-- UCLA travels to Palo Alto to take on the Stanford Cardinal Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net (Prime Ticket in the Southland), with Joel Meyers and Berian Baldinger in the booth.
-- Stanford is ranked #4/#6 in the country, and is 3-0, and 1-0 in the Pac-12 North.
-- Stanford started the season beating a common UCLA opponent, San Jose State, 57-3 (The Bruins beat the Spartans 27-17). They then traveled to Duke and beat the Blue Devils, 44-14, and then kicked off their Pac-12 schedule with a win at Arizona, 37-10.
-- The Cardinal had a bye week last week.
-- Stanford has won 11 games in a row, dating back to last season, which is the longest winning streak in the country.
-- It's Stanford's longest winning streak since it won 13 straight games since 1939-41.
-- The series between the two schools dates back to 1925, with UCLA leading, 45-33-3. The two schools have met every season since 1946.
-- Stanford has won the last two games in the series, including a 38-0 shutout of the Bruins last season at the Rose Bowl.
-- Before the last two losses, UCLA had won five in a row against the Cardinal.
-- The last time Stanford beat UCLA three in a row was in 1925-31, when they beat UCLA five in a row.
-- Stanford has now been ranked in the AP Top 10 for 11 consecutive weeks, making it the Cardinal's longest run as a Top 10 team in school history (previously it was 8 weeks in 1940).
-- Opening the season ranked in the top ten was the first time Stanford accomplished that since 1970. Being ranked pre-season #7 was the highest preseason ranking since 1950 (7th).
-- If Stanford has a winning season in 2011 it will make it three in a row, and it will be the most consecutive winning seasons since 1968-78, when the Cardinal record 11 consecutive winning seasons.
-- The Cardinal is 18-2 in its last 20 home games, dating back to the last home game in 2007. Last year, Stanford was 6-0 at home, making it their first undefeated home season since 1977.
-- Stanford has won each of its last three games coming off bye weeks, including the memorable upset of #7 Oregon, 51-42, in 2009.
-- Stanford's head coach is David Shaw, who is in his first hear at the helm, taking over from departed Jim Harbaugh in January. He was Stanford's offensive coordinator for four seasons under Harbaugh, and the Cardinal has set school scoring records in each of the past two seasons under his tutelage. A 1994 Stanford graduate,Shaw was a wide receiver under Dennis Green.
-- Stanford offered Harbaugh $3 million to stay with the program, an unprecedented number for Stanford, but Harbaugh turned it down. Shaw is reportedly paid about $1 million per year.
-- Shaw hired Pep Hamilton, the program's former wide receivers coach, to replace him as offensive coordinator, and co-defensive coordinators Derek Mason and Jason Tarver. Mason had been the defensive back coach last season, and Tarver came over from the San Francisco 49ers. Shaw hired three more new coaches in the off-season.
-- Shaw, though, made it a point to keep much of the terminology of both the offensive and defensive schemes the same as it had been under Harbaugh.
-- UCLA's Rick Neuheisel and Shaw coached together for a year with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005, when Neuheisel was the quarterbacks coach and Shaw the wide receivers coach.
-- With UCLA winning its conference opener last week against Oregon State, it has a history of going to seven straight bowl games when it opened with a win in its first conference game.
-- The Cardinal play their home games at Stanford Stadium, which seats 50,000 and had a dramatic renovation in 2006. The old, rickety stadium was demolished and replaced, costing $90 million. Interestingly, the capacity of the stadium was reduced from 85,000, a strategic decision by Stanford to boost season ticket sales and create more of an intimate playing atmosphere.
-- Stanford, during one of its best seasons ever in its history when it went 12-1 last season, only averaged 40,000 fans per home game.
The weater forecast calls for a high of 71 degrees in Palo Alto on Saturday, but considerably cooler by the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. STANFORD'S DEFENSE
Let's compare statistics, shall we?
UCLA's Total Offense: 411 YPG, 59th in the nation
Stanford's Total Defense: 301 YPG, 24th in the nation
UCLA's Scoring Offense: 27 PPG, 74th in the nation
Stanford's Scoring Defense: 9 PPG, 4th in the nation
UCLA's Rushing Offense: 214 YPG, 28th in the nation
Stanford's Rushing Defense: 36 YPG, 1st in the nation
UCLA's Passing Offense: 197 YPG, 86th in the nation
Stanford's Passing Defense: 265 YPG, 101st in the nation
If you hadn't watched a UCLA or Stanford game yet this season, the stats would lead you to believe that Stanford's defense is going to dominate this match-up.
|Safety Delano Howell.|
It's curious, too, since going into the season Stanford could boast one of the best returning safety tandems in the conference in Delano Howell (SR, 5-11, 189) and Michael Thomas (SR, 5-11, 185). They also have veteran corner Johnson Bademosi (SR, 6-1, 197), and only had to break in one new starter in corner Barry Browning (SO, 6-1, 176).
