Cal-Stanford 2009: Big Game Preview, Countdown Style
Five Lesser-Known Golden Bears Who May Make a Difference
Alex Lagemann— The redshirt sophomore receiver may only have eight catches for 108 yards this season, but seven of them have been for first downs—including two crucial ones during the comeback drive against Arizona State. He should be a key target for Kevin Riley if the Bears hope to convert some third downs and sustain long drives, which they have struggled with lately.
Anthony Miller— At 6'3" and 258 pounds, Cal's tight end will be hard to miss over the middle. The team's fourth leading receiver has displayed soft hands, while being a load to bring down this season. Though he is returning from an injury this week, look for Miller to be a consistent option over the middle, as well as play a role in run blocking.
Bryant Nnabuife— Nnabuife, along with Josh Hill, have both gotten valuable playing time at cornerback this season following the benching and injuries to Darian Hagan. On Saturday, the junior will have to cover either Ryan Whalen or Chris Owusu; both Cardinal wideouts rank among the conference's top 10 in receiving yards.
Eddie Young— One of two linebackers playing in his final big game (Devin Bishop is the other), Young will be partially responsible for helping keep the 6'1", 235-pound Toby Gerhart from rumbling up and down Stanford Stadium.
Giorgio Tavecchio— Of course, the Bears' place kicker, whose four field goals accounted for half of the team's points against Arizona, would rather be booting extra points. But his leg will be needed once again on Saturday—not only for Cal to get some points on the board in what may be a close rivalry game, but also to keep the ball away from Stanford's dynamic kick returner Chris Owusu.
Four Statistics That Will Determine The Game For Cal
1. Third Down Conversions— Cal's conversion percentage is about 41 percent in wins, and an anemic 27 percent in losses. However, the Bears will also have to get their defense off the field, as well; Stanford has moved the chains over half of the time on third down during victories.
2. Kevin Riley's Third Quarter— The Bears have been known for third quarter droughts this season, and their junior signal caller has been a big part them. He has not looked pretty coming out of the half, throwing twice as many picks (four) as touchdowns (three) and posting a completion rate under 50 percent in the third period.
3. Rushing Yards—" Establishing the run" may be a cliche, but it is integral to the Cal offense, which has floundered without the ground game. The Bears have had averaged 230 rushing yards during wins, but have yet to crack the century mark in their three losses.
4. The first team to score— Cal is all about hot starts, but the converse is also true; since a win in the rain over Oregon last year, the Bears have yet to win when failing to get on the board first.
Three Top Storylines To Watch (Other than the Axe)
1. A changing of the guard in the Bay Area?— With a win, the Cardinal can take a step to unseating Cal as the NorCal's hottest program. Here's the long story.
2. Trips to Pasadena and New York on the line— With more than 400 yards and six touchdowns in wins over USC and Oregon, Toby Gerhart may have already done his part to earn a trip to the Heisman ceremony—but a big game against rival Cal would put some icing on the cake. And while the Cardinal will need some extra help to earn a Pac-10 crown, they can at least do their part with a win on Saturday. Meanwhile, how great would it be for the Bears to personally ruin their rivals' magical season?
3. Kevin Riley's performance— The signal caller's highs and lows this season (and throughout his career) have been well-documented. Believe it or not, the junior still has another year left in Strawberry Canyon; an upset win Saturday would unquestionably be his biggest win as Bear—and perhaps give him (and fans) a major confidence boost going forward.
Two Reasons Each Team Will Win
Stanford Will Win Because:
1. They're rolling— The Card put up 106 combined against USC and Oregon. Cal didn't score a single touchdown. Doesn't take a Cal or Stanford grad to figure this out...
2. The kick return game— It took a fluke tackle by Cal's kicker to keep Arizona's returner for scoring and taking back the lead last Saturday. That won't fly against Chris Owusu, who can do damage by scoring himself or by giving Stanford a short field.
Cal Will Win Because:
1. Stranger things have happened— Cal has proved this year that they aren't quite ready for their national close-up shot. Maybe an underdog role is all they need.
2. The defense comes in confident— The Bears come in having tamed one of the conference's most potent offenses in Arizona - playing particularly stout against the run during the home finale. Gerhart is a different animal, but the run defense has been the stronger of Cal's units.
One Final Score Prediction
Against a potent ground and aerial attack, the Bears may be scrambling to keep this one close, and I may be waiting to drink away my sorrows in Palo Alto. Yes, this is blasphemy for someone who bleeds Blue and Gold, but I'm just trying to maintain some sense of realism as a journalism.
But as fan, however, Cal has fallen short of my expectations many times this year—and doing it once more on Saturday would make my day.
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