• The Stanford Cardinal comes to the Rose Bowl for a Friday match-up in the Rose Bowl, with kickoff at 12:30 p.m.., and the game televised on ABC.
• Stanford is 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-12, which is good enough for second place in the Pac-12 North.
• UCLA is 9-2 overall, and 6-2 in the conference, which has the Bruins tied for first in the Pac-12 South.
• This is being written before the College Football Playoffs rankings are announced, but we’ll guess UCLA will be ranked #8.
• Of course, UCLA controls its destiny with a win over Stanford Friday. If it beats the Cardinal, it wins the Pac-12 South since UCLA has beaten the two schools it shares first place with, Arizona and Arizona State.
• Stanford was ranked earlier in the season, up until week 9 when it fell out of the rankings after it suffered its third loss of the season.
• Stanford was ranked for four straight years without missing a week until this season. It finished its last four seasons ranked in the top ten in the nation.
• Stanford has wins against UC Davis, Army, Washington State, Oregon State and last week against Cal, in a game that the Cardinal pretty much owned the Bears, 38-17, in Berkeley.
• The Cardinal has lost to USC, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, and Utah.
• Against common opponents, Stanford is 1-5, while UCLA is 3-2.
• All five of Stanford’s losses came against ranked teams, while all six of its wins were against unranked opponents.
• Even if Stanford beats UCLA, it will be its worst season in six years, not since the Cardinal went 5-7 in Jim Harbaugh’s second season. Since then, Stanford has gone 12-1, 11-2, 12-2, and 11-3, and gone to the Orange Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, and the last two Rose Bowls, so the 2014 season is a considerable drop-off from its recent history.
• There is only one team in the Pac-12 North with a winning conference record (Oregon, 7-1), while there are four in the Pac-12 South (UCLA, ASU, Arizona and USC).
• It’s the 86th meeting between the two schools in football, with UCLA holding the edge, 45-37-3, and the series going back to 1925. The Cardinal have won the last six in a row. Stanford’s current, six-game winning streak ties its all-time record for streaks between the two schools (UCLA won six straight between 1963 and 1968).
• Last year, the #9-ranked Bruins lost in Palo Alto to the #13th-ranked Cardinal, 24-10.
• Jim Mora, in his third season, is 0-3 against Stanford, losing last year then twice in 2012, in the last regular-season game and then, the next week, in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
• You could say Mora has two remaining conference monkeys on his back, Stanford and Oregon. If UCLA beats Stanford, it will remove that monkey and then give him a chance at another monkey removal the next week when UCLA would face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, Dec. 5th, in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
• The last time UCLA beat Stanford was in 2008, at the Rose Bowl, 25-20.
• It’s the highest-ranked UCLA has been when facing the Cardinal since 2005, when the eighth-ranked Bruins beat Stanford in the classic overtime game, 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.
• Stanford is coached by David Shaw (42), who is in his fourth season at the helm on The Farm. His record in that time is 40-12 and, for his first three years, he kept alive the success of his predecessor, Jim Harbaugh. Shaw took over from Jim Harbaugh when he jumped to the San Francisco 49ers, and there was speculation that Shaw wouldn’t be able to keep the Harbaugh momentum going. When Shaw led Stanford to its win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl following the 2012 season it was its first in the Grandaddy of Them All in over 40 years. 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. It’s thought he’s earned enough credit in the bank to weather the disappointing 2014 season.
• Paul Perkins could be the first UCLA running back since Karim Abdul-Jabbar in 1995 to win a conference rushing championship (with 1,571 yards). Perkins currently leads the Pac-12 with 1265 yards, trailed by Utah’s Devontae Booker with 1,255 and USC’s Javorius Allen with 1,244.
• Brett Hundley holds the UCLA career records for passing touchdowns (70) and total offensive yards (11,353), surpassing Cade McNown in both categories in recent weeks. McNown’s career record for passing yards, set at 10,708, is attainable, if UCLA happens to add some extra games to its schedule, with Hundley currently at 9,684.
