Stanford Preview

The No. 9 Bruins march to Palo Alto to take on a dangerous Stanford team that's licking its wounds after a tough loss to Utah last week...

FACTS AND FACTORS

• UCLA travels to Palo Alto to take on the Stanford Cardinal Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The game will be televised by either ABC or ESPN2, with Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman and Shannon Spake calling the action.

• Stanford is ranked 13th in both polls, while UCLA is #9 and #10.

• Stanford fell from #5 after its loss on the road against Utah last week, 27-21. The previous week UCLA beat Utah on the road, 34-27.

• Stanford is 5-1 with its Utah loss. It previously beat San Jose State (34-13), Army (34-20), Arizona State (42-28), Washington State (55-17) and Washington (31-28).

• It's the 85th meeting between the two schools in football, with UCLA holding the edge, 45-36-3, and the series going back to 1925. The Cardinal have won the last five in a row, but UCLA has won six of the last 12. Stanford's five-game win streak is one away from tying the all-time record for streaks between the two schools; UCLA won six straight between 1963 and 1968.

• The last time UCLA beat Stanford was in 2008, at the Rose Bowl, 25-20. The last time UCLA beat Stanford in Palo Alto was in 2007, 45-17, during Jim Harbaugh's first year at Stanford.

• This is the highest-ranked UCLA has been when facing the Cardinal since 2005, when the eighth-ranked Bruins beat Stanford in overtime, 30-27. UCLA rallied from a 24-3 deficit with just 8:26 remaining in the game to tie it in regulation when Maurice Jones-Drew scored a touchdown with 46 seconds left. Quarterback Drew Olson then connection with Brandon Breazell for a 23-yard touchdown pass in overtime to win it. At the time it was UCLA's eighth-straight win to start the season and, miraculously, the fourth double-digit, fourth-quarterback comeback of the season.

• In fact, the last time UCLA was ranked in the top ten was the week after that win over Stanford in 2005 (ranked 7th).

• UCLA has only been ranked higher than its current #9 for seven weeks in the last 15 years.

• The schools last met in last season's Pac-12 Championship Game, with Stanford winning, 27-24. UCLA looked like it had established the momentum in the second half, leading 24-17, but Stanford moved ahead 27-24 with just 2:19 remaining. UCLA took over its final possession at its own 19 yard line and drove to the Stanford 34. On 3rd and 5, Brett Hundley threw a swing pass to Jonathan Franklin that looked like it'd be good for a first down, but Franklin dropped the pass. Kai'imi Fairbairn, in the rain, then missed a 51-yarder, which would have tied up the game and sent it to overtime.

• UCLA had played its regularly-schedule game against Stanford the week before in the Rose Bowl, where it lost to the Cardinal, 35-17. It was already known that UCLA and Stanford would play each other in the Pac-12 Championship Game the next week, so there were suspicions that Jim Mora and his staff didn't fully attempt to win the game in L.A. by keeping its playbook conservative.

•If UCLA beats Stanford it will be the first time it's started a season 6-0 since 2005, when it finished 10-2. It would also give UCLA wins over two ranked opponents on the road this season, the most in a single season since 2005.

• UCLA has opened the season with five straight wins in only four of the last 25 years: 2013, 2005 (8-0), 2001 (6-0) and 1998 (10-0).

• It's the first time UCLA has been ranked in the top ten since 2005. That means it hadn't been ranked in the top ten during the course of the last two seasons under Karl Dorrell, and the four seasons under Rick Neuheisel. The Bruins were actually ranked as high as #11 in 2007 under Dorrell (before the season crashed to 6-7 and Dorrell was subsequently fired). UCLA was never ranked during Neuheisel's four-year tenure, which was the longest streak of seasons UCLA had gone without being ranked since 1938.

