Stanford has a defense — and a ninth straight win over Cal

By Art Spander

BERKELEY, Calif. — Cal scored a touchdown. When it didn’t matter. Not even against the point spread. Certainly not even against Stanford.

Sure, you want to do something besides kick field goals (or in one case, miss a field goal), but getting your only TD with 10 seconds remaining — and the crowd, once more frustrated, heading out of Memorial Stadium — is just eyewash.

This was supposed to be a close one, a couple of points was the line, and it was close. On the scoreboard for a while. But not on the field. We knew that Stanford had an offense. What we realized with its 23-13 victory, its ninth straight over the Golden Bears, was that Stanford has a defense.

If you want the disappointment — from the Cal viewpoint — distilled to a small segment, try these five plays in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, with Stanford in front, 13-6.

Cal quarterback Chase Garbers, on first and 10 from the Stanford 34, throws an interception in the end zone. Next play, Stanford’s all-everything running back, Bryce Love, oops, fumbles and Cal recovers on the Stanford 23. But four plays later Cal misses a 36-yard field goal.

There was 12:49 remaining, but for all effects the game was over.

And shortly in the Cal locker room, you heard the lament you hear from most losing locker rooms, to wit: “We missed too many opportunities.”

They missed them because they weren’t as good as Stanford, which now is 8-4 and heading to a bowl game while Cal is 7-5, also heading to a bowl.

As you know, this one was supposed to be played two weeks ago but had to be postponed because of unhealthy air caused by the smoke from the fire in Butte County.

The delay most likely didn’t change the result. Stanford not only beat Cal, as usual, but UCLA as usual (11 in a row there) and USC, sweeping the state, as it were.

Cal ended up with more yards, 352 to 329. Missed opportunities are not found in the statistics columns

“It hurts bad,” said Justin Wilcox, Cal’s second-year coach. “Everyone feels kicked in the gut. They know they had chances, and we don’t need to relive all those things. They know they had opportunities, and that stings.”

And then he dropped a line that was a reminder that often what you are unable to do is what the other team won’t let you do: “Stanford is a heck of a program. They’ve been winning for a long time.”

A program that David Shaw has coached as close to perfection as an academic school — meaning Stanford, Cal, UCLA and other Pac-12 institutions — can be.

The Alabamas and Georgias and LSUs are in a different category. Knowing that, knowing that at Stanford and Cal the SATs are no less significant than TDs, then what Shaw and Stanford have achieved is particularly impressive.

“We needed our defense to pick us up,” said Shaw, “which they did. We got two red zone stops and forced them to kick two field goals early on.”

After Stanford had a touchdown and a field goal, and a 10-0 lead.

“The second half was all about defense,” said Shaw. “We got a lot of stops and stifled their running game. Paulson Adebo made two unbelievable interceptions.”

Both in the fourth quarter, one with one hand.

“I was just trying to make a play,” said Adebo. “Everybody talked about how highly emotional (the game) is, but you can’t understand until you’re actually in that situation.”

The situation for Cal is that it is closer to Stanford than in those years when the Cardinal scored five and six touchdowns, but it still isn’t close enough to stop the domination.

“We’ve grown this year,” agreed Wilcox, “but there’s not a lot you can tell (the players) to make them feel better; it’s the truth. Each and every week we are trying to improve, and that means winning. That’s what it’s all about. Winning. So when we don’t, it hurts.”

And against rival Stanford, after nine losses in a row, it’s especially painful.

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