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Notebook: Cal Big Game emotions run deep

Posted November 15, 2017 by in

Notebook: Cal
Big Game emotions run deep

By Mark Soltau

STANFORD, Calif. – Earlier this week, David Shaw reminded his players why the Big Game is different. His message was primarily geared toward the freshmen.

“It’s hard, because you have to try and warn them, but they won’t get it,” said Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “The guys from Northern California and California … maybe they’ll get it. Some of the guys coming from other places, they don’t see it and don’t understand it.”

They will Saturday night, when the 120th playing against Cal takes place at 5 p.m. PT in Stanford Stadium.

Both teams have much at stake. With a win, the Cardinal (7-3, 6-2 Pac-12) can claim the Pac-12 North title if Washington defeats Washington State on Nov. 25 in Seattle. The Bears (5-5, 2-5) can become bowl eligible and avoid a losing season for only the second time in six years.

As a former Stanford student-athlete and long-time coach, Shaw is an authority on the cross-bay rivalry and knows allegiances run deep.

“We try and let them know they’re going to feel it in pre-game warmups,” he said. “That’s just the way the game is. There’s going to be a lot of people here and some of them are going to be wearing blue and some are going to be wearing cardinal. And you’ll feel that in the stadium. There’s going to be more emotion in this game; there’s going to be a lot of passion. So we have to be able to control that and play well.”

Junior safety Frank Buncom said the Bears have Stanford’s full attention. The Cardinal concludes the regular season next Saturday by playing host to Norte Dame.

“There’s a lot excitement and it’s an honor to be a part of this storied tradition” he said. “You’re never going to look past a rivalry game. We’re all focused on playing this game and coming out with a win and keeping the axe for our seniors.”

* * *

Sophomore K.J. Costello will get his fourth start at quarterback and first action in a Big Game. He grew up in Southern California and has a good sense of the rivalry.

“I’m a college football fanatic,” said Costello. “I was watching Andrew Luck back in the day and the entire Pac-12. So I’m fully aware of what this rivalry holds.”

Costello is excited for the challenge.

“I pride myself in preparation,” he said. “At the end of the day, you’re allowed to walk around with a little bit of confidence when you put in the work on the front end.”

Costello has a fiery personality, but Shaw said he has learned to harness it and make others better.

“K.J. exists in a plane of high energy at all times,” said Shaw. “So it’s not like he goes really high and you have to call him back down. He’s just up there. He’s fired up, energetic and passionate. We try and make sure it’s directed, but he’s also been cool, calm and collected.”

* * *

Asked how much pride he takes being 7-0 against Cal as a head coach, Shaw said, “A lot. It’s a rivalry game. We talk to our guys all the time about having tangible evidence, about having a trophy. It’s always great to play for your pride, your family, your teammates and your school. But it’s great to have something to hold after the game. The challenge is for the seniors to keep the axe.”

Shaw also expects Cal first-year head coach Justin Wilcox to give the Cardinal all it can handle.

“He knows this conference and knows guys are going to be fired up,” said Shaw. “It’s not like he doesn’t know who we are. He’s going to come after us with everything he’s got. It going to be a hard-fought game.”

The Cal defense will challenge Stanford with multiple fronts and blitz packages.

“They’re very sound and physical,” said Shaw. “They have a variety of ways of attacking you. The films have already gotten our guys’ attention. We watched them get after Washington State and were tied with USC going into the fourth quarter. These guys have played in tough-type games that we have to respect and prepare ourselves.”

* * *

Shaw on Cal junior running back Patrick Laird, a 6-0, 200-pound walk-on from San Luis Obispo, California: “He runs hard. Reckless abandon has kind of negative connotation to it, but there is total disregard for his body. He gives his all on every single play.”

* * *

National rushing leader back Bryce Love is expected play Saturday.

“He will get some practice time, but we’re not sure how much,” Shaw said.

Love was banged up several times against the Huskies, but got stronger in the fourth quarter. He wrecked the top-ranked Washington defense for 166 yards and three touchdowns.

Asked about his pain threshold, Shaw, “We’ve learned not to ask him how he feels because he’s always okay. We have to actually see functionally — what he can and can’t do.”

Each time Love came off the field, he was reevaluated by the training staff and team doctors.

“We made sure he was okay,” Shaw said. “He was retested and re-taped. ‘Can you sprint?’ ‘Yeah, I can sprint.’ And he goes back out there and rips off a 30-yard run. It was amazing to watch.”

* * *

Shaw had high praise for his offensive and defensive lines against Washington. Offensively, he cited Brandon Fanaika, Devery Hamilton, Nate Herbig and Jesse Burkett.

“Brandon Fanika played really well; probably the most physical game he’s ever played,” Shaw said.

On defense, Harrison Phillips and Eric Cotton stood out, along with linebacker Bobby Okereke and Buncom.

Shaw knew it would a test for the unit going against Husky defensive lineman Vita Vea, a 6-5, 340-pounder from Milpitas, California.

“I think he and Harrison are two best guys I’ve seen all year,” he said. “It was a big challenge up front and they rose to it.”

Okereke made a tremendous play by stripping the ball away from Husky running back Myles Gaskin as he was sliding to the turf and Dylan Jackson recovered.

* * *

Stanford recruited Buncom as a cornerback because of his athletic skills.

“He’s very smart, calm, knows defense and is a good communicator,” said Shaw. “We found a safety by accident. He’s been huge for us.”

Buncom has developed into an effective run stopper.

“It’s different coming from corner, where typically you’re coming from outside-in,” Shaw said. “From safety, sometimes you’re coming from inside-out, and there are a lot more options the runner has.

Buncom’s collected a game-high 11 tackles against the Huskies, none bigger than his fourth-down stop against Gaskin.

* * *

Asked to recall a great Big Game individual performance by a Cardinal player, Shaw mentioned Ty Montgomery. In 2013, the wide receiver and return specialist scored a team-record tying five touchdowns in the 63-13 win at Stanford. Montgomery, now playing for the Green Bay Packers, found the end zone the first four times he touched the ball and grabbed four touchdown tosses from Kevin Hogan.

“It was surreal,” said Shaw.

* * *

The Cardinal has received the opening kickoff in every game this season. Unlike some teams, which often defer to receive the second half kickoff after winning the coin toss, Shaw has elected to receive.

There are three reasons.

He likes the idea of scoring first and putting pressure on the opponent.

Through research, he has determined the team that receives first often has the last possession of the second quarter.

If it can score, then force a quick punt on the first possession of the third quarter, it often results in momentum, good field position, and another scoring opportunity.

Here’s how the strategy has played out: Stanford has scored six times on its opening drive (three touchdowns, three field goals), five times at the end of the second quarter (five field goals; three on the last play, one with 27 seconds left, and one with 1:32) and has struck first in the third quarter five times (three touchdowns and two field goals).

* * *

Extra Points … Tight end Dalton Schultz and wide receiver Connor Wedington are questionable for Saturday’s game, while offensive tackle Walker Little is out … Stanford is 4-0 at home and has averaged 42.75 points while allowing 21.75.

* * *

Quotable … “I don’t know what he’s got inside, but it’s something crazy.” – K.J. Costello on Bryce Love.

— #GoStanford —

About the Author

Alforde Joaquin

ALF’s passion for shooting and editing has earned him several awards including an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2006 for Videography. He was also a nominee for the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Videography. A 6-time Emmy recipient for five different categories: Director/Producer, Videography, Editing, Feature Segment and Sound Mixing, Alf has produced over 1,000 video segments and is committed to developing GetSportsFocus as one of the best sports video magazine on the web.