Big Game arrives amid bad seasons for Cal, Stanford

NCAA Football

Quarterback Chase Garbers looks for a second career win over rival Stanford when he leads visiting California into the annual Big Game among the San Francisco Bay Area’s two Pac-12 Conference football programs on Saturday afternoon.

The schools, separated by a bridge and just 35 miles, have alternated wins and losses the last three seasons. Stanford held on for a 24-23 victory at Cal last November when the Golden Bears missed a PAT after a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining.

That game pitted Garbers against Stanford’s Davis Mills, who has since graduated to the NFL’s Houston Texans.

The Cardinal’s quarterback situation has become a mess in the 10 games since, with opening-day backup Tanner McKee having quickly seized the starting job, only to come away with an undisclosed injury to his left leg in a home loss to Washington last month.

Jack West, Ari Patu and Dylan Plautz have shared the duties in the last two contests, in which Stanford (3-7, 2-6 Pac-12) was blown out by Utah and Oregon State.

The Cardinal totaled just 94 passing yards with two interceptions in last week’s 35-14 loss at Oregon State.

The good news for Stanford, which enters the Big Game on a five-game losing streak, is that McKee appears ready to return from his two-game absence.

“Having some guys back I think will help a lot this week,” Stanford coach David Shaw said, adding cornerback Kyu Blu Kelly and linebacker Ricky Miezan to the list of potential key returners headed by McKee.

“Right now it’s not about any of the previous games. It’s not about next week. It’s about rivalry week and that’s what these guys are focused on, trying to keep the Axe.”

Cal (3-6, 2-4 Pac-12) has had no such problems at the quarterback position, with Garbers ranking sixth in the Pac-12 in passing yards despite having played one or two fewer games than the five guys ahead of him on the list.

Cal’s contest last week against Southern California had to be rescheduled because of COVID issues among the Golden Bears. Cal was seriously undermanned, including the absence of Garbers, when it lost 10-3 the previous week at Arizona.

Cal offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave expects a big performance from Garbers this week despite the fact he hasn’t played since Oct. 30, when he threw for a season-best three touchdowns and rushed for a fourth in a win over Oregon State.

“I feel like we’re getting better as a coaching staff,” Musgrave said of a relationship he believes has kept his quarterback on an upward trajectory this season. “We’re game-planning better and putting him in better position — everybody, all 11 guys — to be successful.”

–Field Level Media

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