Howell and Thomas have to step into the leadership void on the defense now that the Cardinal lost linebacker Shayne Skov for the season with a knee injury. Skov, generally considered one of the best linebackers in the conference and Stanford's leading tackler, will be sorely missed. Replacing him will probably be two guys, Jarek Lancaster (SO, 6-1, 238) and A.J. Tarpley (R-FR, 6-2, 235), and while both have played decently so far this season off the bench, that's a considerable drop-off in terms of talent, experience and leadership in the middle and heart of Stanford's D. They'll have to rely more on veteran Chase Thomas (JR, 6-4, 240) and Max Bergen (SR, 6-2, 225). Trent Murphy (R-SO, 6-6, 260) is the hybrid DE/LB in Stanford's 3-4, and has played well, looking like a tough size/quickness match-up. James Vaughters (FR, 6-2, 243) has also been standing out backing up inside.
Stanford's 3-4 has been huge against the run so far this season (obviously, leading the country in rushing defense), and lot of that has been because the linebackers have been flying around and getting a big amount of tackles for loss (Stanford is #1 on the country for tackles for loss, averaging a whopping 10 per game).
It's also been due to a very effective job by the Cardinal's front three, led by end Ben Gardner (R-SO, 6-4, 239), who leads the conference in tackles for loss, averaging almost two per game. Terrence Stephens (JR, 6-2, 294) anchors the line at nose guard, and has done a good job taking over for long-time star Sione Fua. Matt Masifilo (SR, 6-3, 280) is the other inside guy and is another new starter that has really been solid. The big concern defensively for the Cardinal coming into the season was the DL, and they've gone way beyond expectation.
UCLA's offense, obviously, has its work cut out for it. In its first three games it's relied heavily on its rushing attack, but that might not be as reliable this week. Starting tailback Johnathan Franklin sat out the most of the Oregon State game with a thigh contusion, but has practiced this week, even though you'd have to think he might not be 100%. Derrick Coleman has been consistently beastly, but he hasn't faced a rushing defense of the caliber of Stanford's, and there's a question of how effective he can be if he has to carry the ball more than 20 or so times in a game. Malcolm Jones got more carries last week with Franklin out, but he didn't gain much yards after contact, which will be vital against Stanford's rushing D.
Pretty much this is going to be a big game for quarterback Richard Brehaut. UCLA's offense will not only depend on how well he makes the reads in its zone read running game, but UCLA is absolutely going to have to throw the ball to be effective against Stanford's defense.
Brehaut has plenty of weapons to throw to. Tight end Joseph Fauria had a big first game against Houston, but has been quiet since. The explanation given is that he's been nicked up, particularly last week against Oregon State. We saw a flash of Josh Smith's playmaking ability against OSU last week. Speedster Randall Carroll was open on some deep balls against OSU. There's Nelson Rosario, and perhaps the most overall talented WR on the team, Shaquelle Evans.
UCLA also has Jordon James, who broke out a bit last week, with a touchdown run working from the F-back spot. He'll get more chances with Anthony Barr out with a meniscus tear.
Under Neuheisel, though, UCLA has usually had a good amount of weapons, but just won't attempt to – or can't – get the ball into their hands.
Stanford went up against a very good offense in Arizona two weeks ago and held them to 10 points – in Tucson. Arizona utilized a hurry-up, no-huddle offense, and spread out the field, and had a very effective quarterback, Nick Foles, attempting to pick them apart. Arizona, which is the #5 passing offense in the country, threw for just 282 yards in 39 attempts, and rushed for 51 yards. Stanford sacked Foles five times. When asked about that performance, Neuheisel said the Cardinal "had a party at the quarterback." The Cardinal, in fact, are second in the nation in sacks, averaging 4.3 per game.
That caliber of defense is a scary potential match-up with a UCLA offense that often times struggles to get the right personnel on the field.
