Sean Cattouse admits he has seen it.
It’s not something he necessarily chooses to watch, but he’s seen the replay a few times.
Here’s the scenario: It’s the first quarter of Big Game 2010, and Stanford has the ball on its own 21-yard line, up 3-0. On third-and-five, quarterback Andrew Luck avoids the blitz and scrambles up the middle. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder sprints past four Cal defenders for 34 yards before he runs into Cattouse — literally. Cattouse bounces right off of Luck and falls over. Luck slows for a second, and then keeps on running for another 24 yards.
Stanford would go on to score a touchdown on the drive — and the next one, and the next one, and the next one. The Cardinal scored six consecutive touchdowns to take a 45-0 lead in the third quarter en route to the Bears’ worst Big Game defeat since 1930.
“It was just a bad play on my part,” said Cattouse, Cal’s 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior safety. “Too high, didn’t wrap up, and a whole bunch of stuff. It was just bad all around.
“It wasn’t a reflection of him at all.”
That’s the sort of mantra the Cal football team has been preaching going into Saturday’s 7:15 p.m. rivalry game against the No. 8 Cardinal — distant respect yet no concessions. Heading into the 114th Big Game at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif., the Bears (6-4, 3-4 in the Pac-12) are complimentary of Luck, but they certainly don’t see him as the extraordinary, untouchable player whom many NFL scouts have been salivating over.
“He’s definitely a big, physical guy,” Cattouse said. “(But) there’s definitely some other quarterbacks who are pretty similar in terms of physicality.”
Luck was the Heisman Trophy frontrunner until last week’s loss to No. 4 Oregon. The senior threw two interceptions in the 53-30 defeat, which crippled Stanford’s national title hopes. Despite the Cardinal’s lackluster performance, Cal is acting as if Stanford (9-1, 7-1) is the same undefeated offensive recking crew it was a week ago.
“We just got to pick up on small tendencies,” Cal safety D.J. Campbell said. “They don’t do very much, but what they do they do it well. And Andrew Luck does a good job of running the show over there.”
Campbell vividly remembers a time when Luck did not do such a good job. Luck threw an interception to Mike Mohamed in the Big Game two years ago that clinched the victory for the Bears. Campbell considers that moment to be his favorite memory in his five years with the team, pointing to the importance of beating his team’s nemesis.
“This is why I came to Cal,” Campbell said. “We lost the axe last year, (so) it would mean a lot.
“We don’t really know where it is (when we have it), but at the end of the day you wanna have that feeling that the axe is in our possession.”
The Bears, despite being 17.5-point underdogs, will have a shot considering Luck’s invincibility has lost some of its shine in recent weeks. Besides last week’s outing, the quarterback threw a pick-six that almost lost the game to USC back on Oct. 29.
Oregon exposed the vulnerability in Stanford’s defense, which desperately missed injured linebacker Shayne Skov. The Ducks used their speed and running game to outlast a defensive unit known for its physicality, not its athleticism.
That might be an advantage for Cal, given its successful ground attack. Speedy tailback Isi Sofele rushed for a career-high 190 yards on Saturday.
“Getting momentum with the running game is huge,” quarterback Zach Maynard said. “It takes a lot of pressure off me. They’re not having to depend on me throwing the ball every down.”
It’s been working. The past two weeks, Cal has relied heavily on the run, placing turnover-prone Maynard into a game manager; the Bears won both of those contests and three of its last four to become bowl eligible, making last year’s sub-.500 season a little easier to swallow.
“It’s a burden lifted off your back,” Campbell said. “It was a really distasteful taste in our mouth to end the season the way we did last year, and that was one of our goals, to not have that same feeling as last year.”
The same goes for Cattouse. He said he was “sickened” by his inability to tackle Luck on that defining play. He’s had to deal with jokes and criticism for the last 12 months.
Cattouse hopes this time around he’ll be the one laughing.