• Stanford is coached by David Shaw, who is in his third season at the helm on The Farm. His record in that time is 28-5, and he's led the Cardinal to a win in the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 and then last year to a Pac-12 Championship and Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin. Shaw took over from Jim Harbaugh when Harbaugh jumped to the San Francisco 49ers, and there was speculation that Shaw wouldn't be able to keep the Harbaugh momentum going, but he clearly has. You can argue that Stanford is in the midst of the most successful stint in its football history. Stanford's win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl was its first in the Grandaddy of Them All in over 40 years. Stanford's three-straight 11-win seasons are unprecedented in school history (the school had reached 10 wins only three times previously). It has won at least 8 games in four consecutive seasons for the first time since 1930. Shaw, a Stanford alumnus, former player and offensive coordinator, was named the 2012 Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year, becoming only the second coach to earn the honor in consecutive seasons. He has perpetuated the tough, physical, smash-mouth style of play at Stanford established by Harbaugh. He also was a part of a bit of controversy a couple of weeks ago, when Washington Head Coach Steve Sarkisian called out Stanford in the media for faking injury in their game, and Shaw denied it and lashed back out at Sarkisian.

• Under Shaw, the Cardinal is 15-1 at home and 4-0 coming off a loss.

• Stanford has won 12 straight at home, the third longest in the nation. And it hasn't loss consecutive games in four years.

• UCLA has outscored its opponents 71-0 in the third quarter. It's the only BCS team in the nation that has shut out its opponents in the third quarter.

• UCLA started two true freshman offensive lineman (Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch) for the first time ever last week against Cal.

• In records dating back to 1960, no UCLA player had ever previously run for a score, thrown for a touchdown and caught a scoring pass in a single game as Brett Hundley did against Utah.

• UCLA is 6-2 in road games under Jim Mora. Last year, in Mora's first season, UCLA won the most road games (four) in a season since 2002.

• UCLA won five straight games last season -- before losing to Stanford. It then lost three straight to end the year.

• It's the first time UCLA will play the same school three times within the course of one calendar year since 1945 when, because of World War II, it played USC two times a season between 1943 and 1945.

• Last week's loss at Utah was Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan's first as a starter after winning his first 10.

• In terms of rankings, this is the biggest game for UCLA since 2005 when #11-ranked UCLA faced #1-ranked USC.

• Stanford is currently favored by 6 points.

• The weather forecast for Saturday is perfect football weather, 75 degrees and clear skies.

Stanford Offense V. UCLA Defense

Stanford has earned a reputation as a power football team over the last seven years of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era, which is what made the end of Stanford's final drive against Utah so peculiar. Trailing 27-21 late in the 4th quarter, with the Cardinal's undefeated season on the line, Shaw called for two pass plays on 3rd and 2 and then 4th and 2. The calls were especially shocking because, up to that point in the quarter, it wasn't as if Stanford had had huge difficulties running the ball against the Utes. The Cardinal had averaged nearly five yards per carry, and senior running back Tyler Gaffney (6'1, 226) had shown an ability to pound the ball inside.

Throughout the day, actually, Stanford's offensive coaches called a bit of a peculiar game. There were several Wildcat formations, several five wide receiver looks, and two times in the red zone that David Shaw had to call timeout to change a play call. In many ways, it was an uncharacteristically disorganized performance for the Cardinal offense, with at least three procedure penalties called against offensive linemen who struggled in the Utah road environment.

Looking a little closer, Stanford's offense is a fair bit different from the one that UCLA faced twice toward the end of last year. Without departed tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, the Cardinal hasn't been able to find an adequate replacement among several candidates for the role. One of the few promising possibilities, sophomore Luke Kaumataule (6'7, 267), was actually just switched to defensive end to compensate for some injuries along the line. Those currently in the tight end depth chart account for just one catch on the season.

In many ways, that inability to throw the ball to the tight ends has forced Stanford into a few more spread looks—at least when they pass the ball. Much more than last year, junior Kevin Hogan (6'4, 228) is lining up in the shotgun in situations with three or more wide receivers. It's understandable, too, because he has two very good targets in junior receiver Devon Cajuste (6'4, 228) and junior receiver Ty Montgomery (6'2, 215). Cajuste was the big surprise through the first chunk of the season, but Montgomery has come on very strong through the last couple of games, with an impact both offensively and on special teams. Montgomery is fast and physical, with the ability to take short passes a very long way. He can be particularly devastating on screen passes, with a compact kind of running style that almost makes him look like a running back.