The big question is: Will UCLA be able to run the ball? Well, the Bruins have gone up against one good rushing defense so far this season, Texas, and gained a pretty quiet 141 yards. The UCLA coaches put the Texas game in the hands of its running game, and it lost 49-20. It's not a good match-up when UCLA's strength, its running game, goes up against <I>the best rushing defense in the nation. </i>
So, that leads to the second biggest question: Will the UCLA coaches actually throw off the conservative mantle and throw the ball?
At this point we've been down this road so many times with the conservative bent of the UCLA offense under Neuheisel we're extremely skeptical. We feel that the coaches don't trust Brehaut and don't trust UCLA's offensive line to give him enough time to throw. Both might be shaky, but its extremely conservative not to at least test both since Brehaut hasn't thrown an interception and UCLA is 17th in the country for sacks allowed.
Even if it does throw the ball, we're skeptical it can be effective against Stanford's pressuring defense.
STANFORD'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
After reading the details of the match-up between UCLA's offense and Stanford's defense, it's frightening to think that that match-up is the more advantageous one for UCLA.
Stanford's Total Offense: 481 YPG, 18th in the country
UCLA's Total Defense: 412 YPG, 98th in the country
Stanford's Scoring Offense: 46 PPG, 9th in the country
UCLA's Scoring Defense: 30.75 PPG, 91st in the country
Stanford's Rushing Offense: 196 YPG, 35th in they country
UCLA's Rushing Defense: 183 YPG, 93rd in the country
Stanford's Passing Offense: 285 YPG, 28th in the country
UCLA's Passing Defense: 229 YPG, 72nd in the country
Of course, Stanford's offense completely hinges on Andrew Luck (JR, 6-4, 235), perhaps the best quarterback in college football, and maybe the best all-around pro quarterback prospect in many years. He, truly, is the prototypical quarterback, with a strong arm and fantastic accuracy, good size, very good athleticism and the ability to create with his legs, and then superior intelligence.
Luck has proven that, if you have a good quarterback and a good offensive line, you can pretty much plug in solid talent at the other skill positions and your offense will still hum. Running back Stepfan Taylor (SO, 5-11, 208) is a good one, coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and being among the rushing leaders in the Pac-12, but he's not Toby Gerhart, and Stanford's rushing game hasn't missed a bit without Gerhart for the last two years.
|Tailback Stepfan Taylor.|
Luck, though, likes to throw to his running backs out of the backfield at least a few times per game, especially fullback Ryan Hewitt (JR, 6-4, 242).
Stanford's receivers are made up primarily of one good wideout in Chris Owusu (SR, 6-2, 199) and then a stable of big, talented tight ends. Coby Fleener (SR, 6-6, 244), Zach Ertz (JR, 6-6, 249) and Levine Toilolo (JR, 6-8 263) are big, long and Stanford's go-to weapon in the red zone. The three of them have caught 19 passes and 7 of them have been for touchdowns. They'll also look to those tight ends down the middle of the field throughout the game. Owusu gives the Cardinal some game-breaking ability out wide.
This all works because of Stanford's very good offensive line. Even though they had to replace three starters, Stanford is now at the point that it can plug in three talented, fairly experienced guys and not miss a beat. It also helps when you return two all-conference first-teamers in tackle Jonathan Martin (JR, 6-6, 297) and guard David DeCastro (JR, 6-5, 312). The OL has allowed only five sacks in three games.
UCLA's rushing defense did a little better against Oregon State last week, allowing just 88 yards. It was very evident that some new personnel getting more time in the front seven made a difference. Donovan Carter supplanted Justin Edison at defensive tackle, for the most part, and Sealii Epenesa got in on more plays, and that had an impact at defensive tackle. UCLA's best defensive end has been Iuta Tepa – and he played more last week.
Among the linebackers, it's pretty clear the more Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks play the more athleticism and play-making ability UCLA's defense brings to the field. We've heard that we'll probably be seeing a gradually reduced amount of plays for Sean Westgate.
UCLA's secondary, though, has some pretty bad timing to be beset with injuries. Facing arguably the best quarterback in the country, UCLA will be without its best cornerback, Sheldon Price, who injured his knee when he slammed it to the ground in frustration for missing an interception against OSU. We're hearing he could be out for a good amount of time. Taking his place is former walk-on Andrew Abbott, who is fresh off a concussion. Then, at safety, veteran Tony Dye is recovering from a stinger but he'll very likely play. The first safety off the bench, Dalton Hilliard, hasn't practice yet this week due to a shoulder injury, and then safety/nickel Alex Mascarenas also hasn't practiced because of a concussion. Both look unlikely for Saturday. All of this leaves UCLA pretty short-handed in the secondary, with some inexperienced guys like Tevin McDonald and Stan McKay being called on (McDonald started last week in place of Dye).