• It’s the first time since 1999 UCLA is ranked higher than Stanford coming into its game for two consecutive years.
• A ranked UCLA team hasn’t played an unranked Stanford team in the Rose Bowl since 1998, when the Bruins won 28-24. A ranked UCLA team hasn’t lost to an unranked Stanford team in the Rose Bowl since 1986. A ranked UCLA team has only lost twice to an unranked Stanford in Los Angeles, in 1986 and 1984, being 11-2 in such meetings in the two teams’ history.
• There were more than 80,000 fans at the Rose Bowl for UCLA’s last three games, the first time UCLA has accomplished that feat since having the Rose Bowl its home stadium.
• Jim Mora has accomplished three straight 9-win seasons, for the first time in school history.
• UCLA is currently favored by 4.5 points.
• The weather forecast calls for a high of 80 degrees Friday.
Stanford’s Offense vs. UCLA’s Defense
Stanford’s offense has been the butt of some jokes through most of the season, and for pretty good reason. With an inexperienced offensive line, spotty quarterback play, no workhorse running back, and a propensity for bizarre play-calling in the red zone, the Stanford offense has taken a large step back from the previous two years, when the Cardinal’s calling card was its steady ball-control offense and stout defense. Stanford has lost three of its games by a combined nine points (Utah, Notre Dame, and USC) and in each of those performances, you could very easily point the finger at the offensive performance and David Shaw’s somewhat strange decision-making as key points in the losses.
Against the Trojans, Shaw made several questionable decisions in the red zone, using Ty Montgomery as a wildcat frequently despite the formation not having a great deal of success in that game or in the past two years of Stanford football. Against Utah two weeks ago, Shaw elected to punt from Utah’s 34-yard line with the game tied and 2 minutes to go. After the game, he said that it was an obvious, clear decision to punt the ball, but in overtime, Jordan Williamson, Stanford’s kicker, managed to make a field goal from the exact same distance that Shaw passed up. In any case, punting from the 34 yard line is virtually never going to be the right decision, and it’s definitely never going to be the obvious choice.
Stanford as a whole has generated a pretty mediocre 5.5 yards per play, which is 55th in the country but below average by Pac-12 Standards (only Oregon State, Washington, Utah, and Colorado gain fewer). Last year, by comparison, the Cardinal generated 6.3 yards per play. The rushing offense has taken a big hit from last year, with the Cardinal gaining an average of 4.2 yards per rush this year as opposed to 5 yards per rush last year, and the passing offense has been less successful as well (7.3 yards per attempt this year vs. 8.9 last year). Schematically, Stanford has used a wider mix of formations, sometimes going out of a spread setup with three receivers, sometimes going into the elephant package with multiple offensive linemen, sometimes using two-back split formations, sometimes using an I-formation. It’s really a dizzying array of looks, but the sheer quantity of formations, especially in recent weeks, have just been used to disguise the different ways Stanford will run the ball. The Cardinal likes to use sweeps, power runs, end arounds, and a variety of other types of runs to keep defenses from anticipating where the play is headed.
As we mentioned up top, quarterback play has been spotty, which may also be leading to the greater emphasis on running the ball in recent weeks. Redshirt junior quarterback Kevin Hogan (6'4, 225) has earned a reputation over the last two years of being that steady, doesn’t-make-mistakes Stanford quarterback, but this year, that really hasn’t been his modus operandi. Hogan has thrown eight interceptions this year and just fifteen touchdowns, and he’s also had a few fumbles lost. He was asked to throw the ball a lot more at the beginning of the year than he is likely used to, which probably led to some of the struggles. He’s also been sacked a good deal more than he was in the past, with 21 sacks already through 11 games after 14 in 2013 and just 11 in 2012. His usage has declined since the midpoint of the season, though. After throwing more than 30 times in three consecutive games, which included two awful performances for Hogan against Notre Dame and Arizona State, Stanford hasn’t passed the ball more than 29 times in the last four games.