Still, there are significant power elements to Stanford's offense, because the strength of the team, at least for this year, remains the offensive line. The unit is led by senior left guard David Yankey (6'5, 313), who has seemingly been starting for Stanford for the last seven years. Yankey is on every award watch list, and has been one of the true maulers on the interior for the Cardinal. Last year, Yankey started at left tackle, but has made the transition back to guard seemingly flawlessly. At center, redshirt senior Khalil Wilkes (6'3, 286) gets the nod, after starting last year at left guard, and at right guard, Stanford returns redshirt senior Kevin Danser (6'6, 296), who started all 14 games last year at the position. It's a very good interior line, easily the best that UCLA has faced this year. At left tackle, Stanford has talent, if some inexperience, in sophomore Andrus Peat (6'7, 312). Peat has bloodlines, though, with a father who played for the Los Angeles Raiders. He's the prototypical big, long-armed left tackle. On the right side, senior Cameron Fleming (6'6, 318) is another three year starter who's on several preseason lists. In other words, there isn't a true weak spot on the offensive line.

Tailback Tyler Gaffney.


Hogan, in his second year as a starter, is putting together a decent statistical season that masks some deficiencies. He's thrown 12 touchdowns against just four interceptions, but many of those picks have come in pretty unforced situations. He's also had issues with fumbles, particularly on scrambles where he hasn't demonstrated a great feel for getting rid of the ball. Most importantly, he just hasn't shown the accuracy of a year ago. Against Utah, there were several red zone throws that were far off where they should have been thrown. It seems, again, that this is an area that's been affected a good deal by the loss of those two big tight ends.

At running back, Tyler Gaffney has gotten the majority of the work, and he's actually done a credible Stepfan Taylor impression, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Against Utah, he was able to generate important yards after contact, driving the pile with his bulk. His combination of size and speed is not something UCLA has dealt with this year. He'll be spelled by senior Anthony Wilkerson (6'1, 215), who is also a big back with speed who can push the pile.

The Cardinal just came off two of its more anemic offensive performances of the year, but UCLA's defense is coming off arguably its best defensive performance of the last two years. Against California's prolific offense last week, the Bruins were largely able to shut down Cal's strengths from the opening snap, limiting the Bears to ten points and under 400 yards of total offense.

It was a breakout game for UCLA's secondary. Led by safety Randall Goforth, who followed up his excellent game against Utah with another interception against Cal, the secondary held down Cal's potent wide receivers for much of the game. Fabian Moreau and Ishmael Adams both did effective jobs blanketing Cal's receivers, while Anthony Jefferson was useful in run support as well as in the passing game. For a unit that was expected to be a huge question mark heading into the season, the defensive backs have turned into a potential strength for the team this year.

The linebackers, led by the massively talented senior Anthony Barr and the possibly more massively talented true freshman Myles Jack, have been very good this entire season, and turned in another good performance against Cal. Barr, after not recording a sack in his first two games, has come on strong in that department through the last three and is now climbing the leaderboard in the conference. He's leading the league in tackles for loss, and hasn't shown that he's slowing down. It's shocking to say, but Jack might be right there with Barr in terms of his value to the defense. Jack, unlike Barr, sometimes splits out to cover receivers and can do that just as well as he rushes the passer. He's currently second in the Pac-12 in passes defended per game, while also being a tackling machine as well as an effective pass rusher. Between the two outside backers, Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks have been very effective this year ranging between the sidelines while providing run support up the middle.

Myles Jack and Anthony Barr.
The defensive line has been a work in progress through the opening stages of the season, but seemed to hit a bit of a stride against Cal. It's probably not coincidental that the line looked good, considering that the game marked true freshman Eddie Vanderdoes' first start as a Bruin. In the absence of Ellis McCarthy, who sat out last week following a head injury against Utah, Vanderdoes had a very good game against Cal's front. It was also impressive that the line did so well considering that Cassius Marsh sat out much of the game following a meltdown. There's no word yet from the Pac-12 or UCLA if there will be any further punishment for Marsh following his ejection from Saturday's game in the first half.

