• The Stanford Cardinal comes to town to take on UCLA Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The game is scheduled for 3:35 and will be televised on FOX, with Gus Johnson and Charles Davis in the booth and Julie Alexandria on the sidelines.
• Stanford is 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Pac-12. UCLA is 9-2 and 6-2 in the conference.
•Stanford is 8th in the BCS standings, and ranked 11th in both the AP and Coaches Poll.
• UCLA is 17th in the BCS, 15th in the AP and 16th in the Coaches.
• UCLA leads the all-time series, 45-34-3, which dates back to 1925. The Cardinal has won the last three, and then UCLA won five in a row previous to that.
• The Bruins lost to the Cardinal at the Rose Bowl in 2010, 35-0, but won the six games at the Rose Bowl previous to that, going back to 1998.
• That Cardinal shut-out in 2010 was the first time Stanford had shut out UCLA since 1941 (33-0).
• UCLA has won the Pac-12 South, while the Pac-12 North title is still undecided. If Stanford beats UCLA it will win the North title. It Stanford loses to the Bruins, it can still win the title if Oregon State beats Oregon.
• Scenarios: 1) If UCLA beats Stanford, and Oregon State beats Oregon, UCLA and Stanford play in the Pac-12 Championship at the Rose Bowl. 2) If UCLA beats Stanfaord, and Oregon Beats OSU, UCLA and Oregon are in the Championship game in Eugene. 3) If Stanford beats UCLA, the two teams meet for the Championship in Palo Alto.
• UCLA has played a team twice in one season a number of times in its history. The last time was in 2007, when UCLA played BYU in a non-conference game, and then at the end of the season in the Las Vegas Bowl. In 1982, UCLA faced Michigan, in Ann Arbor, and beat the Wolverines, 31-27, and then met them again in the 1983 Rose Bowl, beating them again 24-14. In 1975 UCLA lost to #2-ranked Ohio State (41-20), and then beat the #1-ranked Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl (23-10). In 1965, the Bruins lost to Michigan State (13-3), but then beat the #1 ranked Spartans in the re-match in the Rose Bowl, 14-12. In 1945 and 1943, UCLA played Cal twice both years. The 1943 season marks the only time UCLA played USC twice, in the first and last game of that season, losing both. All of the games against Cal and USC were due to World War II travel restrictions.
• UCLA has never played a team in back-to-back weeks.
• Stanford is coached by David Shaw, in his second season on The Farm. He's 20-4 at Stanford, and overall as a head football coach, having never been a head coach before Stanford. He served as Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator and then was promoted to head coach when Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers in January of 2011. He is known for his power, pro-style offense. He actually is a Stanford alumnus, having played for Dennis Green and Bill Walsh from 1991 to 1994 as a wide receiver. Last season Shaw was just the ninth college head coach in history to post 11 or more wins in his first season. He was named Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year in 2011.
• Stanford is facing three ranked teams in three weeks. The last time the Cardinal played three consecutive ranked opponents was in 2007, and has never defeated three in a row.
• The Cardinal has won 11 of its last 12 games in November, dating back to November 28, 2009.
• With a win Saturday, Stanford will record three straight 10-win seasons for the first time in school history.
• The Cardinal has been ranked in the AP poll for a school-record 44 consecutive weeks.
• UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, who is already the UCLA all-time career rushing leader (4,110) is only 131 yards away from setting the all-time UCLA single season rushing record, so far having gained 1,441 in 2012, trailing just Karim Abdul-Jabbar, who ran for 1571 in 1995. Franklin is 5th on the all-time Pac-12 career rushing list. If he continues at his pace for the next three games, his 2012 season will be one of the top five best seasons ever in terms of rushing yardage in Pac-12 history.
• Current Stanford running back, senior Stepfan Taylor, is just 42 yards shy of breaking Stanford's all-time career rushing record set by Darrin Nelson (1977-81) at 4,033.
• UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is zeroing in on some school records -- single season total offense: Hundley 3,255, record is 3,652 by Cade McNown in 1998; and single season passing yardage: Hundley 2,973, record is 3,470 by McNown in 1998. He's already set the record for the most completions in a season -- 249, breaking the previous record of 242 set by Drew Olson in 2005.
• If Jim Mora wins one more game this season, he'll have won the most games as a first-year UCLA head coach in history. Only one other head coach won 9 in his first season, Terry Donahue in 1976.