His job doesn’t get a whole lot easier this week. Junior Ty Montgomery, his star playmaker at receiver, has been ruled out for the game after injuring himself last week. That drastically changes Stanford’s offense, and not for the better. Montgomery was the most dynamic player in the offense, with the ability to run routes downfield as well as carry the ball on sweeps and stretch runs. Since David Shaw has a crush on the formation, Montgomery was also the designated Wildcat quarterback. With Montgomery out, Stanford will have to mold someone else to that role, and there aren’t many obvious candidates. Freshman Christian McCaffrey (6'0, 197) is a bit of a speed threat at running back, so you could see his role increasing on those stretch runs to the outside, but Stanford just doesn’t have another player who can do what Montgomery does as a receiver. Stanford does have a few other talented receivers – junior wideout Devon Cajuste (6'4, 229), redshirt freshman tight end Austin Hooper (6'4, 249), and redshirt sophomore wideout Michael Rector (6'1, 185) being the main three – but they’re all more of the big, possession-type receiver than the big-play type.
After having dominant running backs the last five or six years, stretching all the way back to Toby Gerhart, the Cardinal is without a workhorse this year. Stanford has gone to more of a committee approach, with redshirt junior Remound Wright (5'9, 204, Pictured above), redshirt sophomore Barry Sanders (5'10, 198), redshirt junior Kelsey Young (5'10, 191), and McCaffrey (along with Hogan and Montgomery) all getting a substantial amount of carries. Wright has been the closest thing to a workhorse, but he’s not really a significant playmaker. His longest run of the season is 30 yards, and he’s averaging just 4.4 per carry, which really isn’t a great number in the Pac-12. Sanders is a bit more of a big play threat, but has a tendency to bounce runs outside that seems to cause some consternation on the Stanford coaching staff. Young is similar to Wright, albeit a bit smaller. None have really seized the job, but the group as a whole is generating more production over recent weeks, but that may be more of a credit to the offensive line than anything.
The offensive line has had some real, serious problems adjusting to life without the majority of its starters from last year. As we mentioned above, pass protection has been a real issue all year, and it hasn’t really improved all that much recently. Where the group has improved, at least from watching the games, is in terms of run-blocking. They’re doing a much better job of creating holes and playing their assignments, which is allowing more of those prototypical Stanford drives involving a long string of four and five-yard runs. The group is led by star junior left tackle Andrus Peat (6'7, 316), who may be a top ten pick in the NFL Draft this year. Peat actually has been a little inconsistent this year, with Nate Orchard actually causing him a lot of issues two weeks ago, but his athleticism and strength make him one of the premier left tackles in college football. Junior Joshua Garnett (6'5, 325) has become one of the more trusted guards for Stanford, especially in the running game. Garnett will often be asked to pull on runs to the outside, and he does a nice job of playing in space, and has improved as the season’s gone on. Redshirt sophomore Graham Shuler (6'4, 287), at center, has been up and down this year, but he and the right guard duo of redshirt sophomore Johnny Caspers (6'4, 297) and redshirt junior Brendon Austin (6'6, 296) have played more solidly of late. Junior Kyle Murphy (6'7, 298), at right tackle, rounds out the group, and he’s a pretty good athlete on the edge, though he too has been prone to inconsistency this year.
UCLA’s defense has improved significantly from the first six games of the year and has now churned out three very good performances in the last five games (against California, Arizona, and USC). The defense was particularly dominant against what had been a pretty good Trojans’ offense, limiting USC’s running game while also putting a significant amount of pressure on quarterback Cody Kessler. UCLA’s defense allowed just 13 points, and six of those came on a meaningless clock-killing drive by USC in the 4th quarter when the Trojans were already down by 24 points.