Many thought coming into the year that the front seven would be the strength for UCLA's defense, but so far this year, it has been seemingly the back eight that has been the strength. It's not to say, though, that the defensive line hasn't been good. In many instances, the front three have been asked to create pockets against the running quarterbacks that UCLA has faced so far this year, rather than penetrate and open running lanes. Still, there is a sense that the defensive linemen must do a better job of generating push on the interior, or at least consistently holding ground, as the team heads into the meat of Pac-12 play.

ADVANTAGE: UCLA

We should put the word "slight" in front of that "Advantage" word, since there are some reasons why this could be a tough matchup for UCLA. It does seem, though, that teams have begun to figure out what Stanford likes to do offensively this year. Washington and, to a much greater extent, Utah did a nice job of limiting the Cardinal's running game and forcing Hogan to throw by creating a pocket and not over penetrating. The Utes, after blitzing for much of the first quarter, backed off considerably in the final three quarters, which limited Stanford's effectiveness as Hogan was asked to throw more from inside the pocket.

We could easily see UCLA opting for a similar game plan, since its one they have used this year already, but we'd have to imagine the Stanford coaching staff will start to adapt by dropping back to more of its power running than it used against Utah. There isn't a foolproof way to stop Stanford's power runs, and UCLA probably doesn't have the meat on the defensive line this year to succeed the way the Bruins partially did last year, with Owamagbe Odighizuwa coming in as an outside linebacker at times.

The thing is, Stanford really doesn't have the threat of the pass out of those jumbo formations anymore. Without those pass-catching tight ends, the Stanford offense becomes very one-dimensional when it goes to seven or eight on the offensive line, which allows an Anthony Barr, say, to cheat up against the line of scrimmage rather than spend as much time in coverage as he did last year. It can't be overlooked, though, that Stanford's offensive line is a very good one. It's the biggest and best offensive line UCLA has faced this year, one that could prove a very difficult test for a line that hasn't quite been able to replace the production from Datone Jones and Odighizuwa this year.

Still, we expect that UCLA's 3-4, particularly with its speed on the edge and physicality on the interior at linebacker, will be able to do enough of a job stopping the run that Stanford will be forced to throw at points (in other words, we wouldn't expect the Cardinal to rattle off six yards a pop). While we're not ready to anoint UCLA's secondary as the best in the last ten years, it's getting to be pretty clear that it's a better unit than the one that the Bruins trotted out last year. Against Stanford's receivers, who are good but few, we expect that UCLA's defensive backs will be up to the task of limiting them.

UCLA Offense V. Stanford Defense

It has been an interesting year for the Stanford defense. Despite still holding a reputation as one of the Pac-12's and nation's best, the results haven't quite met those expectations. So far this year, the Cardinal is giving up an average of 22.2 points per game and 387 yards per game—not bad numbers, at all, but nothing you'd expect from a unit that has a reputation as one of the nation's best. Perhaps more significant are the yards per play allowed, and Stanford stands at just a hair under 5 yards per play—which is, again, good, but nothing spectacular. For comparison, UCLA gives up 4.5 yards per play.

When you watch the defense, you get the same sort of impression you get from the statistics, that it is a good, not great unit. Against Utah and Washington, both the Utes and the Huskies were able to stretch the field horizontally and beat Stanford's defenders to the edge. The Utes, in particular, were then able to use inside zone runs to chew up the interior after swing passes opened things up. It's a strategy that UCLA utilized to great effect against Stanford last year in the Pac-12 championship game, and one that teams have tried to emulate this year. After the game, the excuse from some of the Stanford players was that they weren't ready for the amount of perimeter offense they'd face against the Utes, but to believe that would require a serious suspension of disbelief—the Utes have used the edges of the field all year, and teams have had success with that brand of offense against Stanford since last year, which the statistics help to indicate.

