If you wanted different looks from Stanford's offense, to shake things up and move the ball, you may have been pleased with the Cardinal's opening series. The starting play on offense showed a bunch formation on the right side with three tight ends: Brett Pierce, Alex Smith and Matt Traverso. On the left side, Evan Moore was split out wide. That was a new look, though the Cardinal had previously used the bunch as a power running formation. If the Bruins were looking to the strong side of the field for the ball, they were surprised when Chris Lewis gave a hand-off fake and ran the ball to the left side for a nine-yard pickup. A quick toss to Luke Powell on the next play gave Stanford a first down and much needed confidence.
Lewis used his trademark hard cadence on the next play to draw an off-sides penalty and favorable 1st and 5. But Stanford looked like they might stall when they soon were faced with 3rd and 4 at their own 40. Lewis connected with classmate and old friend Luke Powell on a comeback for nine yards and another first down. A Kenneth Tolon run on first down gave Stanford another favorable position with 2nd and 4 in UCLA territory, but a false start moved them back across midfield. The improved playcalling came to the rescuse again when Lewis used play-action and found Smith on a screen play for a four-yard pickup. Lewis would be forced out of the pocket on third down, however, throwing the ball away.
Eric Johnson hit one of his best placed punts of the year to give the Bruins the ball on their own five-yardline, but they would transverse the length of the field, nonetheless. They drove 95 yards on 18 plays, successful with both the run and the pass. The final play was a 10-yard scamper by Maurice Drew right through the heart of Stanford's defense. The true freshman shared time on the drive with sophomore Tyler Ebell in the backfield, but it was Drew who showed a powerful and darting running style that both eluded tacklers and pushed them backward.
UCLA ate up 7:45 on the clock with their efficient and balanced offense. By the time the Bruins kicked off, Stanford would start its second possession of the game inside 14 minutes remaining in the second quarter. This game was going to move quickly, and the way the rapidly evolving UCLA offense was handling the clock and Stanford's defense, the Cardinal needed to do something productive in a hurry. So it seemed at the time, at least...
Lewis and the offense would again move the chains on their second play of the drive, a threaded needle to Powell on the right sideline for 13 yards. An incompletion and short run later, they faced third down and again Lewis went to Powell, this time in the middle of the field on a comeback just past the line of scrimmage. For the second time in two drives, Stanford was in UCLA territory.
The Card were facing third down again, and put Lewis deep in the shotgun with Tolon as the single back. Lewis called an audible for a draw to Tolon, which he took off the right side for what looked to be a first down. The shifty redshirt junior from New Mexico then made his first truly electric run of the season. He made two nifty cuts during the run to dodge would-be tacklers and stretch the play from a first down into a drive-defining gain of 20 yards.
With the ball on the UCLA 18, Lewis found Smith crossing the middle of the field for nine yards, and then moved the chains with a quick four-yard strike to Powell. The ball stood on the five-yardline. Stanford was in that most uniquely uncomfortable of positions for its offense - in a goalline scoring situation.
1st and goal at the five, Stanford employed its bunch formation on the right side and pitched to Tolon running behind the tight end blockers. UCLA swarmed to the ball and pushed Tolon back for a loss of one. To the shock of all in Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal went back to the very same play. This time Tolon found a seam through his blockers and picked up four yards down to the two-yardline. Stanford fans around the globe breathed a lung-rupturing sigh of relief on that play. After all it was futile playcalling and execution in goalline situations last week which stamped the very disheartening 35-0 loss at Oregon.
Admit it. When you saw that formation and Tolon run again to the same side on the same play where he was smothered the previous down, you cursed and raged. But the move ahead to the two-yardline would set up an even sweeter success. Stanford lined up in a power I-formation with fullback Cooper Blackhurst as the lead blocker and Tolon behind him. Evan Moore was split out wide to the left side which has been a formation in redzone territory where Stanford has often attempted a corner fade to the 6'7" true freshman. The UCLA defense took notice and leaned slightly to that side.
Lewis appeared to handoff to Tolon, who lunged through the line behind Blackhurst and dove over the goalline. Cheers immediately erupted from the loyal Stanford fans in attendance, but they quickly caught themselves when they saw Lewis roll out to his right and toss the easiest touchdown of his career to a wide open Traverso. It was one of the best play-action fakes seen in Stanford Stadium in years, and with the extra point by Michael Sgroi it evened the score at 7-7.
The balanced drive took 14 plays for 75 yards and ate up 4:57 on the clock. They gained 36 yards on the ground and 39 in the air. This offense looked viable against this very formidable UCLA defense.
The Bruins moved the ball on their next possession largely aided by a questionable pass interference call against Stanley Wilson, but the defense held on the next three plays to force a punt. The final play saw blitzing pressure by Stanford where Jared Newberry and Will Svitek barely missed a sack. Matt Moore just got the ball off for a completion, but short of the first down.
