Grading the Keys: UCLA

Stanford overpowered UCLA 35-17 to set up a rare rematch with the Bruins in Friday's Pac-12 championship game. Here's an evaluation of the Cardinal's performance at critical junctures.

David Parry: Anchor the Defense in Stephens' Absence
The absence of senior nose tackle Terrence Stephens was a cause for concern, but Stanford's nation-best depth on the defensive side of the football was again the catalyst of victory. David Parry, a former walk-on who earned Tyler Gaffney's scholarship just before the start of the season, did a fine job anchoring the line in Stephens' place. The 300-pounder racked up five tackles (an impressive amount from a position that usually flies under the statistical radar) and powered his way to a second-half sack, one of the seven times the Farm Boys lassoed UCLA freshman quarterback Brett Hundley.

Josh Mauro's powerful play deserves more credit than the box score (only one stop: a tackle for loss) indicates, but the true dominant story of the Stanford defense is the play of A.J. Tarpley. The junior has morphed into an absolute stud. He led the team with seven tackles, two for loss, and displayed turbo closing speed that appears to rival that of Shayne Skov.

As a whole, Stanford's pass rush was phenomenal against a leaky Bruins' offensive front, which came into the game ranked 110th nationally in pass protection. UCLA's early 71-yard passing play to Shaq Evans came after Hundley used his athleticism to escape the rush and buy extra time outside the tackles, but quarterback containment was excellent from that point on. The Cardinal's seven sacks upped the club's 2012 count to 53, shattering the 1999 Rose Bowl team's previous school record of 48. With two games still remaining, 65 total sacks aren't out of the question. Such a final total would simply be absurd.

UCLA's Jonathan Franklin, a Doak Walker Award finalist, looked far less deserving of that honor than his Cardinal counterpart Stepfan Taylor -- who did not make the prize's final cut. Franklin averaged only 3.1 yards per carry. He entered the game racking up 6.3 yards per hand-off. Leave it to the Stanford defense to make formidable rushers look ordinary.

Grade: A (I sense the elusive A+ coming this Friday if UCLA cannot figure out a way to consistently move Hundley out of the pocket)

Consistent Scoring Success
Entering the game, clicking early and late wasn't an issue for the Kevin Hogan-led Stanford offense. Attaining scoreboard success in the second and third quarters had provided the biggest challenge. As a result, Oregon State had ripped off a 23-0 midgame run against the Cardinal, while Oregon had shut Stanford out for 10 consecutive possessions before late-game heroics spearheaded the upset.

This time, David Shaw's offense addressed its midgame maladies while holding onto its early success. Hogan opened the game with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was highlighted by a brilliant third-and-long draw run by Stepfan Taylor. Stanford then scored 28 points throughout the middle quarters, setting a no-nonsense tone with a 10-play, 88-yard drive in the second frame that bruised UCLA into submission. The evidence of this hurt was apparent on the very next possession, when Taylor ripped off a 49-yard dash to the house. Those body shots add up. They turn into big runs against inferior defenses, and the Farm Boys enjoyed their Thanksgiving feast when their physical work paid off in the middle of the game.

Grade: A (the second quarter's ugly punt fumble sequence prevents a perfect grade)

Keep it Up, Snipers
This time, Stanford was dominant enough offensively and defensively to make special teams struggles irrelevant in the outcome. But Saturday's trouble in the third phase of the game was an alarming turnaround from an excellent performance that secured the upset in Eugene.

The worst news came via Daniel Zychlinski's injury. UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr nuked the Polish Rifle in the second quarter after Reed Miller's long snap bounced on its way to the punter. Cardinal blocking collapsed, setting the scene for a grisly result against a Bruins' unit that had blocked six kicks in its previous two games: Zychlinksi was forced to exit the contest immediately. He later left the Rose Bowl in a sling and is doubtful for Friday's championship rematch.

Meanwhile, steady Stanford punt returner Drew Terrell also permanently left the game. Since his status is uncertain, Keanu Nelson may be returning boots again on Friday. Remember that Ty Montgomery, Stanford's primary kick returner, is also currently out of that role due to injury, so the Cardinal's return game is potentially looking at a pair of second options.

Jordan Williamson's missed 45-yard field goal, a low line drive that clanged off the crossbar, doesn't help Stanford's special teams grade. But Alex Debniak's ground-shaking kickoff coverage hit, one that set up Usua Amanam's game-sealing touchdown fumble recovery, earns some serious special teams extra credit.

Grade: D (a sloppy special teams performance is saved from a failing grade by Debniak's earthquake, which measured 8.2 on the Richter Scale and is still causing aftershocks in Southern California)


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 www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.


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