Of course, one of the reasons that the statistics are a little skewed for Stanford is that so few teams have opted to run the ball against them. By and large, teams pass against the Cardinal, and that's due to the interior of Stanford's defense. Stanford's strength is its strength—through the interior of the defense, the Cardinal have very stout defenders who are sure tacklers. At each of the linebacker spots, Stanford has a player who can match up favorably against the average offensive lineman. When at full strength, the defensive line is one of the best in the country.

The issue for the Cardinal is that the defensive line is not at full strength. Defensive end Henry Anderson, who started all of last season, has been sidelined with a knee injury for several weeks, and should be out again this week. In his place, Stanford has used redshirt senior Josh Mauro (6'6, 282), who was a significant contributor last year and has been decent in Anderson's place. The problem is that the Cardinal has had diminished depth among the linemen, and there's been a feeling that the starters have worn down as the games go along. Starting senior nose tackle David Parry (6'2, 303) was unable to finish practice on Tuesday because of a "lower abdominal issue" and, while it sounds as if he'll be able to practice and play, he could be limited. Starting redshirt senior defensive end Ben Gardner (6'4, 277) has been nursing an arm contusion since the Washington game and isn't 100%. The situation is so dire, in fact, that David Shaw moved starting sophomore tight end Luke Kaumatule (6'7, 267) to defensive end to help alleviate the lack of depth.

Josh Mauro and Trent Murphy.
The lack of depth and injuries up front have put added pressure on the linebacker corps, but so far this year, the unit has responded well, looking as good, if not better, than last year. Led by senior inside linebacker Shayne Skov (6'3, 245), the unit is easily one of the strongest in the Pac-12. Skov is strong and fast, with the ability to body up offensive linemen while also showing the speed to pursue running backs. On the outside, redshirt senior Trent Murphy (6'6, 261) is Stanford's answer to Anthony Barr, with five sacks so far this year and eight total tackles for loss. The only new starter, actually, is the other outside linebacker, junior James Vaughters (6'2, 254), who takes over for Chase Thomas.

Stanford's secondary is also quite good, and did a nice job of tightening up against Utah's perimeter attack in the second half last week. Senior free safety Ed Reynolds (6'2, 206), who earned some All-American attention last year, headlines the unit. Reynolds has been particularly good in run support this year, and so far this year is second on the team in tackles. Junior Jordan Richards (5'11, 208) returns to start at strong safety, while sophomore Alex Carter (6'0, 200), who started the last seven games last year as a true freshman, has locked down one cornerback spot. At the other corner, junior Wayne Lyons (6'1, 196) has been an aggressive player at corner, making several plays in the backfield on swing passes and runs. He's been too aggressive at times, actually, with a propensity for getting a little handsy in coverage. At nickel, Stanford will use redshirt senior Usua Amanam (5'10, 175), who's been an explosive playmaker for Stanford over the last two years. Last year, he was fifth among all defenders in tackles for loss at 10.5.

In the same way that Stanford's defense has had a so-so couple of weeks, UCLA's offense has had a difficult time over the past two weeks. Against a miserable Cal defense, the UCLA offense sputtered often. Although the final stats of 37 points and nearly 500 yards of offense sound great, the Cal defense was so poor that you got the impression that UCLA left a record-breaking offensive output on the field. Against Utah, the Bruins also had more difficulties that you would have expected going into the game, recording 34 points and just 404 yards of offense.

Much of the difficulty for UCLA started when left tackle Torian White went down against Utah in the first half. White's injury set off a chain of events that moved starting right tackle Simon Goines to the left side and vaulted true freshman Caleb Benenoch into the starting lineup at right tackle. So far, the results have been mixed to poor. Throughout the Cal game, and in the second half against Utah, opposing defenses have made every effort to overload the right side of the line, which is now manned by Benenoch and fellow true freshman Alex Redmond. Although Benenoch wasn't horrible, and Redmond held his own fairly well, UCLA's offensive line spent most of the Cal game on its heels, and wasn't able to generate much of a push against Cal's stacked front.

