Even though Stanford won Saturday’s Big Game by 34 points — 48-14 — a few plays in the first few minutes may have decided the game. Even if those plays had gone Cal’s way, there is certainly no guarantee the Golden Bears would have beaten Stanford, whose offense rolled through Cal through the middle stages of the game. But if Cal had avoided six particular plays in the first 11 minutes, the Bears perhaps could have stayed in the game and made it a contest, especially on their homefield.
1. Cal quarterback Brock Mansion fumbles the third snap of the game. He had fumbled the first snap, too, but Cal recovered that one. He was not so lucky the second time, which was a third-and-one play, as Stanford recovered at the Cal 26-yard line.
2. Cal cornerback Steve Williams is called for pass interference. On the first play after the fumble, Andrew Luck threw an incompletion, but Williasm, a redshirt freshman, was called for interference on a debatable call, but probably the right one. This penalty is 15 yards, not just half the distance to the goal. So Stanford got the ball to the Cal 11-yard line, setting up Nate Whitaker’s field goal for the first points of the game.
3. Mansion’s first interception. Cal had driven to the Stanford 25-yard line on its ensuring possession, but on third down, Mansion underthrew a receiver who had a sstep on his defender, and Stanford cornerback intercepted it.
“I thought I put enough on it,” Mansion said. “But as the results show, I didn’t.”
4. After taking possession at its own 5-yard line on the interception, Stanfpord faced a third-and-four from its 11. Luck threw an incompletion, which meant Stanford would had to punt from the goal-line. But Cal outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was called for offsides on the play. It was another close call, but again it was probably the right one as Kendricks was moving up and back showing blitz and went a little too far. It gave Stanford a first down, leading to what was the play of the game two plays later.
5. On third-and-four 21, Luck dropped back to pass, was pressured from both sides, and took off up the middle. After had covered 30 yards he was met by Cal safety Sean Cattouse, who simply bounced off the big Cardinal quarterback. “It was a learning lesson for me,” Cattouse said. “I was between putting on a bit hit or just trying to wrap him up.” It resulted in a 58-yard run that put the ball at the Cal 21-yard line. Who would have thought the biggest play of the gam would be a run by Andrew Luck?
6. Cal corner Bryant Nnabuife was called for pass interference on an incompleted pass intended for Ryan Whalen. That penalty moved the ball from 18 to the Cal 3-yard line on that same possession. Stanford scored on the next play to make the score 10-0, and the Cardinal poured it on from there.
Did those handful of plays have an impact?
“Absolutely, no question,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “Stanford’s a great football team, and you can’t afford to make those mistakes.”
The Cardinal scored on its first eight possessions, but it was the circumstances leading to scores on the first two possessions that ended Cal’s chances and set the rout in motion.
To receive Cal sports news regularly, click the “subscribe” button above the headline. It’s free.
For Stanford basketball news, click here.