Facts and Factors
• UCLA hosts Stanford at the Rose Bowl Saturday to start its home conference schedule, with a kick-off at 5:00 PST. The game will be televised by ABC with Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Samantha Ponder in the booth and on the field.
• Stanford is 2-0 and ranked 6th in USA Today Coaches' Poll and 7th in the AP Poll.
• The Cardinal beat Kansas State on the road, 26-13, had a bye the second week, and then last Saturday beat USC, 27-10.
• UCLA is 2-1, and not ranked.
• Stanford has been ranked by the AP for 17 consecutive weeks.
• Either Stanford or UCLA have been ranked in each of the past eight matchups.
• Stanford has an eight-game winning streak going against UCLA, tied for the program's best active win streak (it also has eight straight wins against Washington State). It's the longest win streak in the UCLA/Stanford series.
• In those eight straight wins, Stanford has scored at least 24 points and won by an average of 18.2 points.
• Except during World War II, UCLA and Stanford have met every season since 1925, and 72 times in the past 71 years (twice in 2012). UCLA leads the all-time series, 45-39-2.
• UCLA is 10-7 against the Cardinal at the Rose Bowl, with its last win in its home stadium coming in 2008 (having lost the last three). Counting that 2008 win, UCLA previously had won six straight at the Rose Bowl, going back to 1996.
• Last year, Stanford dominated the game, jumping out to a 35-17 and then pile on to win, 56-35, with the Cardinal's star, Christian McCaffrey amassing 369 all-purpose yards.
• Jim Mora is 0-5 against Stanford. The closest Mora came to beating the Cardinal was in the 2012 Pac-12 Championship game, losing 27-24.
• It's the first time Mora will face Stanford without his UCLA team being ranked.
• David Shaw (44) is in his sixth year on The Farm, with an overall record of 56-14. Shaw was a wide receiver at Stanford in the mid-'90s, and then initially made a name for himself coaching in the NFL as a position assistant before taking over as offensive coordinator at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh. He is credited with keeping alive the Stanford program's resurgence under Harbaugh. In his first three seasons Shaw had the Cardinal finishing top 10 in the Coaches’ Poll, then had a bit of a dip in 2014 when he went 8-5, but then bounced back last season with a 12-2 campaign, a Pac-12 Championship and a final ranking of #3 in the polls. He has won four Pac-12 North titles and three Pac-12 Championships in five seasons.
• Shaw is undefeated against six Pac-12 opponents -- UCLA, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State.
• Under Shaw, Stanford is 20-2 against in-state opponents.
• Shaw is 11-2 against UCLA and USC.
• Shaw has recruited well at Stanford, finishing in the top 20 in Scout.com's team rankings in four of his six recruiting classes. His highest-ranked class was in 2012 when the class ranked 7th nationally.
• Under Mora, UCLA is 13-7 against ranked opponents and has won seven of the last eight.
• The last time UCLA faced a top-10 team was in 2013, a 42-14 loss to #2 Oregon. The last win against a top-10 team was in 2010, when an unranked Bruins beat #7 Texas in Austin (34-12). The last time UCLA beat a top-10 ranked team in the Rose Bowl was in 2007 against #9 Oregon (16-0).
• Stanford lost a good number of players to graduation after the 2015 season, and fields a fairly young team, with only 25% of this year's Stanford roster composed of fourth- and fifth-year seniors.
• UCLA is hosting a UCLA Olympian Reunion this weekend, with over 400 UCLA Olympians invited to partake in events for two days. The event is also being put on by Casey Wasserman, a UCLA donor, who is the chair of "LA2024," a group dedicated to bringing the Olympics to Los Angeles in 2024. At halftime of the game, UCLA will honor its Olympians, with upward of 100 expected to attend.
• Also being honored at halftime is NBA champion and former Bruin, Kevin Love. Love is being honored because he just donated to the new basketball practice facility, the Mo Ostin Basketball Center, currently being built on campus. Love matched the largest donation by a former basketball student-athlete (Russell Westbrook) in school history.