Quarterback Brett Hundley, against Cal, had a fantastic statistical game, but in actually watching the game, it was easy to see that he wasn't sharp. Hundley missed several open receivers, opting to scramble rather than throw, and also threw a few balls poorly downfield, including a very underthrown deep pass to Damien Thigpen on a wheel route. Hundley may have been rendered a bit uncomfortable by the difficulties UCLA's offensive line had in both pass protection and run blocking.

Jordon James will likely be out again this week after sitting out last week, and in his stead, Paul Perkins will likely start again. Perkins wasn't given much room to work with against Cal, thanks to some poor blocking from his offensive line, so the jury is still out on him as a starter. In theory, he's a better downhill runner than James, and could be a good weapon against teams with good front sevens. Behind him, Steven Manfro and Malcolm Jones will both get work. Damien Thigpen, who made his return to real action last week, also figures to see his role increase after looking good in limited time against Cal.

Devin Fuller.
At receiver, UCLA has shown a very balanced attack, with Hundley spreading the ball between several receivers, most prominently Devin Fuller, Shaquelle Evans, and Jordan Payton. Fuller had a very good game last week, catching six balls for nearly 100 yards, including a touchdown. He's UCLA's leading receiver out of the slot, and has a natural ability to get open quickly off the snap. Payton and Evans have both been excellent at different times this year. Last week, freshman Thomas Duarte made an impact from the Y receiver spot, and figures to become the entrenched starter at the position as the season wears on. He gives UCLA a red zone threat that the Bruins have been trying to find all year.

ADVANTAGE: Even

This is the trickier of the two matchups to call, because both units, while strong, have had their worst games of the season in the last two weeks. As we've gone over, in the same way that teams appear to have figured out how to pick apart Stanford's defense in recent games, teams have also seemed to find ways to stall UCLA's offense. Stanford's defense has been gashed for two consecutive weeks by perimeter passing and inside zone runs—is it a weakness of Stanford's defense, or is there a way the Cardinal can adjust? UCLA's offense, similarly, has had two tough weeks after losing a starting offensive lineman—can it find a way to adjust, or is this more what UCLA's offense looks like in a post-Torian White world?

We have to figure that the answers to both questions are muddled. Stanford can adjust to the swing pass, but when it does so, it opens up the interior of the defense a bit more since the Cardinal just doesn't quite have the speed at linebacker as, say, UCLA. UCLA can compensate for its offensive linemen a bit by keeping running backs back to block or using quick passing plays a bit more, but it diminishes the downfield potential of UCLA's attack.

In the game on Saturday, we have to figure that UCLA, having studied the film of Stanford versus Utah and Washington, will come out with a plan to attack the perimeter of the field to open up the middle. It's what UCLA's usual game plan is, anyway, so it stands to reason the Bruins would use it against a team that has shown a weakness in that department. The issue is that Stanford has a very good linebacker corps, and will likely pressure UCLA's right side as much as possible. If we had to guess, Stanford will likely put its corners pressed up to the line of scrimmage and bring a good amount of pressure against UCLA's offensive line. If the offensive line can generally hold, on average, for at least a few seconds, Hundley should be able to find open receivers, but that's a tall order. As we've said many times this year, Fuller and the interior receivers will have to be very good in this game, because Hundley is going to need an outlet.

As with the matchup between Stanford's defense and UCLA's offense, this is a very close matchup, one that's certainly too close to call.

Special Teams

Ty Montgomery has returned kickoffs for touchdowns in each of the last two games, and has had several other long kickoff returns in addition to those. He's the ideal kickoff returner, with good speed, excellent acceleration, and a strong build that allows him to break tackles. He's such a weapon that Washington kicked short for much of its game against Stanford (to little avail, it should be noted) simply to avoid a big return. It's not too strong of a statement to say that Montgomery is responsible for the win against Washington and for keeping Stanford close enough to win against Utah.

Kodi Whitfield and Barry Sanders are responsible for punt returns, and Sanders is the more explosive threat of the two. Whitfield has gotten the majority of the opportunities, but there's been an effort to work Sanders in more as the season has progressed.

