Learning from the cross-bay rivalry

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By Dave Newhouse, Contributing Writer
Posted Dec 7, 2013
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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With two of America's esteemed universities located less than an hour apart right here in the Bay Area, it only seems natural that Cal and Stanford should learn from each other. After all, Nobel Prize winners and distinguished scholars dot both campuses.

 

But in the ongoing battle between the two schools to get the most brilliant minds to lunch in their faculty clubs, something gets lost. And that's the competition between their athletic departments, which is more exciting than observing two Nobelists arm-wrestling.

Though Cal hates to admit it, Stanford currently has the upper hand in the sporting arena. Stanford is voted almost annually as the nation's finest collegiate sports program, based on championship trophies, not endowments, where Stanford also ranks No. 1.

And with Stanford's healthy graduation numbers among its athletes, Cal is looking for another place to hide. Nevertheless, the two schools feed off each other on the playing fields, and have for years. One school's success breeds change on the other's campus.

Take this century alone. Jeff Tedford's success led to Jim Harbaugh's hiring at Stanford. Harbaugh's success led him to the San Francisco 49ers. His replacement on The Farm, David Shaw, continued that success, and when Tedford faltered, he was replaced by Sonny Dykes.

Thus Cal and Stanford keep a watchful eye on each other, which explains, in part, why Mike Montgomery has coached basketball at both institutions. But it's Cal turn to watch Stanford more closely, especially in football where Stanford has re-made its image by creating a throwback model for the entire country to learn from.

Stanford, historically, has been Quarterback U. Throwing the football has been its legacy, from Frankie Albert to Bobby Garrett to John Brodie to Jim Plunkett to John Elway. Its line play, excluding the Thunder Chickens in 1970-71, was an afterthought.

No longer. Harbaugh built a winning program on big, tough linemen, offensively and defensively, who overpowered teams. Running the football became the norm at Stanford, where the Cardinal continue to physically wear down opponents under Shaw's stewardship.

That image-reversal wasn't easy to accomplish, given that Stanford has a much smaller undergraduate enrollment than Cal, thus is forced to recruit nationally to get promising student-athletes to meet its stringent entrance requirements.

But, somehow, Harbaugh molded an old-time steam rolling ground attack while also stacking up five solid running backs and four pro style tight ends, amazingly, in the shortest amount of time. Given his difficulty, academically, of turning around a moribund football program, it was the best coaching turnaround since....Tedford in 2002.

It all boils down to recognizing the circumstances you're facing, then making a Maserati out of a Miata. Stanford, even with its top-10 ranking, doesn't blow out opponents....except Cal two weeks ago. Shaw, like Harbaugh before him, grinds out seven-point victories by beating up the opposition and eventually breaking its will.

Now it's Cal's time to learn from Stanford, both on the gridiron and, ahem, in the classroom. And it will be a huge challenge because Dykes' coaching philosophy is as different from Shaw's as the weather in Antarctica and Death Valley. Dykes has installed a "Bear Raid" offense to Berkeley that is as wide open, and uncertain, as Mouse Davis' "Run-and-Shoot" disaster 30-some years ago.

Cal has had its own Quarterback U, from Paul Larsen to Craig Morton to Steve Bartkowski to Joe Roth to Pat Barnes. But the Bears' success, since the late 1800s, has been predominantly running the football, from Vic Bottari and Sam Chapman to Jackie Jensen to Johnny Olszewski to Chuck Muncie to Russell White to Marshawn Lynch.

But Dykes' preference is to launch to football, time and time again. This worked, to a point, at his previous stop, Louisiana Tech, where his teams had the nation's most potent offense and the nation's most inept defense. That's no way to get to the Rose Bowl.

At the moment, Cal is sinking from that same big offense, bad defense approach. The Bears were 1-11 in Dykes' debut, which isn't entirely his fault as he inherited a 3-9 team and then was beset with key defensive injuries.

Dykes must be allowed three years to show a turnaround -- the standard amount of time for new coaches handed losing programs. But it's important that he find an offensive concept that works best. And the one at Stanford, though totally against his philosophy, might be his only hope.

Controlling the football takes time off the clock, and the time-tested way to achieve that goal is to run the football. With Cal's porous defense, what choice does Dykes have? Throwing incomplete passes only stops the clock, thereby giving opponents more opportunities to wreak havoc on the Bears defense, especially its young secondary.

Freshman Jared Goff threw more completions than incompletions this year, and he has a chance to become one of Cal's great quarterbacks. But Cal's wispy backs are easily tackled, and only Daniel Lasco brings toughness. Perhaps Dykes will prove a master recruiter and land coveted running back Joe Mixon from nearby Freedom High. he could take the pressure off Goff, who must get 40 points a game, at least, to outscore Cal's overmatched defense.

However Dykes chooses to approach the 2014 season and beyond, his primary focus must be to control the football. Otherwise, Cal has little chance of winning. Dykes has so many running backs and wide receivers, perhaps he could shift some of them to defense, where bodies are sorely needed.

Stanford shifted Richard Sherman from wide receiver to cornerback, and he's now an All-Pro corner with the Seattle Seahawks. Another way for Cal to learn from Stanford.

Yes, Cal is the country's No. 1 public university, but Stanford is among the country's top five private universities. That said, there's no comparing their football programs.

Therefore, Cal doesn't have to look too far to find a winning football model. Just across the Bay, in fact.

Retired Oakland Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse writes periodically for bearinsider.com. Read his two e-books, "Before Boxing Lost Its Punch" and the Cal-related novel "White Lightning", on amazon.com at $5.99 apiece.

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