Stanford Finds Out How Physical Cal Can Be

STANFORD, Calif - It was won on the ground. And between the ears. It was all the physical battle everyone predicted and maybe every bit the mental one no one suspected.

Stanford was on a roll. "The hottest team in the country,'' insisted Cal coach Jeff Tedford. But in this 112th Big Game, Cal was hotter, more efficient, and considerably more effective.

The Golden Bears started late and then never stopped, upsetting Stanford, 34-28, Saturday night and upsetting most of what was the largest crowd ever in the four-year-old rebuilt Stanford Stadium - 50,510.

A crowd which included Tiger Woods, who the evening before was inducted into the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame and for the game was serving as honorary captain of the school he attended for two years.

Stanford was going to win because Toby Gerhart, suddenly a Heisman Trophy candidate, was going to pound and dash and overpower Cal's defense.

Stanford was going to win because the previous two weeks it dismantled two of the best teams in the Pac-10, Oregon and USC.

"All week long, the talk was how physical they are,'' Tedford said about Stanford. "How they were going to run the ball on us, things like that. Our motto was, ‘We're going to find out on the field.'"

They found out. We found out. Stanford found out. Gerhart had his moments and had all of Stanford's four touchdowns. But it was Cal which did the pounding. Cal which had the ball control. And on an interception with 1:36 to play and Stanford down to the Bears 13, Cal which had the game.

Cal was as tough as they needed to be, opening holes and also opening eyes. Trailing 14-0 before the first quarter came to a close on a cool Bay Area evening, the Bears seemed finished virtually before they started. But that wouldn't be Cal.

"This team has confidence in themselves,'' said Tedford. "When we were down 14-0, no one batted an eye.''

If you're pushed, push back. Cal pushed and shoved and conquered.

Jahvid Best, the running back who began the season embraced by Heisman talk, was out with a concussion. No matter. His replacement Shane Vereen was better than Best, if you will

Vereen carried 42 times for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Cal rushed for 242 yards compared to Stanford's 188. Cal had the ball 39 minutes 6 seconds, compared to Stanford's 20:54.

"They controlled the line of scrimmage most of the game,'' confirmed Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. "To win a game you have to win the phases, offense, defense. I thought we won special teams. That's the only one.''

Cal is 8-3 with a game in two weeks at Washington. Stanford is 7-4, with a game next week here against Notre Dame, a game which could ease the pain of this one.

"There were a lot of should-haves,'' said Harbaugh. For Stanford, not Cal, which retains The Axe; the trophy which has gone to the winner of this rivalry since the 1930s.

"The key was when we got ahead,'' said Tedford. Then Stanford had to pass, not run, had to rely on redshirt-freshman quarterback Andrew Luck, who after a few impressive games suddenly looked like, well, a redshirt freshman.

He fumbled three snaps in shotgun. He overthrew receivers. And then when he could have worked a miracle at the finish, getting Stanford into the end zone, instead made the biggest of mistakes, throwing the interception.

Second and 10 on the Cal 13. Plenty of time. But Luck rushed. The ball was intended for tight end Coby Fleener. It ended up in the hands of Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed. Stanford had been axed.

"Should haves,'' repeated Harbaugh. "He should have thrown it higher. I should have given him a better play.''
Or Stanford should have played better.

"They did a nice job controlling the line on defense and defending the pass at the same time. The same thing defensively. You look at the second and third quarter, especially. We only had the ball one possession in the third quarter . . . We didn't get them stopped, and they stopped us.''

That's the essence of football, stopping the opponent and not letting them stop you.

Stanford's thoughts of the Rose Bowl ended with the loss, and even with a win they would have ended when later Oregon beat Arizona down in Tucson.

"This one hurts,'' agreed Gerhart. He had those four rushing touchdowns and now a Stanford career record 39. He carried 20 times for 136 yards. Gaudy numbers. Frustrating results.

"We wanted to get to the Pac-10 championship,'' said Gerhart. "We wanted The Axe back. We let this one slip away.''

Not really. They had it pulled from them by a Cal team which outdid them at their own physical game.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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