Senior Jordan Williamson (5'11, 191) is a very good field goal kicker, who has missed a couple of opportunities from 50+ this year, but has been very good from shorter distances. Unfortunately for the Cardinal, he may not be available after sustaining a leg injury this week. Backup kicker sophomore Conrad Ukropina (6'1, 185) has never kicked in a game. Senior Ben Rhyne (6'2, 203), who's the first string punter this year, has been decent this year, if not spectacular, with a 41 yard average per punt. He actually saw action last year against UCLA after Anthony Barr knocked out the starter.

UCLA's return game has been as strong as it's been in a very long time, with Shaquelle Evans doing an admirable job handling punts. Evans is 11th in the country in average yard per punt return at 14.4. As the kickoff returner, Steven Manfro has broken a couple of long ones, and has been a shoestring tackle short of breaking a few more. After last year's adventures as both a punt and kick returner, he's been much more reliable this season.

Ka'imi Fairbairn hasn't had any spectacular disasters like he had to start the season last year, and has actually settled into a bit of a groove recently. He's missed three of six kicks from 40+ yards, but inside of 40 he's been perfect, which is pretty similar to how he ended last year. As we talked about in fall, he's added about five consistent yards to his range—UCLA was comfortable with him from 35 and in last year, and it seems they're now pretty comfortable with him from 40 and in.

Sean Covington, the freshman punter, has done a good job for a freshman, only shanking a couple of punts through the early going. He's averaging 40 yards per punt, and has yet to kick one into the end zone.

Stanford has an advantage in special teams, certainly, but not as much as it would have if the Cardinal had a healthy Williamson. Montgomery is a threat every time he touches the ball to take a return to the house, and it might be a good idea for UCLA to avoid him as much as possible by either kicking the ball through the back of the end zone or aiming for high, short kicks to the 10 or 15 yard line. Knowing the UCLA staff, we'd have to expect that they'll do what they do, though, and trust their coverage teams. With a hurt kicker, though, Stanford could have some issues, especially in a game that figures to be very close.

ADVANTAGE: Stanford

Prediction

On the merits, looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the offenses, defenses, and special teams, the game probably leans ever-so-slightly to the Bruins. Stanford's offense is a fairly average one, and the defense isn't quite the exceptional unit that it has been in years past. UCLA, on the other hand, has a much better defense than a year ago and the offense is probably about as good as it was last year. Stanford's special teams are very good, but special teams play simply doesn't account for that great of a percentage of the game.

This matchup, though, is not limited to those factors. One very obvious area that Stanford bests UCLA is in penalties. The Bruins are the most penalized team in college football, while Stanford has a well-earned reputation as one of the more disciplined teams. You have to figure that if UCLA gives away 100 yards in penalties, as the Bruins have been prone to do at times, it'll be difficult to beat a team as good as the Cardinal.

There are also the psychological factors that play into the matchup. UCLA, having lost to Stanford twice last year, may very well have to deal with an intimidation mindset against the big, bad Cardinal. Additionally, Stanford, coming off a loss to Utah, is probably feeling refocused, and may have its eye on leaping back into the top 10 with a win over the Bruins.

Here's the thing we come back to, though. UCLA is better this year than last year, and there are very few that would argue that Stanford is any better than it was last year. Last year, the Bruins played Stanford very close up in Palo Alto, and had several opportunities to pull the game out before Fairbairn missed the final field goal attempt. This year, the team is simply better than it was, so it stands to reason that the Bruins have a very good shot to win the game.

We could see the game going several ways. If UCLA starts strong, and the offense moves the ball well, we could see the Bruins' confidence building to the point where UCLA notches a semi-comfortable win. If Stanford comes out and stones the Bruins' offense early, it could cause a snowballing effect that derails the young team's confidence. We'd guess the game will fall somewhere in the middle, though. Much like last year's Pac-12 championship game, we picture this game being a back and forth matchup, with minute decisions and moments (an interception here, a blown coverage there) making the difference. A year later, with an improved team that has shown an ability to deal with adversity, we think the Bruins limit their mistakes a bit more against the Cardinal and notch their biggest win in years.

UCLA 31
Stanford 27

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