-- UCLA plays in its first home game of the season when Stanford comes to the Rose Bowl Saturday. The game kicks off at 7:30 PST, and will be televised by ESPN, with Carter Blackburn, Brock Huard and Mike Bellotti calling the action.
-- UCLA, of course, lost to Kansas State last week, 33-22 in Manhattan, Kansas.
-- Stanford beat FCS (Division 1-AA) Sacramento State last week, 52-17.
-- The Cardinal snuck into AP top 25 at #25 this week.
-- UCLA leads the all-time series, 45-32-3. The two schools have met every season dating back to 1946, with the series beginning in 1925.
-- Since UCLA first started calling the Rose Bowl home in 1982, it is 10-4 against Stanford in Pasadena.
-- The Bruins lost to the Cardinal last season on the Farm, 24-16, with Stanford's Toby Gerhart, who has now moved on to the NFL, scoring three touchdowns.
-- That win by Stanford snapped a five-game Bruin win streak in the series.
-- UCLA has won its last six games against Stanford at the Rose Bowl, dating back to 1996.
-- Since it began Pac-10 play in 1978, UCLA has played in just four conference games earlier that this year's September 11th game against Stanford – in 2007, 1997, 1993 and 1978. UCLA is 3-1 in those games.
-- The last time UCLA opened its home schedule with a Pac-10 game was in 1993, when it lost to Cal.
-- UCLA has gone 6-4 in conference openers since 2000, and 2-1 at home.
-- UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel is 4-1 in games against Stanford.
-- Stanford is coached by Jim Harbaugh, in his fourth year. He is 18-20 overall at Stanford, posting his first winning season in 2009, going 8-5, after going 5-7 in 2008 and 4-8 in 2007. Harbaugh has done a good job of turning around the Stanford program, especially with two top 25 national recruiting classes in 2009 and 2010.
-- Last season, Stanford earned a berth in the Sun Bowl, where it dropped a 31-27 decision to Oklahoma. It was Stanford's first bowl appearance since 2001. Its 2009 mark of 8-5 broke a string of seven consecutive losing seasons going back to 2002. It went 6-3 in the Pac-10 last season, finishing second in the conference, and its six conference wins were the most for a Cardinal team since 2001.
-- Stanford's five losses last season were by an average of 6.4 points.
-- After posting a 10-31 conference record from 2002-2006, the Cardinal is 13-14 against the Pac-10 under Harbaugh. They've beaten every Pac-10 school during Harbaught's tenure.
-- Under Harbaugh, Stanford is 8-5 in August and September, including 7-3 in the last two seasons.
-- The weather should be perfect for football Saturday night, with a high of 78 during the day on Saturday.
STANFORD'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
The focus of Stanford's offense will probably shift a bit this season from a run-dominated attack to one that emphasizes the pass a bit more.
It's what happens when you lose Heisman-Trophy-runner-up Toby Gerhart, who ran for a nation's best 1,871 yards. But it's also what happens when the next "star" on your team is the quarterback.
Sophomore Andrew Luck (6-4, 235) is probably one of the best quarterbacks in the country, even if the country doesn't know it. Last season, as definitely the complimentary piece of the offense, Luck threw for over 2,500 yards, with an efficiency rating of 143.5, which was best in the Pac-10. He doesn't make many mistakes and throws a very accurate ball.
Stanford also has a good back-up at quarterback in junior Alex Loukas (6-4, 210), who might be starting at a majority of D-1 programs. Loukas hasn't had a great deal of experience, even though he played practically the entire fourth quarter last week against Sac State. He has a strong arm, and is a threat to run.
The offense, no matter whether it's passing or running the ball, is able to do so because of its offensive line. The Cardinal return four of five starters from last year's OL, which was probably one of the best in the country. It did lose second-team All-American right tackle Chris Marinelli, but probably Stanford's next OL to get the accolades is sophomore right guard David DeCastro (6-5, 310), but you might be able to make an argument with sophomore left tackle Jonathan Martin (6-6, 304) who, you might remember, was verbally committed to UCLA before switching to Stanford. Right now the question mark is depth at tackle, since the Card not only lost Marinelli but two other tackles, including one, Matt Kopa, who could have returned for a sixth year of eligibility but chose to go pro (he made the 49ers practice squad). Replacing Marinelli at right tackle is senior Derek Hall (6-5, 303).
