties. Stanford has won the last three meetings, including a 21-3 win last year in Berkeley.
This is the final game of the year for California, which has gone 1-10 in its first 11 games. Head coach Sonny Dykes, who is in his first year with the program, has changed the offensive scheme but the team is clearly still rebuilding, currently riding a nine-game losing streak. California doesn't even have a win against a FBS squad this year with the lone victory against FCS foe Portland State.
"We have to change a lot of things about our program, but we think we know what we need to do and the changes we need to make," Dykes said while acknowledging his team is looking towards the future. "We're going to get a lot of good players back healthy, which will certainly make a difference for us, and our young guys are going to grow up a year. We're going to have a good football team next year."
The hangover from their stunning upset of Oregon clearly took a toll on the Cardinal, who fell out of first place in the Pac-12 North Division with a 20-17 loss to USC on Saturday. Stanford had just two scores in four red zone trips in the game, with only one of those ending with the Cardinal in the end zone. The loss ended a three-game win streak for Stanford, which is now 8-2 overall and 6-2 in league play. The Cardinal need a loss from Oregon this week or next to get into the Pac-12 championship game.
"November in this conference, there's no comparison to any other conference in the country," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "People can say what they want to say but it's not even close. To go back-to-back-to-back and play tough games like UCLA and Oregon State and Oregon and USC. It's tough. You have to try to run the gauntlet and it's the only choice you have."
Although the transition has been rough in terms of wins and losses, Dykes has been able to instill his offensive values in his first year. The Golden Bears are fifth in the league in total offense (459.9 ypg) with the bulk of that coming through the air.
Freshman Jared Goff is one of the young players Dykes will be relying on to transform the program in years to come. Goff has turned in a solid first year under center, as he has amassed 3,314 yards on 60.5 percent passing. Goff has only 17 touchdown passes, which is a light total considering how often he has thrown the ball. Against Colorado, Goff threw for just 173 yards on 23-of-45 passing while he recorded his 10th interception of the year.
Goff's favorite targets this season have clearly been Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper. Treggs has 76 receptions for 713 yards and a single score, as he has served as more of a possession receiver. Harper (69 receptions, 840 yards, five TDs) hasn't had tons of explosive plays but he is averaging more than 12 yards per reception. Kenny Lawler (34 receptions, 323 yards, five TDs) has worked himself into the mix recently with improved production.
Running the ball has not been a major priority for the Golden Bears. Bren Bigelow (409 yards, two TDs) and Khalfani Muhammad (400 yards, four TDs) are the primary options when the Golden Bears have turned to the run. Against Colorado, Bigelow rushed for 107 yards and two scores to become the first 100- yard rusher for California this season.
While the offense has show flashes of brilliance, the California defense has shown no such promise. The Golden Bears are last in the Pac-12 in both total defense (522.9 ypg) and points allowed (44.4 ppg). The team is also near the bottom of the conference in sacks (16) and forced turnovers (12). In fact California has the worst turnover margin in the conference (-15). Jalen Jefferson (61 tackles, 3.0 sacks) is tied for the team-lead in sacks and one of a few standouts on the unit.
Stanford hasn't been one of the better offensive teams in the conference but that is nothing new, as the Cardinal continue to rely on a slow-paced, run- first offense. Despite being second to last in the league in total yards (383.6 ypg), the Cardinal are one of two teams in the conference to have more rushing yards than passing.
Tyler Gaffney has carried the offense this season. Gaffney has amassed 1,201 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year, averaging more than five yards per carry. Gaffney's yardage total is the second most in a single season for a Stanford running back trailing the school record of 1,395 set by Toby Gerhart in 2009. Against USC, Gaffney rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns, accounting for nearly half of the team's entire offensive output.
Kevin Hogan made a pair of poor decisions and paid for them against USC as he was picked off twice. Shaw hasn't asked Hogan to shoulder the offensive load for the Cardinal this year. In all Hogan has thrown for only 1,723 yards and 13 touchdowns, though he has normally been efficient with an even 60 percent of his passes being completed.
When Hogan has dropped back to pass he has relied heavily on Ty Montgomery. The junior wideout has hauled in 45 passes for 662 yards and five scores this season. His reception total is more than double that of Devon Cajuste (22 receptions, 396 yards, four TDs), who is second on the team.
Stanford doesn't need an explosive offense because of its dominant defense. The Cardinal are third in the league in total defense (345.5 ypg) but that doesn't really tell the whole story. The Cardinal lead the league in tackles for loss (78) and are second in sacks (32). At the forefront of that production is Trent Murphy (18.0 TFL, 9.0 sacks) and Shayne Skov (81 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks).
Even though they may have let their chances at a Pac-12 crown slip through their fingers, the Cardinal are too good a team to lose in back-to-back weeks, especially at home against a California squad that already has its sights set on next year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Stanford 40, California 10