Anyway you look at it, it just doesn't look good for the Bruins. If Stanford wants to do what it does so well, pound the ball in the running game, you'd have to think it's going to be able to accomplish it against UCLA's poor rushing defense. If Stanford wants to throw the ball, you'd have to think it's going to be able to accomplish it, with Luck and those tight ends going up against a depleted UCLA pass defense that struggled to shore up its coverage when it was healthy.
And then there's Luck using his legs to make plays. Last season, in UCLA's blowout loss to the Cardinal, the Bruin defense seemed to actually do a pretty good job in coverage, but couldn't contain Luck scrambling for first downs. UCLA's defense this season has been very susceptible to a quarterback doing just that; or, it's over-compensated in containment, which has made for big wholes in its zone.
When Stanford lines up in a spread-type formation, and UCLA has to go to the nickel, it will be putting on the field a former walk-on at cornerback, a player making his second start at nickel, and a guy who has never had significant playing time at free safety. Luck has to be smiling.
What's truly eye-opening is that Stanford really hasn't had to unleash Luck yet this season in wins over San Jose State, Duke and Arizona, and it almost certainly won't have to against UCLA. Stanford uses a variety of formations and looks, and you'd have to believe it doesn't want to give away its playbook against the 98th defense in the nation, when it has Washington, USC, Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame still on its schedule.
Ha! Stanford has a bit of a weakness. It's net punting is 94th in the country, averaging just 34 yards per punt from punter David Green.
Cardinal placekicker Jordan Williamson has been stellar, a perfect 6-for-6, hitting both a 40- and 45-yarder.
Owusu, also, has earned a rep as one of the best kick-off returners in the country, and Drew Terrell is one of the best punt returners in the conference.
UCLA's special teams is still in a bit of a mess. Punter Jeff Locke has regained his punting form, averaging just about 44 yards per punt, but then his placekicking broke down, having an extra point and field goal blocked last week when he kicked the ball into the line of scrimmage. Placekicker Kip Smith hasn't kicked all week, so it appears Locke will pull double duty (well, actually, triple duty since he does the kickoffs, too) again this week.
UCLA's coverage got burned last week on a punt return for a touchdown, which turned the momentum of the Oregon State game around.
At least UCLA is getting more of a threat on kick-off returns with Josh Smith and punt returns with Shaquelle Evans.
To predict a UCLA win here you either have to think that, for some reason, both teams are going to play completely out of character, or you have extremely blue-and-gold glasses on.
There just is no angle to take in which UCLA has an edge. If UCLA sticks to its personality under Neuheisel and tries to eke out a win, it will have to do it through its running game and time of possession. But Stanford's rushing defense is #1 in the country, and its own rushing game is just as good as UCLA's and the Cardinal offense has possessed the ball longer than UCLA this season. So, Stanford can beat UCLA at its own – and seemingly only – game.
And then, let's say UCLA can actually do this, and its running attack can dominate by shortening the game, it would also have to play error-free, and UCLA is prone to penalties and turnovers, while Stanford is second in the conference in turnover margin and first in being penalized the least.
So, it would have to be a surprise and completely out-of-character on the part of both teams.
It's a game where UCLA definitely needs to test the waters of throwing the ball, and try to get the ball into the hands of its offensive playmakers. But, like we've said, we've been down this road before and we're skeptical the coaches have enough confidence in Brehaut or the UCLA offensive line to come out of their play-calling shell. Expect UCLA to run 40 times and for Neuheisel to try to eke out a win.
In other words, expect UCLA's strategy to be trying to move the chains by running the ball and cleanly eating up time, and not even necessarily scoring, but then getting off some good punts that make Stanford have to drive the entire field and eat up time, keeping the score down and hoping a few bounces of the ball go their way. Punting is Winning.
Looking realistically at this game as it fits into UCLA's schedule and Neuheisel's chance of pulling out a winning season, the Bruins should hope that they come away fairly clean, with no more injuries, and have its personnel fairly healthy for a must-win against Washington State next week. And then the second hope would be to do this against Stanford and not get completely embarrassed.
Stanford has only allowed three touchdowns in three games, so we'll consider it a a major accomplishment for UCLA if it scores three touchdowns in this game.