|Fullback Owen Marecic.|
Even though you can't take much from what Stanford showed offensively against Sac State, you can probably surmise that they're going to replace Gerhart with a tailback-by-committee approach. The #1 guy is sophomore Stepfan Taylor (5-11, 208), who is more of a big-play guy than a ground-it-out type. And he doesn't have to be when Stanford has senior Jeremy Stewart (6-0, 218), but there are indications out of the Farm that Stewart probably won't play Saturday. Harbaugh is a big secret guy, and refuses to issue any kind of injury report. A player can be carted off the field and be out for the season, and Harbaugh won't even concede what the injury is. Stewart was injured in the Sac State game, walked off the field in the boot, and no information has been released if he's able to play, but most of the speculation is that he won't. Behind those two <i>were three</i> more tailbacks that actually got the most carries in the Sac State game – freshman Usua Amanam (5-10, 184), sophomore Tyler Gaffney (6-0, 216), and freshman Anthony Wilkerson (6-1, 220). Gaffney and Wilkerson are the battering ram types. The three combined for 110 yards last week.
Critical in Stanford's pound-it-out attack from a season ago is senior fullback Owen Marecic (6-1, 244), who in the I is the guy who sprung Gerhart for so many big gainers a year ago.
If there are some questions about Stanford's offense they would be at receiver. There was concern over depth coming into the season and an injury has fueled more concern. Senior Ryan Whalen (6-2, 205) caught a team-best 57 passes for 926 yards a year ago, and will be the go-to guy. The other starter is junior Chris Owusu, but he's injured and thought to be out for this game. Last week senior Doug Baldwin (5-11, 189), who has good quickness, did well, bringing in four catches for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns, including an 81-yard bomb. But after that there's a question of who else could do the job. The Cardinal would like to see sophomore Jamal-Rashad Patterson step up.
The tight end position also took a hit last week when Levine Toilolo tore his ACL and is out for the season (even though Harbaugh wouldn't identify the injury). Stanford, though, is deep and talented at tight end, with senior Konrad Reuland (6-6, 257), junior Coby Fleener (6-6, 244) and freshman Zach Ertz (6-6, 249). You might notice there's a common theme here with this three, all being 6-6, and they can present match-up problems with their height. Ertz caught a TD pass in the Sac State game, and the tight end fade or slant option is something Stanford will definitely use at or near the goal line.
UCLA's defense is, at least, healthy. Well, if you don't count the guy, starting defensive end Datone Jones, they lost in fall camp.
Even though healthy, UCLA's D has many issues, if you go by its performance last week against Kansas State.
The primary one is the inexperienced front seven, who allowed the Wildcats to rush for 313 yards. Bruin defenders were pushed off the line of scrimmage and sealed on the edge repeatedly throughout the game, and KSU ball carriers found a great deal of open field. Even when Bruins met up with a Wildcat ball carrier there wasn't a high-quality of tackling happening.
Perhaps the most distressing element was the lack of discipline, with many players out of position and making bad decisions. While Rick Neuheisel emphasized that UCLA needs to tackle better, it's a bit more important that the defender gets to the ball carrier effectively before he even has a chance to make a tackle.
A key to UCLA's offense is strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers, who had an up and down game last week. On one hand, he made some terrifically athletic plays – on the other he was undisciplined and made poor decisions, which caused some running room for K-State. His improved play this week, being the veteran of the front seven, is critical to UCLA's success. How Ayers does will greatly determine how UCLA's defense does.
UCLA's passing defense is going to be tested this week, as opposed to last week when it faced a poor throwing quarterback. Luck and Stanford's offensive brain trust should try to get UCLA's inexperienced cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price in one-on-one situations throughout the night.
Advantage: Stanford. The Cardinal offense is known for throwing multiple formations at opposing defenses, shifting between a pro set and a spread from play to play. They also actually used a little Pistol last week, probably just to make UCLA's defensive coaches have to spend time defending one more thing (With UCLA running the Pistol, though, you'd think UCLA might have a leg up on defending it). But you can probably bet they'll line up in that Power I and still pound the ball behind that stellar offensive line.
Anyway you look at it, there aren't many ways UCLA's defense matches up well against Stanford's offense. Last week UCLA looked very vulnerable against the run, and Stanford could be one of the best power-running offenses in the nation. Then, throw in the other dimension of going against one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Luck and UCLA's untested corners. Stanford's OL was great last season at protecting the quarterback, and last week Luck might have been touched only a couple of times by Sac State defenders – while UCLA hasn't shown it can generate a pass rush in anything but clear passing situations. Also, you have to stir in the fact that UCLA's defense was pretty much a mess in terms of assignments, discipline and tackling last week and it all doesn't foresee a pretty picture.
