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8:51PM

Cal can't keep composure — or the football

By Art Spander

BERKELEY — So this was the year Cal had a chance against Stanford, the year the Golden Bears had a defense and had tenacity. What they didn’t have one play into the game was their starting strong safety.

What they often didn’t have after that was discipline. Or, more critically, the football.

The air shooshed out Saturday virtually as the balloon was inflated. All the excitement, the hopes, the possibilities, disappeared in moments.

An ejection. A rapid 10-point deficit. Dejection.

The sun came out above Memorial Stadium after a morning rain, but the day metaphorically was dreary for most of the less-than-capacity crowd of 56,483.

The Cardinal was too much for Cal, maybe not as much as 2013 when the score was 67-13, the most one-sided in the history of a series that now has reached 117 games, but plenty nevertheless.

The final this time was 38-17, and the way the Golden Bears played defense, made penalties and threw interceptions, you never felt Cal had a chance. Both teams entered with 5-5 records, but there was no question one was superior.

“Frustrating” was the primary word tossed around in the Cal post-game comments, followed by “disappointing.” No one expected the Cal people to be pleased. Yet the remarks are becoming litany, and for the faithful, the Old Blues as Cal alumni designate themselves, agony.

The game overall was a bewildering mix of mistakes and official video reviews. In the third quarter alone, Cal had three touchdowns overruled on three consecutive plays. But good teams overcome all that incidental stuff. Bad teams don’t.

Was it a shock that on the first play from scrimmage Cal strong safety Michael Lowe was penalized and ejected for what the official believed was “targeting,” driving his helmet into Stanford tight end Austin Hooper? Of course.

“In 20 years,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, “I have never seen something like that happen the first play of the game. I wish that something like that wouldn’t affect us as much as it did. It affected me, and I think it affected our players.”

Which tells you perhaps as much you need to know about Cal. It is an improving team but also a fragile team, working its way back from a 1-11 record in Dykes’ first season. One blow knocked it off kilter.   

Not that Stanford’s defense and a Cal offense, which lost four turnovers — against a team that only had nine takeaways all season — weren’t major factors.

“They are a physical team,” Dykes, painfully honest about his program and other programs, said about Stanford. “And they laid some pretty good hits on us. They did a nice job tipping a couple of passes, and you have to give them credit for that. We have to make sure we move the pocket and make space.

Starting quarterback Jared Goff threw a couple of those, which were tipped and picked. His alternate Luke Rubenzer also threw two interceptions. Running back Daniel Lasco fumbled near the goal line, Stanford recovering. And there you have part of the tale of self-destruction.

“Our kids really wanted to play well,” said Dykes. “We really wanted to play well as a coaching staff. Our fans wanted us to play well. We didn’t make a very good showing today, and I am really disappointed about that.”

Goff, the sophomore, broke his own single-season record for passing yards. He had 182 Saturday on a so-so 16-for-31 completion mark and now has totaled 3,580 for the season with a game left to play against Brigham Young.

“They’re playing Savannah State,” quipped Dykes. “Probably winning 120-0, getting their confidence.” (It was only 64-0, but his point was understood. BYU gets a lot of points. And the Bears give up a lot of points.)

Goff, said Dykes, didn’t have one of his better games. “When you face a good defense,” reminded Dykes, “you have a small margin for error. Five turnovers are pretty significant errors.”

And 113 yards in penalties (Stanford had 21) are no less significant.

“I am disappointed in the way we played,” said Dykes. “I anticipated us playing better football. It was a bit of a strange football game, and it certainly didn’t start the way we wanted it to start.”

It didn’t end the way they wanted either. Stanford has won the last five years, half a decade. Somehow, Cal has to find a way to keep the other team out of the end zone — Stanford’s Remound Wright tied a Big Game record with five touchdowns — and, no less importantly, find a way to keep its composure.

10:20PM

Newsday (N.Y.): Connor Cook, Spartans defense rally Michigan St. past Stanford in Rose Bowl

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

PASADENA, Calif. — It was one of 100 for the Rose Bowl, the "granddaddy of them all," as it is billed, but for Michigan State, the winner yesterday on the first day of 2014, it was one of a kind.

"Thirteen-and-one," bellowed Spartans coach Mark Dantonio, as he accepted the trophy, "can't get much better than that."

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2014 Newsday. All rights reserved.

