How to Beat UCLA (The First Time)

Stanford's first regular season without Andrew Luck has featured a whirlwind of activity, including gut-wrenching losses, program-defining victories, and eventual change at the quarterback position. The scheduled journey wraps up Saturday in the Rose Bowl, with the Farm Boys still in contention to return to that very same field on New Year's Day.

David Parry: Anchor the Defense in Stephens' Absence
Perhaps the most important piece of Stanford's defensive success will be missing this game against the Bruins. Senior nose tackle Terrence Stephens, who commanded a triple team more than once against Oregon, is out for what the school has deemed a personal reason. No. 99's importance isn't well quantified on the stat sheet. For while he only recorded one tackle against the Ducks, it was obvious he was one of the front seven's most vital players.

The good news is that former walk-on David Parry has already been frequently rotating with Stephens this season to keep the position fresh. Parry, who has impressed at 300 pounds, therefore won't face a steep learning curve, but now a potential depth issue presents itself. A nose tackle's grueling work in the 3-4 scheme requires a solid two-deep at the position, and that's where questions arise for Stanford. It's unlikely that the Cardinal move to untested redshirt freshmen Lance Callihan or Anthony Hayes this late in the season. Ikenna Nwafor is a 308-pound beast, but he's a true freshman. Randy Hart may elect to use Josh Mauro, who played dominant football against Oregon, at nose tackle on some plays to give Parry a breather.

Regardless of substitution strategy, the Farm Boys have their work cut out for them. UCLA presents a balanced offense ranked in the upper half of the conference. Averaging 6.3 yards per carry, running back Jonathan Franklin is one of the nation's three Doak Walker Award finalists. The Bruins aren't afraid of running him between the tackles, and they also aren't hesitant to let freshman dual threat quarterback Brett Hundley take off with the football. The Baby Blue's offense presents familiar challenges with its versatility, so the Cardinal must break the line of scrimmage at its tipping point: the middle. They'll have to find a way to do it without Stephens.

Elsewhere on the field, Stanford must account for UCLA tight end Joe Fauria. A.J. Tarpley was excellent in pass protection last week. Expect him to be part of the crew that attempts to slow down the Bruins stud, who has hauled in 35 passes for 478 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns.

Consistent Scoring Success
Both of Kevin Hogan's starts have followed a similar pattern:
Stanford has taken an early lead. The offense has then gone dry during the second and third quarters while the opponent has come back to retake the lead. Then, in both of his fourth quarters (Colorado doesn't count), Hogan has been at the helm of an offensive revival and Cardinal comeback.

The drama is memorable, but Stanford has a Pac-12 championship to win. The Farm Boys can't expect fourth-quarter road comebacks to be a foolproof route to victory. The offense can't expect its defense to bail them out of 10 consecutive scoreless possessions -- no matter how good that front seven is. It's called playing with fire, and Hogan must orchestrate offensive productivity on the scoreboard throughout the entire game to avoid a burn.

Following a crisp 12-of-13 start, it appeared that No. 8 was shaken up Oregon linebacker Michael Clay piledrove him to the ground in last week's second quarter. He completed only three of his next 10 passes and didn't regain his rhythm until the Stanford running game wore down Oregon and allowed for aggressive play-action to be called again in the fourth quarter. Pep Hamilton did take his share of shots downfield on the series when Hogan lost his early-game heat, but those opportunities -- which ended with the unsuccessful underthrow to Ryan Hewitt on fourth down -- all ended up failing. Stanford then crawled into a conservative shell until its aforementioned fourth quarter revival.

In his third start, it'll be key for Hogan to keep delivering after the UCLA defense makes its initial adjustments. The Bruins are worse defensively than either of the Oregon schools, but they have displayed opportunism, with 15 interceptions. They have playmakers at the linebacker position, too. In his last four games, Eric Kendricks has recorded two sacks, two tackles for loss, forced two fumbles, returned one for a touchdown, intercepted a pass, and blocked a punt.

Keep It Up, Snipers
When Jim Harbaugh coached Stanford, he referred to his specialists as "snipers." Well, Daniel Zychlinski and Jordan Williamson were both lethal against Oregon. In fact, between Z's NFL-caliber punting and Williamson's now-famous kick of redemption, special teams were the great equalizer at Autzen Stadium: they made up for Stanford's 3-1 loss in the turnover margin and pushed the Cardinal to a road victory over the No. 1 team in the nation.

Another good day from Zychlinksi will undoubtedly play right into the strength of the Farm Boys' historically dominant defense, while the benefit of Williamson's potential contributions on field goals and kickoffs cannot be emphasized enough.

However, solid fundamental play in the kicking game becomes all the more important because UCLA has blocked six kicks -- three field goals, three punts -- over the last two weeks.

"Credit [special teams] Coach [Jeff] Ulbrich," Bruins junior Jordan Zumwalt told the Orange County Register, "He's a genius on special teams, he's a genius on all things football, and he's the one calling the blocks that work."

Stanford special teams coach Pete Alamar faces his biggest challenge yet.

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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