• UCLA's all-time record for most points scored in a game and biggest margin of victory was in 1954 when it beat Stanford, 72-0. UCLA set its all-time record for touchdowns in a game, with 11. It's also a Stanford record for the most points it's ever allowed in a game. In the first meeting between the two schools in 1925, however, UCLA lost to Stanford, 82-0, and Stanford set its record for most touchdown in a game, 12. It isn't the most points UCLA ever allowed in a game, though, with UCLA losing in its second season (1920) to Whittier 103-0.
• The weather forecast calls for a high of 82° on Saturday in Pasadena.
Stanford's Offense vs. UCLA's Defense
What a difference a quarterback change makes. After scuffling through the brief Josh Nunes (6'4, 225) era to start the year, Stanford's coaching staff put the keys to the Cardinal offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan (6'4, 224) midway through the Colorado game and, thus far, Hogan has added a dimension to Stanford's offense that really wasn't there before: a credible passing attack. Through his two games and change, Hogan has passed for seven touchdowns, but his decision making has been his biggest asset—while he has some accuracy issues, he rarely tosses the ball into coverage, and uses his very good tight ends effectively.
Stanford's offense scheme is very much a power offense, with plenty of jumbo package runs, and several two and three tight end sets. However, there are some wrinkles. First, the Cardinal probably run play action more than any UCLA opponent this year. Against Oregon, Stanford seemingly ran play action to set up the run, rather than vice versa. Additionally, against the Ducks, the Cardinal used some zone read misdirection from Hogan a couple of times to pretty good effect, with Hogan using his decent wheels to get a few 6 to 12 yard gains.
It's weird, but against Oregon, Stanford didn't have much of its running success up the middle, and Stanford's interior linemen were only sporadically able to dictate their will against the Oregon front. The Ducks did stack the box, but even with six to eight blockers, the Cardinal really didn't have a tremendous amount of success on smash mouth runs. More of their success came on off tackle runs, stretch runs, and the aforementioned zone reads.
|Quarterback Kevin Hogan.|
Coupled with the ball control offense is a passing game designed around getting the ball to Stanford's multi-talented tight ends. Zach Ertz (6'6, 252) leads the crew with nine touchdowns and over 700 yards receiving, which also leads the entire time in receiving. Ertz is a big bodied guy who has decent athleticism and very good hands, and has a knack for making big plays. He's both a safety outlet for Hogan and his number one weapon. Levine Toilolo (6'8, 265) is the other big tight end for Stanford, and he has also made a number of big plays in the passing game. His hands aren't quite as good as Ertz, as he's been prone to occasional dropsies this year, but he's also caught four touchdowns, and has provided a release valve for both Nunes and Hogan this season.
Stanford will often roll out Hogan to get the ball to Ertz and Toilolo on drags. The coaching staff does a good job of moving Hogan's launch point so that he can throw on the move, which he seems more comfortable doing. Hogan also has skill as a scrambler, so a roll out can also give him opportunities to make plays with his legs. He's not a burner, but he is elusive enough, and has a big body that allows him to get some extra yards.
Stanford's offensive line is good in both run blocking and pass blocking, but not amazing at either. The right side of the line is generally weaker at run blocking than the left, so you'll most likely see a slightly higher percentage of runs through the left side. It's an upper classmen dominated offensive line that has worked together for a long time, with David Yankey (6'5, 301) and Khalil Wilkes (6'3, 291) manning the left side, Sam Schwartzstein (6'3, 292) at center, and Kevin Danser (6'6, 298) and Cameron Fleming (6'6, 314) on the right. Stanford has averaged 170 yards on the ground this year, with a respectable 4.4 yards per rush. Stanford just doesn't run all that many plays (about 68 per game) so the overall offensive yardage numbers for them are slightly deflated at 381 yards per game.
Stanford's receiving corps has continued the storied history of Cardinal receivers who, really, don't do a whole lot. Drew Terrell (5'11, 180) is the closest thing to an impact player among the bunch, having caught 25 balls for 362 yards and two scores this year. He's a bit of a slot-looking guy, but he'll split out wide as well. He's not super fast, but he has good quickness and can make some plays after the catch. Ty Montgomery (6'2, 212), who doubles as a return man and even will rush the ball a bit on end arounds, has been the other receiving threat for Stanford this season. Really, though, the majority of the pass offense runs through the tight ends and passes in the flats to Taylor. Stanford throws in the flat pretty frequently to account for many of the fast defenses it has faced this year.