What’s changed for UCLA has been the aggression of the scheme. UCLA is stunting its defensive linemen more, blitzing a bit more from diverse spots, and pressing its corners to the line of scrimmage. The combination has forced offenses into more errors and allows UCLA’s players to play a bit freer. The defensive line, in particular, has really started to come into its own. Owamagbe Odighizuwa was a force against USC, generating two sacks and more than a handful of hurries on Kessler. He’s been playing much more consistently of late against both the pass and the run, and it’s happening at an opportune time. It’s also helped that Takkarist McKinley, the sophomore junior college transfer, has been a significant presence in the few snaps he gets per game. He’s an excellent one-on-one pass rusher, and he showed it again against USC, generating a sack and a pressure.
|Takkarist McKinley, Owamagbe Odighizuwa (Steve Cheng, BRO|
The Stanford offense has certainly made strides in recent weeks, but so has UCLA’s defense, and the Bruins’ defense has simply better talent than Stanford has on offense, and the UCLA defensive staff is prone to far fewer coaching blunders than Stanford’s offensive brain trust.
Stanford has size and physicality on its side against most teams, but this UCLA defense has shown itself to be plenty physical, especially last week against USC, so we’re not sure how much of an advantage Stanford will have in that respect. Stanford struggles the most on the interior of its offensive line, and the interior of UCLA’s defensive line is probably where it’s strongest. With the variety of stunts that UCLA has used in recent weeks to confuse offensive lines, we’d imagine that the goal will be to put pressure on Stanford’s guards and center with more of the same and force them to make blocking decisions on the fly.
Stanford has good offensive performances when it’s able to generate long drives and stay on schedule. Forcing sacks and tackles for loss against this offense, by that token, can be even more devastating than usual. Hogan isn’t a great thrower, and putting him in 3rd and 6 or longer should be the goal all game. If UCLA can do that with consistency, it’s a matter of when, not if, he’ll make a poor decision and throw into coverage, especially without Montgomery.
We’d expect UCLA to come out with the same aggression it's shown in the last few weeks, perhaps working in a few blitzes early to set the tone like they did last week against USC. UCLA should be able to stop Stanford’s interior running game, but Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks will need to play very disciplined on the edges, as Stanford does like to use misdirection. Hogan has a few tricky moves where he’ll fake a roll out to one direction and then quickly spin and throw to his back side, which he’ll often do on screen plays.
In the end, this offense isn’t as much of a challenge to defend as USC, Arizona, or California, especially without Montgomery. If UCLA plays the way it’s played in the last few weeks, this matchup should go the Bruins’ way.
Stanford’s Defense vs. UCLA’s Offense
The thinking heading into the year was that the Cardinal defense might take a small step back with guys like Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy finally exhausting their (many, many) years of eligibility. But that really hasn’t turned out to be the case – if anything, the Stanford defense this year is better than it’s ever been, and they’ve been able to plug in new starters without missing much of a beat. The Cardinal this year allow a miniscule 4.2 yards per play (3rd best in the country) and just 3.3 yards per play on the ground (14th in the country). This is, without a doubt, the best defense that UCLA has faced this year.
Stanford plays with a great deal of physicality and size; generally speaking, Stanford’s players at every position are just a little bit bigger than typical. Their linebackers run more in the 240 to 260 range than the typical 220 to 235 that’s become commonplace in college football (and the Pac-12 in particular). The starting secondary averages just over 200 pounds. The Cardinal uses primarily a 3-4 scheme, though occasionally they’ll go with a four-down front. Stanford doesn’t blitz often, mostly because it doesn’t need to. The defensive line is good enough to get pressure on its own, and everyone in the front seven, as a rule, does a good job of beating blocks and even shedding double teams. Despite some lack of blitzing, it is an aggressive scheme; Stanford puts a lot of players near the line of scrimmage and can cause real damage on plays in the flat thanks to their size and ability to beat blocks.
