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Big Game Critical for Slumping Bears, Cardinal; Tua’s Tough Break; Kate Starbird Speaks

Stanford and Cal limp into Saturday's Big Game after suffering a pair of debilitating losses last weekend. The two Bay Area teams allowed 90 points to USC and WSU, the Bears losing 41-17 to the Trojans and Stanford falling 49-22 to the Cougars.

A week after scoring only one touchdown against Cal until the final seconds, WSU scored at will against Stanford. The Cougars never had to punt while posting their fourth straight win over David Shaw’s team.

The season-long absence of a Stanford pass rush was particularly glaring in this game, as WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon spent much of the day standing flat-footed in the pocket—with no defender anywhere near him—calmly waiting for a receiver to come open.

In defending a 4-6 record, fans can rightfully point to the almost unbelievable series of injuries Stanford has suffered this year to its quarterbacks, offensive linemen, placekicker and best defensive back. Those injuries have certainly contributed, but the fact of the matter is that the Cardinal has been unable to run the ball effectively or stop opposing teams.

For years, Stanford ranked among the nation's leaders with a punishing ground game featuring the likes of Toby Gerhart, Tyler Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor, Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, along with a number of offensive linemen now playing on Sundays. This year, the Cardinal ranks 123rd in rushing out of 130 teams in the NCAA. On Saturday, Stanford gained 6 yards on the ground..6 yards!

Meanwhile, WSU, a team known for passing, had a 100-yard rusher in Max Borghi, a player who calls to mind McCaffrey. The once-proud Stanford defense is allowing over 32 points per game and 450 yards total offense per game this season.

Shell-shocked Bears: Cal's Bears had to be wondering what hit them Saturday night. USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis put on a clinic, completing 29 of 35 passes (82%) for 406 yards and 4 TDs with no interceptions against one of the best defenses in the league.

Meanwhile, Cal quarterback Chase Garbers returned after missing several games with an injury, only to go down again the second quarter. His status for next week's Big Game is in question.

Bowl Picture: Cal (5-5) will advance to post-season play with a win on Saturday or over UCLA next weekend. I like their chances. Stanford (4-6) must beat both the Bears on Saturday and Notre Dame on Nov. 30. That’s unlikely.

Stanford has been tough at home and may win the Big Game, but Irish quarterback Ian Book threw for four touchdowns in last years 38-17 win over the Cardinal and should post similar numbers this season.

Tough Break for Tua: In the second quarter of a blowout win over Mississippi State, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa dislocated his hip, was carted off the field, and will be lost for the season.

Tua’s case reminds us once again of coach Nick Saban’s overly aggressive posture toward injuries suffered by star players. Tua and others with ankle problems have been rushed back into the lineup after the controversial “tightrope” surgery. In Tua’s case, he’s obviously been limited and playing in pain for several weeks. Yet Saban left him in the game with a 35-7 lead, exposing him to further injury.

If he couldn’t move well enough to protect himself, why was Tua playing at all? He has been projected as the number one pick in next year’s NFL draft. Now his future is in question.

Oops! Last week we called your attention to the basketball game of the year in the Bay Area…a matchup between the women’s teams from Stanford and Oregon. Unfortunately, we listed the date of the game in Eugene. Senility encroaches.

The correct date for the game at Maples Pavilion is Feb. 24 at 6:00. My wife and I will be there with Bruce and Martha Jenkins, who were kind enough to point out our mistake.

Bird Speaks: Speaking of women’s basketball, I’d like to share this brilliant, concise tweet posted today by former Stanford great Kate Starbird, now a prominent professor and researcher into crisis informatics and online rumors at the University of Washington.

“The danger of pervasive disinfo is not being misled about a single topic, but losing our ability to discern truth. When we lose confidence in what we know, we become unable to make decisions that democratic societies need to make to govern themselves.”

Well said, Bird. Truth matters.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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