UCLA is quickly developing one of those fast defenses. Through the last few games, UCLA's defense has evolved into one that is becoming more coverage based, after starting off the year as a very blitz-heavy scheme. Against USC last weekend, UCLA blitzed just twice in the first half, before opening up the scheme more in the second half. It stands to reason too: for most of this season, UCLA has been arguably more successful when rushing four than when rushing five or six, and much of the credit has to go to linebacker Anthony Barr, who at times this year has been a one man wrecking crew. Barr is 7th in the nation in sacks this season, and had the hit of the season on USC quarterback Matt Barkley last week, knocking him out of the game with a brutal and clean hit to the back.
However, what really stood out for UCLA against USC was the coverage that UCLA's secondary had on the Trojans' big time wide receivers. It's difficult to ever describe 200 yards receiving as "containing" a tandem, but with the talent of Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, keeping them to anything less than 350 yards was a win for the Bruins. Much of the credit has to go to maligned cornerbacks Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester, who have struggled with fast receivers this year, their propensity to put hands on them, and Pac-12 refs being who we thought they were. Hester, in particular, had a spectacular day against Lee, picking a ball off on the first play and then breaking up what would have been a huge catch in the fourth quarter.
UCLA's linebackers have also improved as the season has gone on, as they've gotten used to the scheme. Eric Kendricks has gone from a guy who looked like he regressed from his freshman year to a likely All-Pac 12 selection within just a few games. He's clearly gotten much more comfortable making the defensive calls, which has allowed him to play more instinctually. He's played as he should, controlling gaps and keeping runners to four or five yard gains. He's one of the surer tacklers on the team, at this point, and with his poise inside, the coaching staff has been able to offset him much more with undersized Dalton Hilliard, who has increased his role from just nickel packages to sometime starter in the base defense. Hilliard has been a playmaker this year in his role, and if UCLA elects to nickel Stanford at all, he could play a huge role in effectively covering Ertz and Toilolo.
The defensive line, though, has been the story this year, and it all starts with Datone Jones. Jones has been a force all season, and has not really had an off game yet. If there's one guy who was a natural fit for defensive end in a 3-4, it's Jones. The coaching staff has started to use him in more unique ways, with him sliding to nose tackle in certain dime and nickel formations to keep offensive lines off balance. He has a quickness advantage over almost all interior offensive linemen, and it has rendered him…difficult to block, at times. Cassius Marsh, Seali'I Epenesa, and Owamagbe Odighizuwa round out the majority of the rotation, and each has been very good this season, with Epenesa being the most unheralded thanks to playing the glory-less role of nose tackle.
There are some elements pointing toward this being a poor matchup for UCLA. First, the play action and zone read plays that Stanford used against Oregon could be a difficult cover for UCLA, especially if Damien Holmes sees significant time at outside linebacker. Holmes doesn't have great awareness, and a zone read that runs to his side could see a lot of daylight. Second, the one similar offense to Stanford's that UCLA played this year, Oregon State, managed to flummox the Bruins' pass rush and, while it wasn't able to score at will, was able to move the ball and control the clock.
However, this isn't the same team that played the Beavers, and there's a sense that this coaching staff has started to understand its personnel better. The Bruins will probably not try to blitz heavily the entire game, as they did against Oregon State, and will most likely elect to pull the safeties up in a bit more run coverage. UCLA's defensive line has shown an ability to eat up blockers this year, and with Kendricks playing better at inside linebacker, UCLA should be able to slow down Stanford's run game.
The X factor will be Stanford's tight ends, and there's little doubt that they'll be a tough cover for UCLA's linebackers and safeties. However, those guys aren't burners, and while they can get down field, they're not going to score deep touchdowns. You'd have to guess that Lou Spanos is going to call the game to stop the run, and force Hogan to make throws. And, given the improvement in UCLA's defense the past few weeks, you have to like their chances of executing that plan.
Stanford Defense vs. UCLA Offense
Jim Mora is right: this is a great front seven, and probably what elevates this Stanford team from a above average team to a very good one. Stanford runs a 3-4, much like UCLA, but has, obviously, had a bit more practice in it, and has personnel perfectly designed for it.
If there's a bright spot for the Bruins, it's that Stanford will be down its starting nose guard, Terrence Stephens (6'2, 305), who is reportedly missing the game because of a personal matter. Behind him is David Parry (6'2, 300), who doesn't eat up blockers quite as well as Stephens, but has made some plays this season, and really doesn't present much of a dropoff. At the ends, though, is where the Cardinal has some real playmakers. Ends Ben Gardner (6'4, 275) and Henry Anderson (6'6, 278) have combined for 12 sacks this season, to go along with almost 25 tackles for loss. They're both big, strong kids who have decent quickness. The linemen, as a rule, use their hands very well to shuck blockers, and across the board they present difficulties when in one on one matchups.