8:50AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Defensive juggernauts clash in 100th Rose Bowl

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

PASADENA, Calif. — The oldest of the bowl games, the one known as the "Granddaddy of Them All," promises smash-mouth power football, a throwback to the old days, good or not.

For its 100th game, the Rose Bowl on Wednesday matches Michigan State, ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings, against No. 5 Stanford, two teams more concerned with substance than style, particularly in stopping an opponent.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2014 Newsday. All rights reserved.

10:47PM

Stanford makes points, Cal makes promises

By Art Spander

STANFORD, Calif. — The figurative laundry list for Cal was as as big as Stanford’s point total, the largest by either team in the history of the Big Game, which has been held 116 times.

The Cardinal won this one, destroyed Cal in this one, embarrassed Cal in this one, 63-13, on a sparkling Saturday afternoon in late November.

Attendance was announced as a sellout of 50,424 at Stanford Stadium, although there were plenty of empty seats, perhaps tickets held by Cal fans who couldn’t bring themselves to view a mismatch greater than anybody imagined.

Sure, Stanford, 9-2 and headed for a bowl, whether it be Rose or Fiesta or something else, was a 32½-point favorite. But the eventual spread was 50 — OMG, 50 — and the Golden Bears, after losing starting quarterback Jared Goff with a shoulder separation, couldn’t score a single point after halftime.

It was understood Cal had no defense. The Bears were last in the Pac-12 in that category and then Saturday allowed Ty Montgomery to catch five touchdown passes and Stanford to gain 603 yards.

But supposedly Cal had an offense.

That supposition was disproved, Cal gaining only 383 yards and after the opening four minutes getting only two field goals.

After Cal (1-11) finished with an 11-loss season for the first time in a football history that goes back to the 19th century — yes, teams didn’t play 11 or 12 games until the last few years — head coach Sonny Dykes took the blame and then took a stand.

“My job is to get the team ready,” said Dykes, who was hired last December from Louisiana Tech, “and I clearly didn’t do a very good job.”

Someone tried to get Dykes to allude to the many injuries to Cal players during the season. He made an acknowledgement, then took the high road.

“Yeah,” he conceded, “I can find a bunch of excuses. It is what it is. You guys can look at the depth chart. That’s up to you guys (the media) to draw your own conclusion.

“I think we got a bright future. There’s some things we got to fix. But yeah, we’re going to work tomorrow and get them fixed. Actually we’re going to go to work (Saturday) night.”

After having been worked over by a Stanford team that even with a mammoth lead in the closing two minutes was throwing, backup quarterback Evan Crower hitting Francis Owusu for 14 yards and a touchdown with 1:51 remaining.

Asked if he thought Stanford, which was running up the score, was indeed running up the score, Dykes answered, “Not at all. That’s part of football. Our job is to stop it.”

They couldn’t. They couldn’t stop anything or anyone. In any game, other than one against Portland State, which Cal won 37-30.

Cal gave up 63 points to Stanford, 62 to USC, 55 to Oregon, 52 to Ohio State. 580 points overall in 12 games. Ridiculous.

When somebody wondered what Dykes would say to Cal partisans, he responded, “I don’t have much to say. I wish it was better. It’s on me. That’s all I can say.”

Not all. Visibly dismayed, Dykes promised improvement. Everywhere.

“Blocking,” he began, then halted. “Well, no, we’re going to learn to pick up our locker room. We’re going to learn how to go to class. We’re going to fix our graduation rates.”

Cal, it was disclosed earlier this month, had the worst graduation rate for football players of any school in the Pac-12 — maybe, for the highest-ranked public university in America by several polls, a greater shame than a 1-11 season.

“We’re going to appreciate being a Cal student,” continued Dykes, “be supportive of other Cal students.

“We’re going to get faster, stronger in the weight room. We’re going to get bigger and improve our diet. We’re going to be more committed to getting sleep, rest and recovery.”  

And then the two that actually might make a difference.

“We’re going to learn to play on offense and defense.”

Dykes pointed out he had been coaching for years, been “lucky to be successful,” at every level. Until this year, until a year that terminated with a rout by Cal’s cross-bay rival.

“Never seen anything like this,” said Dykes. He was referring generally to the season, but neither Cal nor Stanford fans had seen anything like Saturday. No team in the Big Game ever had scored more than 48 points. Now one has scored 63.

“I haven’t been a part of it,” sighed Dykes. “Obviously haven’t done a very good job dealing with it. It’s on me to figure out how to deal with it, and go from there.”

