Preview: UCLA at Stanford (Oct. 1)

After a month-long absence from Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal will return on Saturday to take on UCLA in Stanford's second Pac-12 game of the year. The Card come into the game with a 3-0 record and a 1-0 mark in Pac-12 play, while the Bruins are 2-2 and 1-0 in the conference. The Bootleg breaks down the biggest storylines of the week leading up to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. PST kickoff.

Last time out: Stanford is coming off a bye week after trouncing Arizona, 37-10, two weeks ago in Tucson. Meanwhile, the Bruins pulled out a win against a weak Oregon State team in Corvallis last weekend, 27-19. While the Cardinal have shined in three blowout victories to date, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel's seat has been growing steadily warmer, with early-season losses to Houston and Texas eroding confidence in his coaching abilities.
Nevertheless, head coach David Shaw shows no sign of overlooking the Bruins. "I'm not saying anybody's weak," he said. "Our conference still doesn't get the credit it deserves nationally. We don't until we go to bowl games and perform well in bowl games against other conferences. You look at UCLA's score against Texas [49-20] and say it wasn't close, but then you watch the game and you see it was nip and tuck outside of four or five big plays that Texas got…UCLA's running the ball extremely well and playing physical. I don't look at any of our opponents as weak."

Shayne Skov lost for season: Star linebacker Shayne Skov was lost for the season with an MCL tear in the Arizona game, and had surgery on the injured knee on Thursday. According to Shaw, "By all accounts, [the surgery] was good."
Shaw has called upon A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster, two linebackers with little in-game experience, to fill the hole Skov's absence has left. "Neither one of them has blinked," Shaw said. "They understand this is how football is. They've stepped in and know their team is counting on them. They also know that they're kind of in a competition also. The guy who plays better will get more playing time. They've approached it very seriously and have done a good job."

Owusu, Fleener back in action: Two of the Cardinal's biggest threats on offense, wide receiver Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener, also suffered injuries two weeks ago, but both look to have fully recovered and will be ready on Saturday. Fleener has been cleared to play after sustaining a mild concussion, while Owusu hurt his shoulder on a kickoff return.
Though Owusu is a favorite target of quarterback Andrew Luck and arguably the best talent in the Stanford receiving corps, Shaw didn't rule out continuing to have him return kickoffs. "We'll stay with what we've been doing, which is always making a game-time decision for the first one and then seeing how the game goes," Shaw said. "We said it from the beginning: Chris is not going to get every kickoff return. We're just going to use him periodically."

UCLA looks to run the ball: Richard Brehaut has officially won Neuheisel's endorsement as the team's permanent starting quarterback, and played well in UCLA's victory over Oregon State. However, when the Bruins hold the football, all eyes will be on running backs Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, who spearhead a surprisingly strong UCLA rushing attack. The two backs have split carries nearly equally so far this season, and UCLA is racking up rushing yards at the rate of 214.0 per game.

Attendance numbers trending upward: Stanford might finally get a crowd to match its top-10 ranking this weekend, with a near-sellout crowd projected for Saturday's game. All 4,000 student tickets were gone within three hours of becoming available. "Our student section over the last two years has really come alive," Shaw said. "I think our students show up here ready for football."

Prediction: Stanford will hurt from the loss of Skov, and his replacements will face a strong test from Franklin and Coleman throughout the football game. Nevertheless, UCLA's defense is nothing to write home about, and Andrew Luck should have a good day shredding the Bruins' paper-thin pass D. I see the Cardinal winning their 12th straight, and their seventh-straight win by at least 27 points. Final score: Stanford 45, UCLA 17.

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