If the defensive line weren't enough to give an offensive coach a little trepidation, the linebackers are probably better. Across the board, Stanford's linebackers present a better pursuing and better tackling team than any team UCLA has faced this year. Chase Thomas (6'4, 248), Shayne Skov (6'3, 242), and Trent Murphy (6'6, 261) lead the unit, with Murphy playing that kind of rush end, Anthony Barr-type role with 9.5 sacks this year. The entire linebacker corps has surprising quickness, and what really stands out about them is their ability to move laterally, and keep running backs from turning the corner. They ate up Oregon's stretch runs and slow developing zone reads all game. A.J. Tarpley (6'2, 238) has come on strong as the year has gone on, as well, and adds another weapon to the very formidable unit.
|Linebacker Shane Skov.|
If there's even a slight weakness to this Stanford defense, it's the secondary, but it usually goes unnoticed because Stanford's front creates so much havoc up front so quickly. One guy who UCLA will probably see a lot of is nickel back Usua Amanam (5'10, 176). Amanam, who converted from running back last year, switched to defense this year and has been a resounding success through the first eleven games. He'll often line up in press coverage, and occasionally blitzes to pretty spectacular effect. Through 11 games, he has racked up four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Given how much UCLA spreads the ball, you can expect that Amanam will see significant time on Saturday.
Aside from Amanam, there is some weakness in the secondary that can be exploited, if there's enough time to throw. Starting cornerback Alex Carter (6'0, 200) is a true freshman, and has had some typical freshman moments this year, getting occasionally lost in coverage. The safeties, Ed Reynolds (6'2, 207) and Jordan Richards (5'11, 208), have been, like most of the team, pretty good in pursuit and tackling, but their coverage skills haven't matched that level.
UCLA's offense is the story of Brett Hundley, and as he's broken out of his slight midseason doldrums, so has the UCLA offense. Against USC, the Bruins gained a little over 400 yards, but were often gifted with short fields which can dampen a yardage total. Hundley had some of his best throws as a Bruin against USC, fitting the ball into tight spaces on long third and fourth downs, including a spectacular throw to Shaquelle Evans for a first down on 4th and 14. Hundley has developed, more quickly than most thought, into a high level quarterback, and aside from an aberration against Cal where he threw four interceptions, has been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation this year.
Hundley's play has also helped to elevate the play of his receivers. UCLA has been able to throw downfield more in the last few games, which has opened up the flat passes a little. Against USC, receiver Jerry Johnson finally came untracked, catching a few balls in the flat and then turning up field to gain some yards after contact. Johnson has a big body, and can move pretty well, so it might be a better position for him to be in than as a more down field threat.
Joseph Fauria had a huge game as well, catching a couple of key deep outs from Hundley where he had to fully extend to catch the ball. His overall effort level and intensity have improved as the season's worn on, and he's become one of Hundley's favorite targets—and not just in the red zone.
The offensive line has been a mixed bag this year, which is, considering everything, a huge victory for coach Adrian Klemm. Going into this season, the offensive line was projected to be a fairly bad unit, but overall this year, it's been mostly average. The interior, in fact, has been dominant at times, with Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jake Brendel, and Jeff Baca from left to right. UCLA likes to pulls its interior linemen on runs, allowing them to road grade for Franklin on the outside. Su'a-Filo has been very impressive all season with his ability to get out in front of Franklin and block down field. The tackles are the weakness, with redshirt freshman Torian White at left tackle and true freshman Simon Goines at right. Both players have had issues this season in both pass coverage and run blocking, but Goines, especially, has made strides as the season's gone on. Goines has a tremendous hand punch that keeps him on balance at the start of a play, and when he can get his hands on an end, he's successful.
Offensively, UCLA likes to use the whole field, stretching defenses horizontally and vertically to create seams to pass into. Much has been made of Noel Mazzone's use of the swing pass, but since Hundley's gotten better at the vertical aspect of throwing in the last few games, Mazzone has gone back to throwing down field a considerable amount.
This should be the matchup of the game, and the advantage isn't necessarily a huge one for Stanford. What the Cardinal does well is pursue and tackle, limiting big plays and getting into the back field on pass rush. Hundley has shown a propensity for avoiding the rush this year, and what's more, he's also shaken off a total of 36 sacks this year while throwing just nine interceptions. Hundley has had exactly one game where he's been rattled all year, so even though this is the best defense he's faced, you have to expect that in the 12th game of his career, he's ready for the challenge.
