There are enough awful announcers out there, that this bears repeating weekly: Gus Johnson, we love you. By the way, Stanford is perfect in games on FOX this year, with dramatic wins over USC, Arizona and Oregon State, and a beatdown of Cal. For what it's worth, FOX will be broadcasting the Pac-12 Championship.
If Stanford and UCLA were in any other BCS conference, they wouldn't be playing today, as the teams have already played eight conference games apiece. Personally, I would feel a lot more comfortable with a Pac-12 North Championship wrapped up, Stanford very much alive for a BCS at-large berth should they lose in Palo Alto Friday, and Sacramento State on the schedule today.
Similarly, if the Pac-12 didn't ensure that the California schools all face each other annually, Stanford and UCLA might well have other teams on the schedule today. Again, I would feel more comfortable with Utah or Arizona State on deck today – and for most seasons in the foreseeable future. If it doesn't bite us this year, having to play USC and UCLA annually while Oregon et al more frequently get the weaker four southern sisters is going to bite us soon enough.
All that said, one upside to Stanford and UCLA potentially meeting twice in six days is that it could spice up the last leg of the California rivalry quadrangle. As Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA each play each other annually, for the most part, there's plenty of hate to go around. Best as I can tell, Stanford and UCLA is the only lukewarm exception.
I can see the controversy, but personally, I like the Stanford black unis. But these UCLA black unis with numbers that look fresh out of the Microsoft Paint 1995 catalog? No thanks.
End of first quarter: Stanford 7, UCLA 7
Hard to draw up an opening drive better than that. Stanford takes 11 plays to go 75 yards – 40 via ground, 20 via air and 15 via penalty. They're 3-of-3 on third down conversions, including a Toby Gerhart special (a.k.a. a third and long surprise run for double-digit yardage) and, yet again, Kevin Hogan rolling to his right (you'd think DCs will catch on and start flushing him out of the pocket to his left) to keep a play alive and find an outlet – this time Drew Terrell in the end zone. That looked like the Stanford offense of the last few seasons. Watch out, folks.
Alas, UCLA punches back with a play eerily similar to one in last week's Oregon game. After pinning its opponent deep, Stanford nearly yields a long touchdown down the right sideline, this time on a Shaq Evans catch-and-go that beats Terrence Brown. But again a Stanford defender, enter Ed Reynolds, comes from behind to make a touchdown-saving tackle…
…However, unlike last week in the immediate aftermath of a long Marcus Mariota run, the Cardinal defense cannot hold. On third and goal, Alex Carter has great coverage of 6-foot-7 tight end Joe Fauria, but freshman wunderkind quarterback Brett Hundley has better placement. We're tied at seven midway through the first.
Now the defenses take over, as UCLA stuffs the Cardinal on three straight runs -- including a white-flag, give-up-and-punt, third-and-14 draw -- to force a punt. Then, Stanford is inches from a safety, but does register two sacks on a drive to force a punt in kind. An Alex Carter push in the back is miscalled kick-catch interference, giving Stanford nice field position, but Hogan forces it to Zach Ertz one too many times, as there's nothing there on second and third down and Stanford punts on fourth and two from the UCLA 42. Hey, Cardinal fans, when is the last time we faked a field goal or punt? This would have been a great opportunity.
Daniel Zychlinski, the Polish rifle, does his part, pinning UCLA at the four. But the Bruins start to move it as the quarter draws to a close, again picking on Terrence Brown for a 31-yard catch on third and 10. But after the football gods taketh away, they giveth: Shaq Evans drops a wide-open third-down slant, and Hundley punts it away on fourth down, pinning Stanford at its two. This one is going to be a dogfight.
Play of the quarter: Honorable mention goes to Reynolds for catching Evans from behind, but the Cardinal D couldn't make that play stand up. Instead, how about Stepfan Taylor, whose 34 yards on nine carries include perhaps a half dozen broken tackles and two third-down conversions.
Stat of the quarter: 147-77. UCLA has significantly outgained the Cardinal through one quarter, with Evans' long catch accounting for most of that difference.
Halftime: Stanford 21, UCLA 10
As we start the second, Zychlinski doesn't put his best foot forward (har har har), but his shank is still good for a 38-yard punt sans return. UCLA starts on the Stanford 47 and looks to pick up a first down – but out comes the challenge flag! In the coaching call of the game, the Cardinal staff correctly challenge a skip pass to Shaq Evans that was not at all an obvious miscall in real time. Instead of a first down at the Stanford 35, UCLA punts to the Stanford 12 in a huge turnaround.
After two drops, Jamal Rashad Patterson hangs onto his third target for a first down at the Card 24. Then Levine Toilolo can't hang onto a deep ball – words you're probably not reading for the first time – but gets bailed out on a pass interference call. After UCLA yet again stuffs a first-down run, Hogan scrambles for another first down, and then finds Ertz on the right side for 25 yards. Ertz again moves the chains with a catch over the middle, and then it's a blind squirrel finding a nut as the wildcat somehow works to the tune of a 10-yard Anthony Wilkerson touchdown. Stanford is winning 55-0 in penalty yards (look for that to even out in make-up calls soon), 86-34 in rushing yards, and 14-7 on the scoreboard with 8:22 left in the half.
Did you know: Stanford's last loss in the state of California to a school not named Oregon came against Cal in 2009. It was the 34-28 contest that saw a last-minute Andrew Luck red-zone interception when Stanford fans were clamoring for more Gerhart.
UCLA goes three and out. Then Stepfan Taylor beats two would-be tacklers to the hole and is off to the races for a 49-yard run – 21-7. UCLA next goes three and out again, thanks to a painful drop by an open Jordon James. With under six minutes left in the half, a two-touchdown lead and the ball, Stanford has a chance to step on UCLA's throat with a long, pre-halftime drive…
…Instead, Hogan recovers his own fumble on a second-down sack but the Cardinal are too far back to convert on third. Then, on fourth, Zychlinski receives a bounce pass for a long snap, can't handle it cleanly, sees his punt blocked and stays down on the ground for his efforts. One-time Stanford recruit Anthony Barr with the hit as Zychlinski walks off under his own power. But Ben Gardner has a second-down sack and Alex "Don't Call Me Tom, Gus" Carter ensures Evans' third-down catch is off to the side of the end zone. Ka'imi Fairbairn hits a 48-yarder – his previous season-long was 35 – but that's a great hold by the Cardinal D to keep a multi-score lead. 21-10 with 1:30 to go. Two-minute drill time as Taylor runs for seven, catches and runs for 19, and then runs for three more. But a second-down screen to Taylor goes nowhere and Hogan is sacked on third down to bring the half to a close.
Play of the quarter: Though one came on a handoff to Taylor and the other on a direct snap to Wilkerson, Stanford's two second-quarter touchdowns appeared to benefit from similar blocking schemes. It wasn't literally power right but it looked mighty close, as the Cardinal back ran right, inside tackle and behind a lineman pulling from the left side. Both times, the big guys upfront executed well enough that the running backs faced only token resistance en route to the end zone.
Stat of the quarter: 154-18. UCLA may have won the yardage battle in the first quarter, but it was all Stanford in the second. Through 30, the Cardinal have outgained the Bruins 231-165, held the ball for 18 minutes to UCLA's 12, and run 42 plays to UCLA's 31.
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