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Instant analysis/reaction: Cal leads throughout, defends Axe from Stanford 27-15

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Senior Staff

NOVEMBER 18, 2023

Key Takeaways

“November Rain”

The forecast for the game fluctuated throughout the week, and though rain was expected at some point during gameday, Mother Nature decided to make things interesting.

Rain was a constant in the first half, making an impact on both offenses. Cal was quick to lean on its run game to get its drives started. Bear running back Jaydn Ott was quick to make his presence felt as he accounted for 14 carries and 64 yards in the first half, spurring several drives for the blue and gold.

After playing in a downpour at Autzen Stadium against Oregon earlier this year, Cal quarterback Fernando Mendoza did not seem affected by the rain. 

In the first half, Mendoza accounted for 203 yards and two touchdown passes on 24 attempts. In just the sixth start of his career, this game also marked the first time that Mendoza threw for three touchdown passes in a game.

On the other side of the field, Stanford’s passing game struggled. The Cardinal’s quarterback Ashton Daniels looked out of sync throughout the game, only throwing for 188 yards on a 51 percent completion rating. Later in the game, Daniels opted to use his legs more often, leading the Cardinal with 68 yards on the ground on 12 attempts.

“The Man”

Through the elements, Cal’s running back Ott facilitated the Bears’ offense throughout the game. The second-year back tallied 166 yards and one score on the day, making that his fifth 100-yard rushing game this season. On the day, Ott also eclipsed 2,000 career yards, something that has not been done by a Cal running back since the 2003-04 season.

The total could have been higher, as a late run from Ott left him just two yards from the end zone before he decided to take a knee, sparing Stanford another score but ensuring the end of the game.

Key Stats 

“Under Pressure”

Aside from the rain, Cal’s pass rush played a heavy hand in grounding the Cardinal passing game. Led by David Reese, the Bears picked up where they left off from a dominant six-sack game against Washington State last week and accounted for several pressures. And though Cal tallied just one sack, the Bears’ front seven forced several holding penalties, keeping Stanford’s offense behind the sticks.

“Going Backwards”

Penalties played a role on both sides of the ball. In total, both teams had 13 penalties, tallying 118 yards. The Bears also found themselves behind the sticks several times for different reasons. Stanford bagged Mendoza two times for negative 16 yards on top of six tackles for loss accounting for negative 25 yards, helping the Cardinal give their offense the ball back often, keeping the game close well into the second half.

Cal’s Game MVP

“Walking on a Dream”

Trond Grizzell’s performance in the Big Game was nothing short of stunning. Grizzell, a walk-on for the Bears, etched his name in Big Game history with a two-touchdown first half. With the pair of scores, Grizzell became just the first player since 2016 to score multiple touchdowns in the Big Game.

Outside the rivalry, with 136 yards, Grizzell also became the first receiver to tally 100 receiving yards in a game this season. 

In the second half, Grizzell also came up with key receptions at crucial points of the game, including a 21-yard fourth down conversion to set up the Bears’ fourth touchdown of the day.

After recording his first career reception at North Texas during the season opener, Grizzell’s breakthrough for the Bears at Stanford Stadium played a massive part in Cal retaining the Axe for a third straight season.

Looking Forward

“Close to the Edge”

In the last season of Pac-12 play, the Bears have had to contend with a grueling conference schedule. Over the course of six weeks, the blue and gold faced several ranked opponents, including top-10 blowouts against Oregon and Washington. The Bears went winless in October and dropped their first game of November to the Ducks. Since that stretch, the Bears’ hopes for a bowl game have improved drastically. 

Today’s win marks the first two-game win streak of the season for Cal, who will move to 5-6 on the season. With the season finale against UCLA on the horizon, which emerge from the Battle for L.A. with a massive win over rival USC, the Bears will need a win to become bowl-eligible.

Contact Ryan Sheehan at