BERKELEY, Calif. – The Big Game got off to an inauspicious start for California when senior safety Michael Lowe was ejected for targeting on the opening play of the game.
Throw in five turnovers and a bizarre stretch that featured three straight touchdowns overturned by instant replay and the Golden Bears once again found themselves on the wrong end of a lopsided score against their biggest rivals.
Remound Wright ran for four touchdowns and Stanford smothered Jared Goff and the Cal offense all afternoon in a 38-17 victory Saturday that prevented the Bears from clinching bowl eligibility.
"I'm disappointed in the way we played," coach Sonny Dykes said. "I anticipated us playing better football. It was a bit of a strange football game. It certainly didn't start the way we wanted it to start. I don't even know what to say about some of the stuff that happened out there."
Goff threw interceptions on back-to-back passes to end a stretch of 159 straight throws without getting picked off, change-of-pace quarterback Luke Rubenzer was also intercepted twice and Daniel Lasco lost a fumble near the goal line early in the game for Cal (5-6, 3-6 Pac-12).
The Bears also committed 12 penalties for 113 yards, starting with the play that led to Lowe's ejection. Stanford took full advantage of the mistakes to match its second most lopsided road win in the Big Game in the past 84 years.
"We certainly don't feel the gap is as big as the score was," Goff said. "We just didn't play up to our potential. We made too many mistakes and too many turnovers and just really shot ourselves in the foot all day."
Goff tied Cal's record for touchdowns and broke his own school record for yards passing in a season but had little to show for his milestones. He threw for 182 yards, one TD and two interceptions.
Cal can still clinch bowl eligibility at home in the regular season finale against BYU next week.
"We'll see what we're made of as a team next week," Dykes said. "That's what I told those guys."
For a change in recent seasons, the 117th Big Game actually had big implications for both teams.
A series of setbacks put the two-time defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal on the brink of missing the postseason, especially with a visit at No. 11 UCLA looming in the finale. The Bears went 1-11 last season — with the lone win against lower-tier Portland State — but had shown signs of progress in Dykes' second year.
Wright ran for 92 yards on 23 attempts, becoming the first Stanford player to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Stephan Taylor in November 2010. Stanford lost top playmaker Ty Montgomery with a sprained right shoulder in the first quarter. X-rays were negative, the team said.
Kevin Hogan threw for 214 yards and one interception, and he also ran for a short touchdown as the Cardinal overpowered the Bears on both sides.
"Our seniors did not want to be the group that lost the Axe," coach David Shaw said. "They never had an experience at Stanford where they didn't have the Axe."
Goff entered the game one TD pass behind Pat Barnes' record of 31 in 1996. He also was 110 yards shy of his own record of 3,508 yards passing he set as a freshman.
Goff tied the first mark and broke the other but couldn't bring the Bears back from a big hole. It didn't help that the Bears had three straight touchdowns overturned on replay in the third quarter.
On the first two, Rubenzer appeared to run for scores only to be ruled down just shy of the goal line. A personal foul on the second run backed Cal up 15 yards. Goff then appeared to complete a touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler but that also was overturned when the replay official ruled Lawler did not complete the catch. Cal had to settle for a field goal.
"There's nothing I can say about it that's good," Dykes said. "You guys saw it. Write your opinions about what you saw. I thought it was shameful myself."