On Stanford's third series, they continued to establish the running game. Tolon took a delayed draw up the middle for four yards to the right side. The next play was a toss sweep to the same side, which Tolon ran for nine yards, including two at the end as he bowled over a Bruin defender. With the chains moved and the Bru-crew focused on the run, Stanford went to play-action and found an open Alex Smith for eight yards in the flat. A run by Tolon the next play would pickup another first down.
Nearing midfield, Lewis gave a play-action fake again and rolled out to his right but found nobody and scrambled back to the line of scrimmage. The Card crossed the 50-yardline the next play with a quick sideline pass to Powell for six yards and set up 3rd and 4. Lewis rolled out and looked deep downfield to Luke Powell, but as the senior quarterback felt the pressure of the Bruin pass rush, he unloaded an unwise ball that was easily picked off by UCLA strong safety Jarrad Page and returned 29 yards to the Stanford 45-yardline.
That gave the visitors their best starting field position of the game, and with the clock winding down in the half, you could feel the UCLA confidence return. They were in excellent position to make a score before halftime and regain the lead. But the hopes of the UCLA Nation were quickly crushed by the Nigerian Nightmare, Babatunde Oshinowo. He put Matt Moore into the turf for a seven-yard sack that put the Bruins back on their heels. They would look deep on their third down play on the right sideline with a high-arching attempt to Junior Taylor, which had some of the same markings of the play that earlier resulted in a putative interference call against Stanley Wilson. Sophomore T.J. Rushing had the coverage on this play and made a great reaction at the last second to bat away the ball.
UCLA would punt for the third time in the game, and it was fielded cleanly by Powell on his 10-yardline. Jon Alston and T.J. Rushing would take out the lead gunners in the punt coverage, which opened up space for Powell in the middle of the field. He turned on the afterburners and made an angle to the left sideline and exploded through the coverage team. Only punter Chris Kluwe stood between Powell and the promised land. The blazing Stanford senior first made a move like he was going to cut straight into the Bruin punter, and then he cut back away. That was enough to wrong-foot the kicking specialist and give Powell a straight shot to the endzone.
It was a 90-yard punt return for the go-ahead score, and it was the second-longest punt return in the school's history. The only one longer came in 1986 when Thomas Henley took one 92 yards against Oregon.
UCLA had aspirations of one last score in the half, as they moved into their hurry-up offense. They managed to pickup a pair of first downs and approached midfield with 30 yards on three plays, but Stanford's defense went into attack mode. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Craven, who was making his first start of the season, leveled Moore for a six-yard sack on first down. Oshinowo leveled the Bruin sophomore QB on the next play for a five-yard loss, setting up 3rd and 21. One incompletion later, UCLA punted away and effectively closed out the half.
Stanford led 14-7, their first halftime advantage since the San Jose State opener.
Stanford received the ball to start the second half and again went to a ton of Tolon. He picked up a first down on his first two carries and then eight on his next two runs. That set up 3rd and 2, when Stanford put Luke Powell and Chris Lewis stacked right on top of each other under center. Lewis then split out to the far side of the field for the option run. Powell, who was an option quarterback in high school and ran the option a few times last week in Eugene, kept the ball and darted up the field by came up a yard short.
UCLA then answered with their own momentum-reversing punt return. Eric Johnson blasted a 54-yard punt that outdistanced his coverage, and Craig Bragg made them pay. He took it up the middle and then darted to his right sideline for a total return of 64 yards. He was finally hit out of bounds by Johnson, but UCLA was deep into Stanford territory at the 36. Maurice Drew picked up 11 yards on his first carry, and was gaining momentum on every rush. The Bruins handed it off again to Drew, but this time the young freshman coughed it up when savvy veteran linebacker Jared Newberry popped the ball out of his grasp. The oblong pigskin launched up into the air and was snagged by Stanford free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe.
Stanford would go three and out and punt after an errant pass on 3rd and 1 by Lewis behind Tolon, but the Card at least succeeded in moving the ball back down the field and undoing UCLA's imminent scoring threat. Johnson booted another rocket, this time 51 yards and reasonably covered by the Stanford special teams.
UCLA moved the ball close to midfield, but then redshirt freshman Trevor Hooper picked an errant pass out of the air and ran it back for a 33-yard return that gave back Stanford all the momentum. They also had the ball on the UCLA 27-yardline and were beautifully positioned to score.
On the first play Lewis again went to play-action and sat comfortably back in the pocket with time. He set his feet as he saw Brett Pierce slanting right-to-left down around the five-yardline. But the pass was too low and was deflected just past the line of scrimmage. The next two plays netted no yardage, and Stanford was faced with 4th and 10 on the UCLA 28-yardline. It was deemed too far to attempt a Sgroi field goal, so Lewis lined up in the shotgun for a 4th down attempt. He had protection and found Alex Smith just inside the nine-yardline for a huge first down, but the play was called back for an illegal hands to the face personal foul penalty on left guard Ismail Simpson. That penalty turned a sure scoring position into a punt. The Card would wish later they had those points for some cushion.
