Stanford coach David Shaw always wants his team to play physical on both sides of the ball, controlling the line of scrimmage with the kind of heart and hustle that has defined the program’s resurgence. With Andrew Luck no longer around, often times that just hasn’t happened this season.
Leave it to the Big Game for a breakout performance.
Stepfan Taylor ran for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown, and No. 22 (No. 20 BCS) Stanford overwhelmed California 21-3 on Saturday for a third consecutive victory against its rival.
In the 115th meeting between the Bay Area schools and the first at remodeled Memorial Stadium, the sunny and serene Strawberry Canyon setting might have been the Golden Bears’ best highlight. The Cardinal (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) outgained the Bears 475 to 217 yards, outrushed them 252 to 3 yards and never lost its grip on the coveted Stanford Axe, which players paraded around the turf while Bears fans exited in silence.
"This is a blueprint game," said Shaw, now in his second year. "This is what we want to do."
Josh Nunes completed 16-of-31 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown for Stanford. He also fumbled and threw an interception late in the fourth quarter to stop what could have been — and perhaps should have been — an even more lopsided score.
Cal (3-5, 2-3) had not scored so few points in the Big Game since losing 10-3 in 1998. Zach Maynard was sacked four times, the Bears fumbled three times — losing two of them — and had another interception of Nunes wiped out by a penalty.
"There’s no better game than the Big Game," Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas said, "to get that type of mentality back."
Taylor (3,616) passed 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart (3,522) for second on Stanford’s career rushing list. Now only Darrin Nelson (4,033) has more.
Stanford shredded Cal from early on — once the Cardinal got a handle on things, anyway.
Scrambling for yards on the game’s opening possession, Nunes fumbled and Deandre Coleman recovered at the Cal 47. On the ensuing drive, Thomas jarred the ball loose from Maynard on third down and forced the Bears to punt.
After Drew Terrell’s 37-yard return put Stanford on the Cal 34 later, Nunes started to find his rhythm. He completed a 16-yard pass to Zach Ertz, and Josh Hill was later called for holding the tight end on third down to extend the drive.
Taylor shook two defenders at the line of scrimmage, cut outside and sliced back up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown run to give Stanford a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. Taylor’s previous best was 177 yards rushing in the Fiesta Bowl overtime loss to Oklahoma State last season.
"You don’t want to be that class that gives the Axe away," said Taylor, who will leave Stanford 3-0 as a starter in the Big Game. "The seniors made it a point that we want to keep the Axe."
Taylor’s touchdown marked the Cardinal offense’s first on the road this season after losses at Notre Dame and Washington. And once they got going, they simply outmuscled the Bears on both sides.
Starting out of a power formation, Ertz broke free for a short catch and ran 68 yards down the sideline. Fellow tight end Levine Toilolo followed with a 9-yard touchdown pass from backup Kevin Hogan — normally just a read-option quarterback — to put the Cardinal ahead 14-3 on the first throw of his career.
Cal self-imploded on all of its best chances.
The Bears lost 2 yards on three plays — all runs — after Keenan Allen returned a punt 29 yards and Brendan Bigelow took a short slant for a 31-yard gain to Stanford’s 2. They settled for a 21-yard field goal by Vincenzo D’Amato.
Bigelow also fumbled earlier in the second quarter to end another Cal drive, and a pass interference penalty on Steve Williams wiped out an interception. And after a video review, officials ruled that Barry Browning stripped Allen before the wide receiver went down and Stanford’s Jordan Richards recovered.
Nunes found Ertz on the next play for a 20-yard touchdown pass to give Stanford a 21-3 lead and quiet the crowd, other than the small smattering of boos fans mixed in on occasion. If not for two missed field goals by Stanford’s Jordan Williamson, the score would’ve been even more one-sided.
"This goes on everybody," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "They won the line of scrimmage today."
The Cardinal’s conservative approach in the second half limited production but also made sure the Bears never scored.
Stanford stuffed Isi Sofele on fourth-and-1 from the Cal 44 early in the fourth quarter, a play that essentially put the game away. Marc Anthony stepped in front of a pass by Nunes for an interception on the following possession and returned it to the Cal 10. But the Bears’ best drive of the game then ended when Wayne Lyons tip-toed the sideline to intercept Maynard’s pass at the Stanford 3.
Maynard completed 19-of-31 passes for 214 yards — most with the game already decided. Allen, one of the nation’s best receivers, was held to four catches for 43 yards.
"It was disappointing," Maynard said. "It was more disappointing because it was the Big Game."
The game marked the 30th anniversary of "The Play," when Cal scored on a five-lateral, 57-yard kickoff return while the Stanford band ran on the field to win 25-20. It also was the first time the teams had ever played in October.
Unlike in that memorable 1982 game, Stanford never let it come down to the final play.