Everything starts up front for Stanford, and with good reason. The duo of redshirt senior defensive end Henry Anderson (6’6, 287) and redshirt senior defensive tackle David Parry (6’2, 300) has been deadly for opposing offensive lines all years. Both players are very difficult to block singly, since both possess great strength and are excellent with their hands. Even against double teams, both have been effective, and Stanford this year has often been able to get pressure on quarterbacks with just a three-man rush thanks to their strength and tenacity. They’ve combined for nine sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, but the numbers almost undersell their impact. Even when they’re just occupying blockers, they occupy plenty of them, and it opens things up for the linebackers to get up field and make big plays. Redshirt senior Blake Lueders (6’5, 274), while not at Anderson and Parry’s level, has been a steady presence on the other side for Stanford this year, and provides another grown-man presence on the line. Something to keep an eye on – Parry has had a nagging leg injury for most of the year, so could get spelled by freshman Harrison Phillips (6’4, 255) at some point if it flares up.
The linebackers, despite losing Murphy and Skov, have been excellent all year, in large part thanks to the defensive line’s ability to keep offensive linemen from blocking down on them. The two returning starters, senior outside linebacker James Vaughters (6’2, 258) and redshirt senior inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley (6’2, 241), have been excellent all season, but the shocking thing has been how quickly junior inside linebacker Blake Martinez (6’2, 247) has transitioned to his starting role. He’s playing like a three-year starter, and he had only 11 tackles all of last year. He’s leading the team in tackles this season and, weirdly, interceptions. He does a little bit of everything, and when Stanford does blitz, he’s a very effective pass rusher from the inside. Redshirt junior outside linebacker Kevin Anderson (6’4, 245) and Vaughters, at the two outside positions, can give Stanford almost a five-linemen look when they’re pressed up to the line of scrimmage thanks to their size. Both play very physically, and they’ve combined for eight sacks this year. As a group, despite the size, they move well, and can really disrupt lateral passes and stretch runs to the outside. The linebackers are all intelligent players who read and react very quickly to plays, making it difficult to do anything too tricky in the running game.
|Linebacker Blake Martinez.|
UCLA’s offense has been up and down this season, but recently it’s been trending upward. Against Washington and USC, the Bruins had two good, efficient performances against what had been two very good defenses. So much has changed for UCLA since midseason, but one of the biggest differences between the team now and the team that lost to Utah and Oregon has been the offensive line. When UCLA inserted Conor McDermott at left tackle, it was clearly a game-changer, and has become progressively more of one since. McDermott shored up the left side in pass protection, provided better run blocking off that side, and has instilled in Brett Hundley a certain level of trust in his blocking. You could see it in Hundley on his touchdown throw to Eldridge Massington last week against USC – he stepped up in the pocket despite some pressure, kept his eyes downfield, and made the throw. It was not something you could have pictured against Utah.
Much of the offensive resurgence over the last two games has come with a re-emphasis on the short passing game and what’s being dubbed the power receiver screen game, where a UCLA receiver catches the ball in the flat and UCLA’s big receivers set up blocks for him to make a play with his legs. With UCLA’s size at receiver (Eldridge Massington, Jordan Payton, and Thomas Duarte are all big dudes, and Mossi Johnson plays bigger than he is), the Bruins have been able to make many big plays out of short passes. That emphasis has also opened up the middle of the field more, and Hundley has been able to take advantage with the occasional pass over the top.
UCLA’s offense has been good, especially through the last two games, but Stanford’s defense has been better, and it really is a poor matchup for what the Bruins like to do offensively. The Cardinal pursues well to the sideline and really attacks the lateral/flat pass game with aplomb. Stanford also doesn’t typically have the commit many extra defenders to get pressure on the quarterback, usually only rushing four, which means Hundley could face a lot of that zone coverage he struggled against in the middle part of the season.
