BERKELEY Stanford retained the Axe by bringing the hammer.
The Cardinal overpowered Cal at the line of scrimmage Saturday in a 21-3 victory in front of 61,024 fans at Memorial Stadium that was even more lopsided than the score indicated.
Stanford rushed for 252 yards while holding the Bears to three yards on the ground and keeping Cal out of the end zone for the first time in 14 years in their series.
"Their defense is as good as any defense we've played in this conference in years," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said.
Stanford's marquee players rose to the occasion: Linebacker Chase Thomas had four tackles for losses, forced one fumble and recovered another; tight end Zach Ertz caught six passes for 134 yards and a touchdown; and tailback Stepfan Taylor rushed for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown.
Taylor's seven-yard dash with 4:42 remaining in the first quarter was the Cardinal's first offensive touchdown on the road this season.
"It was our intent to score a touchdown," coach David Shaw said. "There was a lot of pride on the line."
Stanford's dominance at the line of scrimmage opened running lanes for Taylor and gave quarterback Josh Nunes time to throw. He completed 16 of 31 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown his best performance away from home this season.
"It felt good to get that first touchdown on the road out of our system," Nunes said. "It was like, 'OK, that's done. Now let's do what we want to do.' "
What they wanted to do was involve their tight ends in the passing game.
Two possessions after Taylor's score, Nunes lofted a short pass to Ertz, who slipped between defenders on the right side. Cal eventually dragged him down 68 yards later.
"I was pretty surprised," Ertz said of the wide-open space in front of him. "Unfortunately, I got chased down."
Two plays later, backup quarterback Kevin Hogan rolled right and fired a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Levine Toilolo to give the Cardinal a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.
"That will be a part of every game plan going forward," Shaw said of using Hogan in a shotgun formation with the option to run or pass.
The Cardinal (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) took control a few minutes later.
Safety Jordan Richards stripped the ball from Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen, giving Stanford another red-zone possession. On first down, Nunes hit Ertz on a post pattern for a 21-3 advantage.
Given Stanford's suffocating defense, the margin felt bigger than 18 points. But Stanford kept the pressure on.
"I've seen a lot of Big Games," said Shaw, who grew up in Union City and played for the Cardinal. "And I've seen the scoreboard change a lot, and very quickly."
But on the 30-year anniversary of The Play, there would be no miraculous comeback from Cal (3-5, 2-3).
"You don't want to be that class that gives the Axe away," said Taylor, who will leave Stanford 3-0 as a starter in the Big Game. "The seniors made it a point that we want to keep the Axe."
And defense made sure Stanford did just that.
It squashed the Bears' running game the longest run by a Cal tailback was four yards while pressuring quarterback Zach Maynard and preventing Allen from making big plays in the passing game.
Allen had just four catches for 43 yards, less than half his average (90.4).
"It doesn't matter who we're playing, stop the run and make them one-dimensional and get after them in the pass rush," Thomas said. "It was a great collective effort by the front seven, and even the safeties coming up and laying the wood."
Cal must win three of its final four games just to be bowl eligible.
"This is football, it is a tough sport," Tedford said. "We have our schedule to play, and we are not going to make any excuses."