Perhaps there is a little optimism to be had in the fact that Stanford's running game wasn't nearly as dominant as you would have expected last week against Sac State. The Cardinal should have rolled through the Sac State rush defense and it really didn't. Could it be that Gerhart is irreplaceable?
UCLA is going to have to match Stanford's penchant for unpredictability and line up in different formations and send pressure from different spots on the field at different times. There were a few times when Sac State sent a corner blitz and got to Luck untouched.
It will be interesting to see if UCLA's Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bullough is going to utilize his personnel in different ways this week, and possibly give chances to some young, possibly more talented guys, like defensive tackle Seali'I Epenesa.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. STANFORD'S DEFENSE
Stanford definitely likes to be mysterious. As we've said, Harbaugh doesn't provide injury reports, and offensively they'll show you many different looks.
That mysteriousness definitely extends to the defense. The Cardinal hired a new defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, who is known for his 3-4 alignment. But last week against Sac State they didn't even utilize it, going with a 4-2-5 for most of the game, trying to not to give away anything they didn't have to.
Stanford's defense does, actually, need every bit of help it can get. Last season it was 90th overall in the country, and an abysmal 110th against the pass.
Last week against Sac State it allowed only 167 total yards and that sounds like a dominating performance. But it really wasn't. Even though it was jus Sac State and difficult to really take much from it, the defense showed some of the same inconsistency they had from last season.
Stanford has a handful of guys on defense that make up a fairly strong nucleus, but there are still a few holes.
The front line is led by senior nose tackle Sione Fua (6-2, 306) who has made 19 career starts. Fua is solid but not spectacular.
The two projected starting defensive ends, junior Matt Masifilo (6-3, 280) and senior Brian Bulcke (6-3, 285), play more like traditional defensive tackles. Last week against Sac State the three starting DLs had only three tackles between them, but Bulcke did get some penetration for a couple of tackles for loss.
Junior Thomas Keiser (6-5, 244), who led the team in sacks last year with 9, is now a linebacker. Last week he was pretty anonymous against Sac State.
The potential star of the defense is sophomore inside linebacker Shane Skov (6-3, 243), who started seven games as a freshman last season and was third on the team with 62 tackles. However, he didn't play against Sac State because of (of course) an undisclosed injury. He's listed on the depth chart, but most news reports have him sitting out on Saturday.
|Cornerback Richard Sherman..|
Last week, in his place, junior Max Bergen (6-2, 230) had a big day, leading the team in tackles with 8. But most observes believe there is a considerable drop-off in the D without Skov.
The other inside linebacker is Owen Marecic, the fullback who is doing it old school and playing both ways. Stanford is utilizing him on both offense and defense not only because he's a good football player but because their D is a little thin at linebacker.
Chase Thomas (6-4, 239) is the other starting outside linebacker, who was pretty active last week, getting two sacks against Sac State.
The secondary has some solid guys and some question marks. It will really feel the effect of losing long-time starting safety Bo McNally. Junior strong safety Delano Howell (5-11, 198) might be the most accomplished of the returning players on defense, second on the team a year ago in tackles with 78.
The other guy with a good amount of experience is senior cornerback Richard Sherman (6-3, 192), who converted from wide receiver a year ago. He played corner last year pretty much in the dark but now, with a year of experience, has the physical ability to be good.
Junior Michael Thomas (5-11, 182) switched over from cornerback, mostly because Stanford had more depth at corner, and is still unproven in his new position.
The other starting corner is junior Johnson Bademosi (6-1, 197), who started some games last season, but is thought to be the more vulnerable of the two corners.
UCLA's offense has some pretty talented personnel, it's just a matter if it can effectively get the ball in their hands.
And if, once it is in their hands, it's not dropped.
UCLA's passing game last week against K-State might have been the difference in the defeat. If UCLA just hangs on to a few of the dropped balls in that game it very well might have won.
Starting F-back Morrell Presley dropped the first two passes from scrimmage and it doesn't appear he saw the field again. The guy who is in the game specifically because he's supposed to have good hands is Taylor Embree, and he dropped a critical ball at the three-yard line that would have changed the game.
