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November 19, 2010

Who has the edge?

BearTerritory publisher Ryan Gorcey and CardinalReport.com publisher Rick Jones break down Saturday's 113th edition of the Big Game, unit-by-unit.

Starting CBs Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony were knocked out of last week's game against Oregon, and were limited in practice early this week, so they're a question mark. Steve Williams is a rising star, though, so while there will be a drop-off, the secondary won't be completely vulnerable. Andrew Luck is the juice that makes the Cardinal offense go. Using play-action to perfection Luck uses his incredible accuracy and knowledge of playbook to pick apart opposing defenses. WR Doug Baldwin has enough speed to threaten and Ryan Whalen is the sure-handed target Luck loves.
Outside LB Mychal Kendricks reminds many of the intense physicality of Zach Follett and reigning Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week Mike Mohamed is a cagy and physical veteran in the middle. Last week, Cal held the Ducks to 162 yards on the ground, their second-lowest output of the season. Stepfan Taylor has emerged as the top back, with 849 yards. True frosh Anthony Wilkerson has come on strong lately and is a big, physical back. Stanford continues to be a power running team and are ranked 2nd in the Pac-10 and 17th in the nation on the ground.
The Bears DL has been the keystone in this defense all year long. Cal is sixth in the nation with 30 sacks, 11.5 of those coming from the guys up front. The line has tallied 25.5 of the teams 65 TFLs and 122 total tackles, led by Cameron Jordan's 53. An experienced and physical group led by center Chase Beeler. The Cardinal have started the same five all year long. Super sub James McGillicuddy, the back-up guard, is used in a variety of jumbo sets and is a devastating blocker. Stanford has allowed only four sacks in 2010.
Inconsistent at best, anemic at worst. Junior QB Brock Mansion has looked amazing at times and lost at others. Success for this unit is going to have to come by way of true frosh Keenan Allen, who averages 13 yards every time he touches the ball. The Cardinal shut down both Washington and Arizona through the air, and, while much-maligned in 2009, this group has made huge strides. Richard Sherman is solid at CB, and safeties Michael Thomas and Delano Howell are athletic, physical presences. Both have returned healthy and a key to Stanford's success.
Against Oregon, the offensive line had perhaps its best performance of the year in plowing the way for Shane Vereen. Vereen has amassed 998 yards this season, second only to LaMichael James in the conference and No. 20 in the nation, averaging 99.8 yards per game. Sophomore Shayne Skov, who leads the Cardinal in tackles with 62, is the top LB. Chase Thomas and Thomas Keiser made the transition from defensive end and have 21 combined tackles for loss. Vic Fangio uses his LB in a variety of sets and brings pressure from multiple points.
This bunch seems to finally be gelling after a year of personnel shuffling, but with center Chris Guarnero still having trouble with bull-rushing DEs, it's still one of the weaker units and the cause of many offensive struggles. The addition of Matt Summers-Gavin at left guard is a big boost. NT Sione Fua has become a force in the new 3-4 alignment. Anchoring the middle, he has allowed Skov and Owen Marecic to make plays at LB. End Matt Masifilo is an underrated end, had his best game versus Washington with two sacks and a forced fumble.
PR Jeremy Ross has been hampered by a finger issue, but the younger players behind him-including Allen-are arguably more dynamic. Bryan Anger averages 45.5 yards per punt in 10 games-third in the conference behind two punters who have played one less game with far fewer kicks. The Cardinal special teams are... nothing special. Kick returner Chris Owusu has battled injuries all season and the kick return has suffered. Kicker Nate Whitaker has been solid, if not spectacular, making 14 of 16 attempts and kicking the game-winner as time expired to beat USC.
Cal's defense is the stoutest unit the Cardinal have faced all year, and they'll keep it close. Mansion and the Bears offense are going to have to execute under pressure, something they have yet to do. As a Cal alum, I hate to say it, but I'm calling 17-14, STANFORD. The Bears have allowed only 49 points all year at Memorial, so Luck and Co. will have their work cut out for them in what is supposed to be sloppy weather. Stanford has scored 30 or more in nine of 10 games this season and the defense has allowed just 30 points in the last three games. With Rose Bowl (and BCS) hopes on the line a focused Stanford wins 31-21.

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