Stanford punted and Eric Johnson again placed the ball inside the 20 at the 16-yardline. UCLA had its most feeble offensive series of the game as Stanford recorded two sacks: Jared Newberry on first down and Michael Craven on third down. The Bruins punted and gave the Cardinal the ball at the UCLA 46-yardline. But now it was Stanford's turn to move backward as Chris Lewis was twice hit for sacks.
Eric Johnson nudged a low placement punt that took a Stanford roll inside the 10-yardline and bounced off a Bruin's leg. The Cardinal gunner on the play, redshirt freshman Marcus McCutcheon dove on the ball to give the Cardinal the ball at the eight-yardline.
J.R. Lemon had entered the game for Stanford to give fresh legs to the running game, and he took the ball twice upfield for gains of five and two yards. Then on 3rd and goal at the one-yardline, Stanford went into its triple-I formation, with Alex Smith and Cooper Blackhurst as the lead blockers. And for the second time in the game, Lewis went to the play-action fake as his backs made the straight-ahead dive at the endzone. Though this time the fifth-year senior quarterback kept it himself and headed for the far (right) pylon. A Bruin defender met him just short of the goalline, but Lewis stretched out his right arm and pushed the pigskin across. Stanford now led 21-7, with one second left in the third quarter.
UCLA looked like they would again get a gift to help move the ball downfield when a bogus pass interference penalty was called on a near-interception. The closest player to the ball was Trevor Hooper, but some contact between Kevin Schimmelmann and the intended receiver received a late flag tossed by the back judge. Schimmelmann quickly rectified the injustice on the next play by hitting Matt Moore for a sack and forced fumble, which was recovered by UCLA for a 10-yard loss.
The teams traded punts and both offenses took hits behind the line of scrimmage until the battered Moore came out of the game for UCLA. In his place came classmate Drew Olson, who had to call a timeout on his first snap. That boded poorly for the sputtering Bruin offense, but Olson affirmed his value quickly with a 45-yard bomb to Bragg. That chunk yardage was the spark UCLA had been missing all game, though it was the officials that pushed the drive to completion.
On a 3rd and long situation, UCLA receiver Garret Lepisto ran down the right (Stanford) sideline and was barely brushed by Rushing in coverage. Lepisto went out of bounds and continued to race down the field outside the field of play. As a pass from Olson dropped toward him, he stepped in bounds at the last moment for the "completion." The play was an illegal one, but an official delayed several seconds before throwing the flag. After some deliberation with his zebra brethren, the flag was waved off to a stunned Stanford crowd. As the play stood, it picked up 25 yards and put the ball on the Stanford 10-yardline. If correctly ruled as illegal touching by a player who reentered the field of play, the Bruins would have faced 4th and long outside field goal range.
To make matters worse, Stanley Wilson was flagged for his second pass interference of the game on the next play. That moved the ball to the two-yardline, which soon yielded a UCLA rushing touchdown by Maurice Drew.
Stanford had held an increasingly comfortable two-touchdown lead for nine and a half minutes, and until that very unusual "drive," the outcome looked safe. But now fans became conscious of Stanford's conservative playcalling in the second half. The Card would pass the ball just five times all half, while running 26 attempts.
Sure enough, Kenneth Tolon ran the ball on first and second down for a total of six yards. The Chris Lewis found Alex Smith in the middle of the field for a huge 17-yard pickup on 3rd and 4. Though Stanford would soon punt the ball, the extra set of downs helped to run clock and limit UCLA's final drive prospects.
The Bruins were given the ball on their own 10-yardline after yet another monster punt from Eric Johnson. They would take three plays to pickup even one first down, and then they were faced with a 4th down and less than a yard to go. Olson took the ball under center for the quarterback keeper but picked up inches at best against the surging Stanford defensive front.
Jared Newberry was the first player to emerge from the pile signaling that the Bruins had been stopped. He raced straight to the Stanford sideline and leapt into the air at a jubilant Tom Williams, the fiery linebacker coach and co-defensive coordinator for the Cardinal. The officials signalled that the possession had switched over to Stanford on downs, and the game effectively ended. Lewis kneeled out the remainder and the celebration was on.
Stanford picked up its first conference win of the season, but more importantly reversed a four-game losing skid. Now 3-4 on the year, Stanford has to win three of its remaining four games to earn a winning record and get elligible for a bowl game. Those four opponents own a collective 17-19 record. By contrast, the four opponents Stanford played during its losing streak own a 25-11 record.
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