One of the intriguing little angles to this game which you can rest assured the television commentators will discuss Saturday night is the reunion of Trent Edwards and Ben Olson. The two talented prepsters were at the top of one of the most highly regarded quarterback classes five years ago (Class of 2002). Many publications ranked them #1 and #2 in the nation. Scout.com (then TheInsiders.com) actually tabbed Edwards #2 and Olson #3, behind Vince Young.
Edwards and Olson were both Golden State standouts, the former from Los Gatos and the latter from Thousand Oaks. Both earned Parade All-American honors and were consensus Top 10 players nationally. Both were offered by Stanford; both were highly interested and attended Junior Day; and both dazzled at the Stanford Nike Camp in May 2001. Olson needed considerably more work on his SAT score at the time for a chance at Stanford admission, which ultimately did not work out. He committed to BYU, while Edwards scored a Stanford admission and committed.
Olson took his Mormon mission after redshirting as a freshman in Provo, and afterward he was able to conduct a new recruiting search for a college home. UCLA won the Ben Olson Sweepstakes. The aged redshirt freshman played in just two games last fall. Now a 23-year-old redshirt sophomore, he has taken the reins in Westwood. Olson is just beginning his college football career, while Edwards is in his final season. They are at very different places but will be compared during and after Saturday's battle because of their prep reputations. Here is how they stack up thus far this season:
"I think I met him at Junior Day. We went to the summer camp together. We went to the Elite 11 camp together," Edwards says of his fellow Class of '02 quarterback. "The thing I remember about him is that he's an athlete and a big guy. I think he was easily the best quarterback at that Elite 11 camp I went to."
While we might be eyeing the Edwards-Olson battle, the Cardinal quarterback is barely cognizant of his counterpart this week.
"I haven't really had a chance, to be honest, to watch UCLA's offense. They haven't faced any defenses we have faced yet," Edwards admits. "It only hit me when I went into practice, and Nicolas Ruhl is wearing the same number as Ben Olson. 'Oh, that's Ben Olson we're playing this week.' I get so focused in on UCLA's defense. I never really think about whether we're facing Alex Brink, Adam Tafralis or any of those guys."
While Olson may have the golden arm and résumé, the lethal weapon of UCLA's offense to beware is junior running back Chris Markey. Stanford has already been shredded by some good ballcarriers this year, but Markey outranks them all. The 5'11" 204-pounder is tops in the Pac-10 and eighth in the nation with 121.3 yards per game. Markey's 7.1 yards per carry, by comparison, dwarfs the 4.6 per carry of Stanford's leading rusher Toby Gerhart.
You've heard it before, but it bears repeating. Stanford has an apocalyptically bad rushing defense, yielding 312.0 yards per game. The next worst team in the conference (Oregon) allows just 171.0 yards per game.
If you are keeping track Saturday night of whether (or when) Markey rushes for a new career high in this contest, his current top performance is 208 yards (vs. Rice).
It is only natural for us to lead with the Bruins quarterback and running back, both talented and poised for perhaps big days against the Cardinal. They are the heirs apparent to the dynamic "Drews" duo of Drew Olson and Maurice Drew. The former led the Pac-10 with 34 touchdowns and ranked fifth in the nation in passing efficiency (161.5). The latter was 13th in the nation in all-purpose running (164.2 yards/game) and the most dangerous punt returner in college football (three TDs, 28.5 yards/return).
However, the real story of UCLA in 2006 is the remarkable turnaround on defense. The Bruins ranked ninth in the conference and 113th in the NCAA in total defense (468.1 yards/game). They were dead last in the Pac-10 and 108th in the nation in scoring defense (34.2 points/game).
Today? The Bru-crew are second in the conference in scoring defense at 18.3 points per game and third in total defense at 240.0 yards per game.
"I think they're playing much improved on defense this year," offers Stanford head coach Walt Harris. "They're playing with much more energy. They're bigger. They show that they believe in what they are doing."
If you remember the last time these two teams met in the Rose Bowl, Stanford's anemic offense was pitted against a pitiful UCLA defense in late October of 2004. In particular, the Cardinal ground game hoped to get rolling against what was far and away the conference's worst rushing defense (not quite as bad as the 2006 Stanford run defense, but it was famously bad).
Shockingly, the Bruins put just six defenders in the box and kept players back in pass defense to stymie Edwards and favorite target tight end Alex Smith. The UCLA defense dared Stanford to run the ball, and the Cardinal of course could not. Stanford ran for just 83 yards (2.5 ypc) against a team that was yielding three times that number. Stanford was shut out in a 21-0 loss to a team that had been tagged for 45 and 48 points in its two previous games.
Back to the present, Stanford again has a struggling offense but will battle in the Rose Bowl against the best Bruins defense in several years. If you thought that 21-0 was ugly - and it was horrible - what might tomorrow bring?
The Stanford-UCLA game that has everybody in the Cardinal media corps talking this week is last year's infamous meltdown. Stanford was on a three-game winning streak and surging toward an unbelievable bowl berth, and they were absolutely dominating the undefeated and nationally ranked Bruins. UCLA's high-octane offense, fifth in Division I-A at 44.4 points per game, was held to just three points and 147 yards through three quarters. Maurice Drew was completely held in check, both running the ball and on punt returns.
With eight and a half minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Stanford dropped what looked to be the final hammer on the #8-ranked Bruins. A Nick Frank touchdown put the Cardinal up 24-3. Then Michael Sgroi kicked the ball out of bounds, handing UCLA a short field. They seized the opportunity and starting throwing screen passes to Drew for chunks of yardage. In the blink of an eye, the Bruins scored two touchdowns in two possessions with just nine total offensive plays. With 46 seconds left in regulation, Drew scored UCLA's third touchdown in the span of six and a half minutes. The game went to overtime, and UCLA won, 30-27.
Reporters this week have asked players and coaches about their memories of the come-from-ahead defeat, and how it provides additional motivation for this match-up. It was certainly an improbable and incredible game, and it was the most recent meeting between these two annual rivals. However, the game that comes to mind in revisiting this series is the 1998 contest.
That game was like this week's contest in that it took place in the Rose Bowl with a huge mismatch. Stanford was in freefall at 1-6 and headed for its worst finish in more than a decade. UCLA was on the upswing with a 6-0 record and the feeling that they were about to reclaim their long-lost place in the upper echelon of college football.
Stanford stunned a national television audience and a crowd of 65,000 by taking the lead in the first quarter and then again in the second quarter, before heading to the half tied at 14-14. At the end of the third quarter, those scrappy Stanford guys were on top with a 24-14 lead. UCLA rallied in the fourth quarter with two quick touchdowns, but Stanford answered with what was a certain go-ahead touchdown toss from Todd Husak to Jeff Allen. Allen was caught from behind just before the goalline and fumbled the ball into the endzone. UCLA recovered with just over four minutes left in the game and continued their blessed season while Stanford sunk to yet another loss.
We're not saying that any part of this 2006 game will play out like the affair of eight years ago, but the feeling of futility looking forward to this game most reminds us of '98. And that game surely showed that you just never know what to expect.
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