One team in the upcoming 121st rendition of the "Big Game" between Stanford and Cal has gotten back on track with a prolific passing attack. The other is riding an incredible defense and a sturdy running game.
A couple of years ago, few would believe that the former is Stanford and the latter is Cal. But that is the case now.
Stanford (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) is fresh off a 49-42 win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Two weeks before that, the Cardinal hammered Oregon State 48-17. Now, the Cardinal takes its aerial assault headlined by quarterback K.J. Costello and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to Berkeley. Cal hosts Stanford on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Against the Bruins, Costello was 23 of 37 for 344 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception. Arcega-Whiteside returned from an ankle injury and grabbed seven balls for 106 yards and three touchdowns; fellow receiver Trenton Irwin had seven catches for 103 yards and one TD; tailback Bryce Love powered ahead with 22 carries for 85 yards and a score.
Yet, the Cardinal defense yielded 466 passing yards to UCLA. The defense keyed in on Joshua Kelley and the running game, and held the Bruins to 62 yards and under 2 yards per carry. Cal, meanwhile, rode two interception returns for touchdowns from Elijah Hicks and Ashytn Davis in a 33-21 win over visiting Colorado. The Golden Bears improved to 7-4 overall and 4-4 in Pac-12 play.
Stanford, which thinks about Rose Bowls in the offseason under eighth-year coach David Shaw, has won two in a row after a stretch of dropping four of five games. The Rose Bowl is out of the question, but a strong finish to the regular season is within reach.
"I've learned a lot this year. Apparently my comfort level doesn't matter," Shaw said after beating UCLA. "We've been an enigma but the one thing that has been consistent has been the big plays in our passing game. Hopefully they'll continue to happen and we'll grow in the running game."
Indeed, the dazzling performances largely have not been there for Love, who is pushing toward 4,000 career rushing yards before the season is over.
Meanwhile, Costello is just happy to be playing with weapons like Arcega-Whiteside and Irwin (not to mention successful tight ends Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson).
"Really you pick your poison out there," Costello said. "We take what the defense gives us."