He knows the problem. The solution will not come quickly.

8:22AM

Stanford methodically, demonstratively stops the Quack Attack

By Art Spander

STANFORD, Calif. — Wait ‘til next year. That’s what Mark Helfrich implied, if he didn’t say directly. Mark Helfrich, the coach of previously unbeaten Oregon, was talking like this year was in the past, which after Thursday night, after the Ducks were beaten by Stanford in textbook style, rarely getting the ball and never getting the lead, very well may be the situation.

Everyone was so in awe of the Oregon offense, the Quack Attack. Blink and the Ducks have scored. And scored again. Forty points, 50 points against a school called Nichols — Nichols? — and against Washington State, more than 60 points.

The story was out that Stanford players were soft. What would Oregon do against the softies?

Get crushed, that’s what. Get held scoreless for three quarters, a presumed impossibility until a late burst that had the sellout crowd of 51,545 standing and nervous, and still get dominated the way a team must dominate Oregon, with ball control.

Stanford methodically, demonstratively built up a 26-0 lead and then had enough left when Oregon didn’t have enough time left to grab a 26-20 victory that surely knocked the Ducks from the No. 2 place in the rankings and just as surely knocked them out of the BCS Championship game.

“We don’t hold the cards anymore,” said Helfrich of his first loss in his first season as Oregon head coach. The Ducks, as Stanford, which came into the game No. 5 in the rankings, now both are 8-1, but Oregon is 5-1 in the Pac-12, Stanford 6-1.

What Stanford did, insisted Helfrich, is what other opponents tried. The difference was in the talent. “They’ve got a lot of veteran guys on defense,” Helfrich pointed out. “Guys that have graduated.”

Fifth-year seniors. And then, strangely, he added, “That will change a little bit.”

It will change because superb Stanford defenders such as Trent Murphy and Shane Skov, Ed Reynolds and David Parry are seniors. They’ll be gone in another season, as if that matters this season.

What Helfrich was saying in effect was, “Stanford stuffed us because its players are experienced, strong and wise, and it won’t the case in 2014.”

A year ago, up there, at Eugene, Stanford held Oregon to two touchdowns and won, 17-14, in overtime. An aberration, we were told, which would be corrected.

“I feel like this team,” Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas boasted a couple of days ago, “we should put up 40.” Should, but didn’t. Didn’t even put up 30. Barely put up 20.

One hesitates to put much value in possession time, but that caveat could be ignored Thursday night. Of the 60 minutes of football, Oregon was on offense only 17 minutes 26 seconds.

Stanford had the ball virtually three-quarters of the game, even though Oregon had it most (10:35) of the fourth quarter.

“We didn’t get off to a very good start offensively,” said Helfrich. Because Stanford wouldn’t let them. At the half, Oregon had four first downs – and Stanford 11.

In the first quarter Oregon had a fourth down on the Stanford four but threw an incompletion.  In the second quarter Oregon was at the Stanford 11 and lost a fumble.

“They did a great job keeping us inside,” said Helfrich, “but if we get those touchdowns we’d be in the game.” They didn’t get those touchdowns. Stanford kept them from getting those touchdowns.

Oregon, however, couldn’t keep Stanford from getting touchdowns or field goals. Or yards.

Tyler Gaffney rushed 45 times – a Stanford record – and gained 158 yards. He scored the first TD. Quarterback Kevin Hogan rushed eight times for 57 yards. He scored the second TD – and also completed seven passes of 13 attempted.

“Tyler Gaffney ran the ball tonight the way running backs are supposed to run the ball in this game of football,” said David Shaw, the Stanford coach.

“This is what football is about. You control the line of scrimmage, and you have a chance to win. We talked about it the last week and a half, keeping them balled up, keeping them inside, not letting (quarterback) Marcus Mariota get out. He still got us a couple of times, but they weren’t touchdowns.”

The reference to Stanford football being soft was an offshoot of the incidents with the Miami Dolphins, Richie Incognito saying teammate Jonathan Martin, a former Stanford lineman, wasn’t tough.

“And does Stanford have a problem?’’ Shaw asked rhetorically. “Funny thing is that question usually comes after, boy, your team is tough and physical and plays great on the offensive and defensive line. Tonight you see who we are, a big, physical team that plays extremely hard and plays very well together.”

And had the Oregon coach waiting for next year.