• The betting line opened with UCLA -1, but then it moved pretty quickly to Stanford -3.
• The weather forecast calls for a high of 89 degrees, with a game-time temperature in the low 80s.
UCLA's Offense vs. Stanford's Defense
While Stanford has come to be known for its defensive prowess in the Harbaugh/Shaw era, last year the Cardinal really turned that idea on its head, feeling a phenomenal offense along with a just OK defense. The Cardinal allowed 5.4 yards per play in 2015, which is perfectly average -- and, somewhat astonishingly, well behind UCLA's own tally of 4.9 yards per play allowed.
A huge part of Stanford's issue was an inordinate amount of injuries on the defensive line that left the Cardinal with between two and three healthy linemen for long stretches of the season. That Stanford was even able to perform as well as it did was a testament to the system Stanford has in place and the talented depth the Cardinal created at linebacker and in the secondary.
This year's iteration of the Stanford defense already looks better than last year, though perhaps not quite back to the heights of 2011 through 2014. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per play allowed, which is solidly in the top 40, and 3.6 yards per carry on the ground, which is a big step up from last year, when Stanford got gashed to the tune of 4.3 yards per carry.
Stanford is hopeful it will get junior nose tackle Harrison Phillips (6'4, 285) back for this one. Phillips suffered a knee injury in the opener against Kansas State, and it was thought immediately after that he might need surgery. That has since been ruled out, but he did miss the game against USC last week. Phillips sat out the vast majority of last year after an ACL tear, but he looked good in the first game against Kansas State, and the Cardinal hope is that he can significantly shore up the interior of the line. The playmaker of the defensive line is clearly junior defensive end Solomon Thomas (6'3, 273). He had 10.5 tackles for loss last year, and while he only has 1.5 through two games this year, he has looked much stouter against the run than he did a year ago. The other end spot will be manned by redshirt freshman Dylan Jackson (6'6, 261). You rarely see a first or second year player starting for Stanford, especially on the lines, but Jackson was impressive in the offseason getting ready for the season. The depth includes redshirt senior Luke Kaumatule (6'7, 284), who redshirted last year, and Jordan Watkins (6'5, 275), a fellow redshirt senior.
The linebacker corps is bolstered by a pair of very good outside linebackers in junior Joey Alfieri (6'3, 239) and senior Peter Kalambayi (6'3, 246). The two have already combined for five tackles for loss through the first two games, and they've both looked strong and disruptive off the edge. The inside positions are manned by senior Kevin Palma (6'2, 252) and junior Bobby Okereke (6'3, 233). This is Okereke's first year starting, but Palma started all of last season. Kalambayi is the major one to watch in the group, though, as he already has 2.5 sacks this year and Stanford isn't shy about bringing him off the edge.
In the secondary, Stanford has a pair of talented, but young, corners in junior Alijah Holder (6'2, 185) and sophomore Quenton Meeks (6'2, 192). Holder is the star of the group, and if you remember, he had a pick-six against UCLA last year. Meeks actually played as a true freshman and led the team in interceptions with three. At safety, redshirt freshman Dallas Lloyd (6'3, 215), a one-time quarterback, will get the start, and he'll play alongside sophomore Justin Reid (6'1, 198), who also got time as a true freshman a year ago. Stanford has good height in the secondary across the board, and their secondary mostly fits the big and physical theme from the rest of the Cardinal team.
UCLA's offense has been up and down so far this season. Against Texas A&M, the Bruins were stymied, with the offensive line looking like the biggest issue, as UCLA couldn't do much to handle A&M's vaunted pass rush. Against UNLV, the offense seemed to hit its stride a bit more, but then regressed a little against BYU last week, generating just 17 points with the play calling looking unimaginative at times. The common theme in all of the games has been Josh Rosen not quite looking like the player everyone was expecting to take college football by storm this year, and the receivers dropping an inordinate number of balls.