The big question is whether UCLA will be able to run the ball against the Cardinal. This year, Stanford has been able to stifle any running that goes East-West, pursuing plays laterally and running everyone to the football. Surprisingly, they're not quite as stout against runs right up the middle, and that may be where UCLA will have to find some success. If UCLA can spread the field with three and four wide receiver looks, and force Stanford to get some of its dangerous linebackers off the field, then the Bruins might be able to get some running room inside.
However, with UCLA's tackle situation what it is, you have expect that Hundley is going to be under fire most of the game. Outlet receivers and quick passes to the flat are going to be important on Saturday, and if Hundley can get it out fairly quick, then receivers like Johnson could make some plays to gain YAC. UCLA has some strong receivers, and this is a game where UCLA needs to maximize its YAC when it has an opportunity.
Still, Stanford's front is very good, and UCLA's front is only so-so, which makes it hard to think that UCLA is going to hit either its yardage or point averages.
Jordan Williamson (5'11, 192) got a nice boost of confidence, kicking the game winner on Saturday against Oregon, but he's really struggled this season, and is now just 13 of 22 on the year. He has a strong leg, but his accuracy can be wildly off at times.
At punter, Daniel Zychlinski (6'3, 208) has been good this season, averaging just under 43 yards per punt to go along with 22 downed inside the 20. The return guys have made some plays at times. Terrell, who handles punt returns, has taken one to the end zone this season, and is averaging 12 per return. Montgomery handles kickoffs, and is averaging a respectable 26.6 yards per kickoff return.
UCLA is a bit of a mirror image of Stanford, with a stronger kicking game but not such a great return game. Jeff Locke has been one of the best punters in the country this year, while Ka'imi Fairbairn has evolved into a reliable kicker under 35 yards—luckily, UCLA hasn't had to ask him to kick one from more than 35 yards since the beginning of the year. Locke also is one of the nation's leaders in touchbacks on kickoffs, keeping the ball out of Marqise Lee's hands last game.
On the returning side of things, UCLA's had some injuries to both Thigpen and Steven Manfro this year that have limited their playing time. Devin Fuller saw some work at kickoff return against USC, but with Manfro coming back this week, and possibly Kenny Walker, that might be a one-time experiment. At punt return, Shaquelle Evans and Randall Goforth have filled in and played well, with Goforth in particular looking shifty when he got some reps.
This might be one of the harder games to pick this year. Just looking at Stanford's schedule, aside from the bye week against Colorado, they've played mostly very close games this season, and there's no reason to expect this weekend to be any different. If there's a bright spot on the schedule it's that Arizona, running a somewhat similar offense to UCLA's, was able to score so much on the Cardinal. With a full season under their belts, though, you have to expect that Stanford's defense is playing at a higher level than it was at that point.
One note: Stanford probably should have lost that game to Oregon. Despite David Shaw's comments after the game, it was Oregon that repeatedly shot itself in the foot in that game, missing easy throws on third down, suffering penalties in the red zone, and missing field goals. It took Oregon probably playing its worst game of the year for Stanford to beat them by three. It's still an impressive feat, but it was a sloppy game on both sides that probably wasn't truly indicative of the quality of either team.
Stanford will run ball control, which will most likely tire out UCLA's defense. Against Oregon State, UCLA's defense did get tired as the game wore on. After a steady diet of spread and near-spread teams the last several weeks, you have to wonder how well UCLA will adjust to playing a wildly different, power running style offense.
And then, on defense, there are some questions about how much UCLA will be able to score against such a stingy front. Hundley will not have a lot of time to throw, and that'll force him into making quick decisions, which he's struggled at times to make this season.
On the other hand, UCLA's defense is playing much better now than it did against Oregon State, and is not blitzing near as much as it did at the beginning of the year. UCLA may not be able to score much of anything on Stanford, but the Cardinal hasn't exactly lit the world on fire on offense this season, and it might be the kind of thing where Stanford is running into UCLA's defense at the right time for the Bruins.
Of course, there's also the element of whether or not both teams will be up for this game, but that really does some like a sports writing construct rather than any kind of reflection of reality. It's the last regular season game of the year, featuring two top 20 teams playing for the opportunity to host a potential championship game. Don't expect much letdown from either team.
This game could really go either way, but given what we've seen from UCLA in recent weeks, and the poise with which Brett Hundley is playing at this point in his career, we have to go with the Bruins in a squeaker.