Of course, the key is quarterback Kevin Prince. He struggled last week, with errant throws, and it was chalked up to him being rusty, having sat out most of fall practice with a strained back muscle. This week, as a result of the K-State game, he has a sore shoulder, and has had limited throws in practice Tuesday and Wednesday.
We have a feeling that if Prince doesn't shake off the injuries and the rust pretty quickly we are going to see true sophomore Richard Brehaut. When both Prince and Brehaut were healthy at the beginning of fall pratice, Prince was considerably better. But heck, Brehaut had a very good performance in the fall scrimmage, and if Prince falters, it's probably time to give him a shot.
The bright side for the offense last week against Kansas State was the performance of the offensive line and the running game. The OL was stellar in run blocking and good in pass protection, especially the left side of the line, tackle Sean Sheller and guard Darius Savage, two seniors who have had a long road back from serious injury.
The running backs looked good, too, especially Johnathan Franklin, who held onto the ball (as we all know, fumbling was his issue last season) and looked explosive and tough. True freshman Malcolm Jones looked good in his one series. Derrick Coleman will probably start, as he has, but we're hearing at least that Franklin could get the bulk of the work this week.
Watch for possibly 6-8 tight end Joseph Fauria to emerge as a target for Prince this week.
Advantage: UCLA. The Bruins always seem to get on track offensively to a degree in the friendly confines of the Rose Bowl. Showing that they could run the ball last week is a key, especially since Stanford wasn't great against the rush last season and, without Skov and other new guys playing new positions in the 3-4, don't look to be much improved.
Even though UCLA wasn't able to fully unleash them last week, the Bruins have too many offensive weapons to keep them all down for long. Josh Smith, Ricky Marvray, Nelson Rosario, Randall Carroll or even Presley are bound to bust out sometime, and going against a Stanford defense that was really poor against the pass last season and didn't get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks it very well could be the game when that happens.
The offense knows it's on notice after last week.
Schematically Stanford's defense won't be that much of a challenge. Neuheisel coached with Fangio in the NFL, so he knows the 3-4 defense Fangio runs. It's not like when Stanford goes to the 3-4 it will be a complete mystery to UCLA. Stanford not only has a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme, but two new defensive coaches two, the DL coach and the secondary coach, so there is going to be some degree of growing and leaning pains.
Because of the match-up with Stanford's defense, the fact that UCLA's offense has a spotlight on it to produce after last week, and the unpredictability of the Pistol offense, we're going to go out on a limb and say that this is the week UCLA's offense breaks out.
Perhaps the biggest factor in special teams is that Chris Owusu, the returning Pac-10 kick-off returner, is though to be out for a second straight game.
The Cardinal kicking game is decent, with a good placekicker in Nate Whitaker, who also can put the ball in the back of the endzone on kick-offs. Stanford was uncertain, though, about its punter, but last week Daniel Zychlinski punted twice and did fine.
Stanford did allow a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown against Sac State, and generally didn't look great in punt coverage.
It could be time for UCLA to move up the dangerous Josh Smith to first-string punt returner to take advantage.
UCLA, of course, has the Lou Groza Award winner in place-kicker Kai Forbath, and one of the best young punters in the country in Jeff Locke. Forbath, though, is still nursing a sore groin and Locke has a sore knee. UCLA's coverage teams were good last week; watch for speedy Damien Thigpen as a gunner in coverage.
Last week, we said we thought the UCLA-Kansas State game would be higher scoring than most were predicting, and it was. It, in fact, should have been even higher scoring if UCLA, again, had held onto some passes.
This week everything points to a high-scoring game: Stanford's potent offense going against UCLA's still-finding-its-legs defense, and UCLA's Pistol offense at home for the first time against Stanford's unproven defense.
Looking at it on paper, it's clear you have to give the advantage in match-ups to Stanford's offense against UCLA's defense, as opposed to UCLA's offense against Stanford's defense. That's a no brainer.
But since this the year we allow some homerism to infect our usual objectivity, we're going to lose our brain and say UCLA wins. There is a true feeling of urgency around the UCLA program, and having played against a good opponent on the road, and now returning home to the Rose Bowl, the team should have gotten its jitters out. While Stanford, on the other hand, will be going on the road with a suspect defense, which is always what bookies tell you to bet against.
But really, this game could easily go either way, and it'd be surprising if it there weren't a great deal of points on the Rose Bowl scoreboard by the end of the night. It could be one of the those games where you feel the team that wins will be whomever has the ball last.