Giving them the Axe is better than giving the Axe away: Stanford runs past Cal, 45-31, in the 119th Big Game

November 22, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 22, 2016

The Stanford football team ran over Cal on a rainy Saturday in Berkeley, racking up 357 rushing yards and rolling to a seventh straight victory over their long-standing Bay Area rivals.

It was a credit to Cal’s prolific passing offense, and a discredit to Stanford’s normally staunch defense, that the ultimate outcome of the 119th Big Game was in doubt well into the second half. But it was a credit to Stanford’s once-anemic offense that the outcome was all but assured by the midway point of the final quarter.

Stanford opened the game with another anemic starting drive, gaining four yards on six plays. The Golden Bears, by contrast, would need just one play to take a 7-0 lead. Davis Webb threw a short slant pass that Chad Hansen, the Pac-12 conference’s leading receiver, was able to take 70 yards to the end zone.

A dead-ball personal foul following the touchdown and a short kickoff set Stanford up at the Cal 45-yard line. But the visitors would knot the score in only two plays and 28 seconds.

Keller Chryst threw a 29-yard pass to Greg Taboada, only the tight end’s fourth reception of the year, to start the drive. Following the next snap, Chryst faked a handoff to Christian McCaffrey. The defense bit on McCaffrey’s run to the left, allowing Chryst to tuck the ball away and run around right end for an easy 16-yard touchdown.

The teams exchanged punts on their next possessions, which were unremarkable but for a 36-yard McCaffrey run.

Cal was the next team to score, this time with a 12-snap, 83-yard possession. The longest single play was a 20-yard reception by 310-pound Cal tight end/fullback Malik McMorris, who as you might imagine is a challenge to tackle. Otherwise, Tre Watson was the star, as he ran and caught the ball for 44 yards on the series. Watson capped the drive with a gritty seven-yard run early in the second quarter; he was met by inside linebacker Mustafa Branch at the 4-yard line on the play but kept moving his legs until he’d powered past the goal line.

Stanford’s response gave Cal a taste of what was to come over the remainder of the game. Bryce Love started things off with an eight-yard run, but McCaffrey got the ball on six of the remaining eight plays. One of those went for a 13-yard reception from Chryst where at least four Cal defenders players got a hand on McCaffrey but failed to bring him down. Another was a 31-yard run that Stanford blocked so well that cornerback Ashtyn Davis was fortunate to get close enough to make the tackle.

The drive’s other plays were a 1-yard Chryst keeper and the series finale, Chryst’s nine-yard touchdown toss to tight end Dalton Schultz. It was the junior’s 19th catch of the year, his first touchdown of 2016 and only his second college TD.

Cal’s offense slowed down a bit here, much to the relief of nervous Cardinal boosters who were dismayed at the prospect of the teams getting into a barnburner. The Bears drove to the Cardinal 21 and were primed to go farther before Cardinal senior linebacker Peter Kalambayi stopped Khalfani Muhammad for a one-yard loss on third and 2. Matt Anderson then came on for a 39-yard field goal try that went wide right.

After another exchange of punts, Stanford got the ball back with 1:59 remaining in the first half. The offense flowed through Chryst, who hit J.J. Arcega-Whiteside for completions of 32 and 11 yards and ran for 13 yards. On the final play of the half, Conrad “Ol’ Reliable” Ukropina nailed a 40-yard kick to give Stanford its first lead, 17-14.

In retrospect, that was the turning of the tide. Cal got the ball coming out of the locker rooms but had to kick after gaining just 29 yards.

The Bears downed the punt at the Stanford 8-yard line, but the Cardinal offense was not cowed. After McCaffrey ran for 2 yards, the offense set up in the I-formation with extra linemen. On the snap, the fullback, Daniel Marx, helped shore up the right side of the line while McCaffrey took the ball through a gap on the left side.

Linebacker Devante Downs and safety Jaylinn Hawkins were near the hole and tried to stop McCaffrey. But he cut back toward the center of the field and the two Cal players got tangled up with one another, going to the ground in a comical pile-up that prevented cornerback Marloshawn Franklin Jr. from attempting to stop McCaffrey.

Having reached the open field, the Stanford running back kicked into high gear. Franklin pursued, as did Davis, but neither ever really had a chance to tackle McCaffrey on what became a 90-yard touchdown run. That gave the visitors a 10-point lead, 24-14.

The Bears would respond with a 43-yard Anderson field goal.

But Stanford again went for a touchdown on a 12-play, 61-yard series that consumed more than five minutes. McCaffrey carried seven times for 47 yards on the drive. He finished the series with a touchdown run on which he picked his way through traffic on a play when Cal’s defensive front left few running gaps. The 11-yard score put the visiting squad ahead by two touchdowns, 31-17.

Cal’s response covered 75 yards in 13 plays and 3:35 and culminated in Watson running for an eight-yard touchdown to bring the Bears back within one score.

Here again, however, Stanford’s offense answered the call, covering 69 yards in six plays. The highlight was Chryst’s third-down throw to Arcega-Whiteside, who easily blew past Franklin and got free for a 59-yard gain. The Cardinal took a 38-24 lead early in the fourth quarter on McCaffrey’s third touchdown run of the day when he leaped over the pile on third and goal from the 1.

The Cardinal defense forced a three-and-out, but the Bears returned the favor, and Cal got the ball back with more than nine minutes on the clock. This time, the Bears managed a first down on an offsides penalty against Stanford, but inside linebacker Sean Barton stopped Bug Rivera for a seven-yard rushing loss and tackled Watson for a five-yard receiving loss on consecutive snaps. (Cal was flagged for holding on the pass play, but Stanford declined the penalty.) The Bears had to punt from their 20-yard line after a five-play series that netted zero yards.

The visitors got the ball back at their 40-yard line with 7:14 to play, and executed a seven-play drive. McCaffrey carried four times to help eat up the clock; ultimately, he finished with 31 rushes for 284 yards, breaking the school-record 243 yards that he’d gained last year against UCLA. The highlight of this series, though, came when Chryst threw a beautiful deep ball to a wide-open Trenton Irwin on a post route. The 30-yard touchdown pass, Chryst’s second of the day, gave Stanford an authoritative 45-24 lead with a little more than four minutes left in the game.

Cal scored on the ensuing drive when Webb threw to Hansen for a 16-yard touchdown. But there was no way the Bears were coming back from a 45-31 deficit with 3:01 left in the quarter, especially after Stanford strong safety Justin Reid recovered an onside kick attempt. Love, Cam Scarlett and former starting quarterback Ryan Burns took over, earning a first down and burning up the rest of the clock.

Stanford moved to 8-3 (6-3 in the Pac-12) while the hosts dropped to 4-7 (2-6) following their fourth straight loss.

Stanford has dominated Big Game this decade and owns the longest winning streak in the 122-year history series — seven games, which the Cardinal has done twice (1995–2001 and 2010–2016). Since the Bears’ last victory, a 34-28 result in 2009, Cal has scored four or more touchdowns against Stanford just twice and has lost by 18 or more points five times.

What else is left to say? Stanford metaphorically gave Cal the Axe — and literally returned to Palo Alto with the revered trophy safe in hand.


Helpful links:

Stanford-Cal box score — ESPN
Stanford-Cal team statistics
Stanford-Cal play by play
Stanford-Cal video highlights
Stanford-Cal static box score —
Stanford-Cal interactive box score
2016–17 Stanford football roster
2016–17 Cal football roster

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