Instant analysis/reaction: Cal axes Stanford for 1st time since 2009, becomes bowl-eligible

Sunny Shen/Staff

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Key takeaway

Streak. Snapped. For the first time in 10 years, the Axe is coming back to UC Berkeley.

In the 122nd edition of the Big Game, Cal entered Stanford’s home and orchestrated an absolute classic in one of the nation’s oldest rivalries. If that wasn’t sweet enough, the Bears earned their sixth win of the season, meaning that they will be heading to a bowl game for the second straight year in the Justin Wilcox era.

With under two minutes remaining in the game, Cal found itself down 20-17. About 10 minutes later, Stanford Stadium was flooded in blue and gold. Students sprinted out onto the field with the scoreboard reading 24-20 as time ran out. If you had any doubts about Chase Garbers being Cal’s quarterback of the future, the game-winning drive probably changed your mind.

Garbers immaculately orchestrated Cal down the field with pinpoint passes, and when the time came, he called his own number. His 16-yard touchdown run sent the stadium into a frenzy, and the Bears’ defense was able to close out the game on a fourth-down run stuff by the Cal defensive line.

 

Cal’s game MVP

Coming into the season, receiver Nikko Remigio was expected to be Cal’s most dynamic threat. Through the team’s first 10 games, however, the sophomore had only compiled 20 receptions for 262 yards and became virtually invisible for several extensive stretches of play. But the Big Game is made for big plays, and Remigio had plenty of them. 

Undoubtedly Chase Garbers’ favorite threat of the afternoon, Remigio put up 157 receiving yards on nine catches, including a touchdown to tie the game halfway through the fourth quarter. The crafty receiver was consistently making Stanford defensive backs look silly while running a whole slew of different routes, even tacking on one rush for 8 yards.

The duo could become a major weapon for Cal both against UCLA and in future seasons, as the Bears have lacked a go-to receiving threat for the past few years. This now has the potential to change if Remigio keeps it up.

 

Eye-opening stat

For the first time this season, Wilcox’s defense put up a multi-interception effort. After averaging 1.7 interceptions per game last season, which was second in the nation — and coining its defensive backs unit “The Takers” — Cal’s secondary did not quite live up to expectations in 2019. Coming into this game, the Bears only had four on the season — an average of just 0.4 per game.

That number will be getting a small boost, though, as safeties Jaylinn Hawkins and Daniel Scott were both able to haul in impressive catches to put the ball back into the hands of the offense. Subbing in for an injured Ashtyn Davis, Scott was able to make a diving interception on the Stanford offense’s first drive of the second half. On the Cardinal’s very next possession, Hawkins was able to backpedal and jump for a one-handed grab to prevent a touchdown, firing up the rowdy Cal student section on the corner of the end zone.

 

Looking forward

The streak of rivalry games will continue on for the Bears, as they will head down to the Rose Bowl to take on the Bruins. UCLA lost a high-scoring affair to USC as the Big Game was being played, and Cal will undoubtedly be confident heading into next Saturday. The final game of the regular season will feature a 4-7 Bruins team that, similarly to the Trojans, has been explosive at times, yet wildly inconsistent.

The Bruins’ defense allows nearly 34 points per game, but they make up for it with an offense that has averaged just over 30 in the team’s past five contests. Cal sustained no major injuries against Stanford, meaning the offense should be fully healthy apart from receiver Kekoa Crawford. On the defensive side, Davis suited up for the Bears but he did not take any snaps, so his status will be up in the air for next Saturday.

This has been a weird year for pretty much the entire Pac-12 conference, so expect another toss-up game between the Bears and the Bruins as they head into the last week of regular season play.

Shailin Singh covers football. Contact him at [email protected].