The best way to attack the Cardinal, somewhat counter-intuitively, is up the middle. If teams don’t get the ball out the edges lightning fast, Stanford’s defenders react too quickly, and eat up everything either behind the line of scrimmage or just beyond it. Up and over the middle, though, teams have seemed to have more success, particularly in the last three games. Brett Hundley, unlike against USC, is almost certainly going to have to run, and he’s going to have to keep on zone reads, and be more or less perfect in his decision-making in that department. Marcus Mariota’s running ability was critical in breaking that game open in the first half against Stanford, and made it look like significantly more of a blowout early than the game actually would have indicated.
UCLA’s offensive line has been good through the last two games against good defensive fronts, and we’d imagine they’ll be pretty good in pass protection again. The question will be whether Hundley can see the field and deliver throws downfield into seven and eight-man coverage schemes. If he is sharp, like he was against Washington, UCLA could have a chance to take this side of the matchup.
UCLA is in the lucky position where the offense doesn’t need to be stellar to win this game; with how poor the Stanford offense is, the Bruins probably don’t need to score more than 21 to 24 points to get a win here. But even getting that much could be a chore against this defense.
Without Ty Montgomery, Stanford’s return game is a little impotent. Christian McCaffrey, who may replace some of Montgomery’s production on offense, will probably get the call at both return spots in his stead. He’s not the explosive force that Montgomery is, though, and we’d imagine he won’t be too much of a threat. Ishmael Adams, who dinged up his ankle last week, may or may not be able to go for UCLA at punt and kick returner, but the Bruins probably have a few better, more explosive options as backups (including Mossi Johnson) than Stanford does. Edge: Bruins.
Stanford’s kicking game, with redshirt senior Jordan Williamson (5’11, 185), has been wildly inconsistent, even moreso than UCLA’s with Ka’imi Fairbairn. Williamson has missed six of his 19 kicks, with the misses coming from 37, 29, 26, 46, 37, and 26. He hasn’t missed in his last six tries, though, so he’s doing well of late. Fairbairn has actually been much better, and has at least been mostly automatic from 35 and in. Edge: Bruins.
UCLA’s punting game regressed last week, with Matt Mengel seemingly struggling under the pressure of playing in the rivalry game. He actually dropped a snap and then had to desperately kick the ball away from his own endzone, which led to a very short punt. Redshirt senior Ben Rhyne (6’2, 197), the Stanford punter, is better than his raw numbers would indicate – he’s been asked too often to punt on the opponents’ side of the field, because David Shaw, like most football coaches, is bad at math. He’s hit 13 of his 50 punts inside the 20. Edge: Even.
This is shaping up to be a tough game, much tougher than last week against USC. The Cardinal are not as bad as their record would indicate; they've lost three games by a combined nine points, and with slightly better offensive play-calling, could easily be 8-3 or 9-2 at this point. Stanford, defensively, is a greater challenge than anything UCLA has faced since, well, probably Stanford last year, but at least since Utah. The Cardinal does many things well that cause issues for what UCLA’s offense likes to do to build a rhythm, and we can’t imagine UCLA is going to use wide receiver screens and flat passes anywhere near as much as they’ve been able to the last couple of weeks.
On the flip side, UCLA’s defense, which has been playing well of late, should be able to shut down a Stanford offense that is without its best playmaker. Kevin Hogan has not been a good quarterback this year, and there isn’t much about that Stanford offense that is scary. This could very easily be a game where UCLA’s defense scores again, since Hogan has been prone to mistakes this year in the face of pressure.
The Bruins, though, will have to play mistake-free on offense, and that means Brett Hundley can’t throw any more pick-sixes, which he’s been prone to this year. Stanford’s defense is good enough that giving them free points can be absolutely deadly.
We think, though, the emotional and mental side of the game favors the Bruins. UCLA has lost three straight to Stanford and is playing for an opportunity to play Oregon and make the playoffs. Stanford is playing to finish the year two games above .500. The Bruins should be motivated with some real prizes in their sights, and we think that, along with this being the last game at home for the seniors, should be enough to carry the Bruins past.