2015 Opponent Primer: Stanford

Jun. 4 -- The Cardinal surged toward the end of last year, and could have some momentum going into 2015...

It's the deep offseason right now, so we thought we'd put together some advance primers on the 2015 opponents on UCLA's schedule. We've already previewed Virginia, UNLV, BYU, Arizona, and Arizona State. Next up: UCLA's sixth opponent of the season, Stanford.

Oct. 15, Stanford Stadium

2014 Record: 8-5 (5-4)

2014 Recap: The Cardinal had high hopes and a lofty No. 11 ranking entering the 2014 season, despite a rebuilt offensive line and some gaps on defense. Those hopes were quickly dashed after two losses in the first five games of the season, both miserable offensive showings against USC and Notre Dame. Stanford mucked its way through the middle portions of the season, falling all the way to 5-5 after a double overtime, back-breaking home loss to Utah on Nov. 15. Something seemed to click for the Cardinal soon thereafter, though, as they rebounded for three nice wins to close out the season at California, at UCLA, and in the Foster Farms Bowl against Maryland. The offense, which seemed to take forever to gel during the year, finally seemed to be working a little bit better, and the defense seemingly rose to an even higher level. It was the Stanford we've come to know over the last six or seven years, and unfortunately, it showed up at precisely the wrong time for UCLA.

Returning Starters: 13 (4 defense, 9 offense)

Notable Recruits: WR Trent Irwin , S Frank Buncom ,
RB Cameron Scarlett , S Justin Reid

2015 Projection: Last year, Stanford's offense dealt with some early-season and mid-season issues as the Cardinal tried to figure out how to compensate for a largely new offensive line. This year, it looks like Stanford could have very similar issues on the defensive side of the ball.

The Cardinal lose seven starters from last year's defense, including every starting defensive linemen, two linebackers, and two defensive backs. Gone are players like David Parry, Henry Anderson, and Blake Leuders who have helped lead Stanford to much of its success in the last few years. The Cardinal certainly has some talent to replace those guys, including redshirt freshman Solomon Thomas (who was once a UCLA recruit), but it's untested talent, and there will likely be some growing pains.

Offensively, Stanford hit its stride toward the end of last year, and we'd expect that to continue going into next year. The Cardinal did lose starting left tackle Andrus Peat, but return basically everyone besides Peat and Ty Montgomery. The offensive line is entirely intact besides Peat, and talented, big receivers like Devin Cajuste and Austin Hooper should allow Stanford to rebuild its identity as a power offense.

Stanford has a moderately difficult schedule in 2015, but the only really tough road games is against USC on September 19th. The Cardinal does have to play UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, and Notre Dame at home, and those four games, combined with USC, should decide the season. The Cardinal is a class above the remaining opponents on the schedule, but those five games will spell the difference between a moderately successful year and an elite one.

Outlook for UCLA: UCLA has never beaten Stanford in the Jim Mora era, with the most recent loss probably the most grating. UCLA, with the Pac-12 South and perhaps even a potential playoff berth on the line, was beaten soundly by Stanford, and this was a Stanford team that was reeling as of two weeks previous. Needless to say, getting that monkey off of his back is likely a huge priority for Mora.

The big key for UCLA is probably going to be whether Stanford has gotten over the hump in terms of rebuilding its defense. Last year, it took the majority of the year for the Cardinal to revitalize its offense, and UCLA will have to hope that it takes just as long for the Cardinal to revitalize its defense. If Josh Rosen doesn't have to contend with a Stanford defense that's playing at an elite level, that would clearly be ideal.

UCLA's defense had considerable issues against Stanford last year, and the hope is that Tom Bradley will bring a fresh perspective to dealing with the big, power sets that Stanford uses. The Bruins have had issues in the past matching up against the big receivers and tight ends that Stanford typically fields, so figuring out a way to combat that sort of attack will be key for Bradley in this game.

David Shaw, for whatever reason, has coached his best tactical games against UCLA in the last three years, and he's not a particularly good tactical coach. Part of it might simply be that Stanford's defense has had a pretty good read on Noel Mazzone's offense each of the times the two teams have played, which has stunted UCLA's ability to keep Stanford off balance.

In any case, this is a huge game, for both teams, but arguably moreso for UCLA. Going 0-5 against Stanford through his first five games against the team is probably not something Mora wants on his record. In terms of the conference race, this is a big one for UCLA in that its the last tough game before a spate of cupcakes, and could give the Bruins a good deal of momentum heading into that stretch.

Next up: California...

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