There hasn't been much to cheer about in this COVID-ravaged football season that, in my opinion, never should have been played.
But last Saturday was at least a feel good moment for our two local Pac-12 teams, both of whom scored impressive upsets.
A Stanford team that was banished from Santa Clara County by public heath officials and forced to relocate to Seattle for the week defeated previously unbeaten Washington, 31-26.
Cal, after suffering a painful 24-23 Big Game loss to Stanford in a game it should have won, rebounded to beat heavily favored Oregon, 21-17.
Both teams went back to doing what they do best—Stanford winning with a powerful running game and Cal leaning on a stout defense that shut out the explosive Ducks in the second half.
During the first eight years of David Shaw's regime as head coach, Stanford routinely ranked among the nation's leaders in rushing offense, but injuries to the offensive line and the absence of a Christian McCaffrey-Bryce Love type running back have resulted in hard times the last few seasons. Last week, in fact, Stanford gained only 95 yards on the ground vs. Cal.
But it was a different story Saturday against the No. 1 defense in the Pac-12, as the Cardinal gained 191 rushing. After the Huskies kicked a field goal to close to within five points midway through the fourth quarter, Stanford ran out the final 7:54 on a 14-play drive.
The game was a coming-out party for running back Austin Jones (above), who carried 31 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Jones hails from Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, where his head coach was former Washington running back Napoleon Kaufman and his volunteer position coach was Stanford icon "Touchdown Tommy" Vardell.
While no one is going to confuse Jones with McCaffrey or Love—because of his lack of breakaway speed—he has a nice combination of quickness, vision, toughness and cutting ability.
The offensive line, which has been healthy this year and improving each week, opened running lanes throughout the game and held the Huskies without a sack. One of the studs was freshman Miles Hinton, son of NFL star Chris Hinton.
The game was also a lesson in overcoming adversity. Starting on Tuesday, Stanford practiced on a Seattle high school field, then, after being thrown out of a mall parking garage, held its Friday walk through in a park in Bellevue.
Such is the reality of football in a pandemic, when virtually all college students are learning remotely from home, while the "student-athlete" footballers are on campus or in exile playing games for television.
Amateurism at its finest.
Remigio Rebounds: After his fumbled punt led to a Stanford touchdown a week earlier, Cal receiver Nikko Remigio was anxious to atone. Did he ever! Remegio caught a 28-yard touchdown pass from Chase Garbers that gave the Bears a 21-17 lead in the third quarter, then made a key fourth-down grab for a first down that allowed them to run out the clock against Oregon.
It was Cal's first win after ugly losses to UCLA, Oregon State and Stanford. This for a team that was coming off a highly successful 2019 season and was picked to contend for the Pac-12 North Division title this year.
It's not too late for the Bears to salvage the season. With wins this coming Saturday vs. WSU and against an opponent TBD on championship weekend, they could finish 3-3 and perhaps get a post-season bowl bid.
Honorable Mention: Undefeated San Jose State, also exiled by the Santa Clara County public health order, had its scheduled home game vs. Hawaii moved to Honolulu. Not the worst place to be exiled, but a tough place to play.
However, the undaunted Spartans improved to 5-0 by beating the Rainbow Warriors 35-24 led by running backs Tyler Nevens and Kairee Robinson, both of whom rushed for over 100 yards. It was SJS's first game in three weeks, after games against Fresno State and Boise State were cancelled the previous two weeks due to COVID outbreaks.
This is the first time the Spartans have been 5-0 since 1939 and they are on track to play in the Mountain West Conference championship game in two weeks.
Bay Area Sweep?: Now if the 49ers can upset Buffalo tonight, it will be a clean sweep. The Niners are also in exile in Arizona, and will play their next two scheduled home games in Glendale.
Anything to keep that NFL money train going and finish the full 16-game regular season.