It may sound silly to say a few plays were the difference in Cal's 48-14 loss to Stanford on Saturday, but that argument could be made. A handful of Cal mistakes ruined any chance the Bears had against the Cardinal, leaving the Bears (5-6) with a losing record and needing a win in their Nov. 27 game against Washington to get a bowl berth.
The Bears get to play the season finale in Berkeley, where they have been far more effective than they've been on the road. But Cal's first chore is to flush the memory of its lopsided loss to its archrival.
Getting a bowl berth for the eighth straight season would look awfully good to Cal at the moment, after consecutive home losses to top-10 teams. But while the Bears played No. 1 Oregon to a virtual standstill in the Ducks' 15-13 victory in Berkeley on Nov. 13, the Bears got buried by Stanford.
And whatever chances Cal had were eliminated in the first few minutes, when the Bears made enough mistakes to effectively take themselves out of the game.
Here are the six plays that took Cal out of the game:
1. Cal quarterback Brock Mansion fumbled 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-1 play, as Stanford recovered at the Cal 26-yard line.
2. Cal cornerback Steve Williams was called for pass interference on the first play after the fumble. Andrew Luck threw an incompletion, but Williams, a redshirt freshman, was flagged for interference on a debatable call, but probably the right one. The penalty went for 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 ensuing possession, but on third down, Mansion underthrew a receiver who had a step on his defender, and Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman 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, Stanford faced a third-and-4 from its 11. Luck threw an incompletion, which meant Stanford would have to punt from the goal line. But Cal outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks was flagged for being offside 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-4 from the 21, Luck dropped back to pass, was pressured from both sides, and took off up the middle. After he 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 big 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 game would be a run by Luck?
6. Cal corner Bryant Nnabuife was called for pass interference on an incomplete pass intended for Ryan Whalen. That penalty moved the ball from the 18 to the Cal 3-yard line on that same possession. Stanford scored on the next play to make it 10-0, and the Cardinal poured it on from there.
NOTES & QUOTES
Cal scored with 15 seconds left in the game to avoid tying the biggest margin of defeat in a Big Game. Stanford had beaten Cal 41-0 in 1930, and the margin was 41 before Isi Sofele scored on a fourth-down play from 15 yards out to make the final margin 34, which is Cal's worst Big Game loss since that 1930 game.
The 48 points yielded by Cal is the most points ever scored by Stanford against Cal. It also tied the 48 points Cal scored in 1975 for the most points by one team in the Big Game.
In its previous five home games, Cal's defense had yielded only one touchdown on a drive that started on the opponent's side of the 50-yard line and none longer than 60 yards. However, Stanford had five touchdown drives of more than 60 yards and a sixth of 56 yards. Cal's defense had yielded a total of 27 points in its previous five home games. It gave up 48 to Stanford.
During the pregame coin toss, Cal's entire team came to the center of the field and started woofing at Stanford. The Stanford players joined the discussion at midfield and did their share of talking as well. There was no fight, but the officials had their hands full separating the teams. Stanford's Jamal-Rashad Patterson was ejected, apparently for taking a swing at someone.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Keenan Allen -- The true freshman was by far the most productive Cal player against Stanford. He had eight catches for 54 yards, two runs for 17 yards, five kickoff returns for 120 yards and a touchdown pass. On the touchdown pass, Allen had to reverse field to avoid a rush, then threw a bullet to Marvin Jones, who was standing in the end zone for an 17-yard touchdown reception.
KEEP AN EYE ON: S Sean Cattouse -- Despite bouncing off Stanford QB Andrew Luck on Luck's key 58-yard run in the first quarter, Cattouse had a career-high 15 tackles, including 10 solo hits. He also broke up one pass attempt. He is a big-play defender capable of creating a game-changing play. It didn't happen against Stanford, but it might this week against Washington.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Absolutely, no question. Stanford's a great football team, and you can't afford to make those kind of mistakes." -- Cal coach Jeff Tedford, on whether the mistakes Cal made early in the game had an impact on the outcome.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Cal rushing defense. Stanford rolled up 232 rushing yards, which is not exactly defensive domination. But 58 of those yards came on one long Andrew Luck run on a scramble, and the Cardinal was never able to just overpower the Cal defense with its power running game as it has so many opponents. Stanford entered the game ranked 17th nationally in rushing offense. The Cardinal's leading rusher was its quarterback (Luck) with 72 yards.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Quarterback play. Stanford players said afterward that their defensive priority was to stop Cal TB Shane Vereen. The inference is that Stanford figured Cal QB Brock Mansion could not beat them, and they were right. Not only did Mansion fumble the ball away on the first Cal possession, but he threw two interceptions, the first of which ended a Cal drive after the Bears had advanced to the Stanford 25-yard line while trailing 3-0. Coach Jeff Tedford said Mansion would be the team's starting quarterback against Washington.
WR/KR Jeremy Ross did not play against Stanford because he sustained a broken finger. He is unlikely to play against Washington on Nov. 27 either.
CBs Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony, who usually are starters, did not play against Stanford, apparently because of undisclosed injuries. It's unclear whether either will play against Washington.
TB Shane Vereen reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. He has 1,061 yards with at least one more game left.