We keep waiting for both Rosen and the receivers to start looking significantly better, but it hasn't happened quite yet. Rosen looks like his issues probably stem from the change in offense, going from a spread-style attack to now a pro-style offense, with much more variation in terms of formation and plays. It'll very likely click for him at some point this year, but the question is when it happens.
The receivers are more of a puzzling issue. We weren't expecting UCLA to have great receivers this year, but we were expecting the ones UCLA does have to catch the ball significantly better than they have. Through three games, UCLA has had a handful of drops in every contest, and there's been noticeably poor effort at times, whether it's lazily running a route or not fighting back to a ball that's thrown off course a bit. Somewhat inexplicably, Theo Howard, the true freshman wideout who looked like the most talented playmaker on the team in the summer and then into fall camp, has seen very little time through three games, and the assumption is that his blocking is what is keeping him off the field. It's very nice for receivers to block, but the most important thing is catching the ball and then running with the ball, and Howard does a good job at both of those things.
The offensive line essentially is what it is: a pair of good tackles with a questionable interior sandwiched between them. If UCLA is going to be a power, downhill running attack, it looks like it might have to wait until next year, because the Bruins have not been able to generate much rushing attack up the middle this year. That's despite having a very good running back corps, including Sotonye Jamabo, Bolu Olorunfunmi, Nate Starks, Brandon Stephens, and Jalen Starks. There's no word yet if any more running backs are going to be mysteriously absent for this game, but Jamabo and fullback Ainuu Taua sat out the last one.
We actually think these units both have their weaknesses, but UCLA's offense isn't necessarily built to take advantage of Stanford's. Against USC, Stanford actually looked more vulnerable against interior runs than those off tackle or to the edge, but UCLA is just not equipped to power the ball down the throat of a defense. Stanford's defensive line doesn't fire off the ball quite as quickly as the Cardinal defensive lines of years past, but it's hard to see an offensive interior of Kenny Lacy, Scott Quessenberry, and Najee Toran taking advantage the way it would need to. Stanford's linebackers are also good in pursuit, which could make the outside runs that were UCLA's bread and butter through the first two games more of a challenge.
Stanford's secondary isn't great, but neither is UCLA's receiving corps, and Rosen has been somewhat erratic this year. If the Bruins could count on the receivers to catch the ball with a great deal more regularity than they have, and if Rosen can have his best game of the season, UCLA absolutely could dice up the Cardinal secondary, but we have no evidence that either of those things is poised to happen, so it's hard to count on it.
On the bright side, Conor McDermott and Kolton Miller should be able to handle the edge rush from Stanford's outside linebackers, and the Stanford defensive line, for once, doesn't present a monstrous size advantage over UCLA's offensive line. Rosen should have a fairly clean pocket to work from. The question is simply what he's going to do with it. Winning this side of the matchup is going to rest on Rosen making a big leap this week.
UCLA Defense vs. Stanford Offense
Stanford's offense was one of the elite units in the entire country last year, but it was almost like no one noticed that until the final weeks of the season, with the national media pundits still talking about what a great defense Stanford had. That wasn't the case last year -- the Cardinal were very much led by a powerful offense that could kill teams both through the air and on the ground, with as varied an attack as Stanford has put together in this Cardinal renaissance over the last eight years.
Stanford averaged 6.4 yards per play a year ago, including 5.1 yards per carry and a super-elite 9.3 yards per pass attempt. It was an offense that was both very efficient and very explosive, and, if it hadn't been for an absurd hiccup on the road against Northwestern to open the season, it would have been very interesting to see what kind of noise the Cardinal could have made in a potential playoff run. By the end of the year, perhaps no other team in the country was playing as well as Stanford.
While Stanford isn't quite putting up points at the level it did last year so far this season, the Cardinal still possess a very potent offense. The biggest shift from a year ago from an outside perspective is the changeover from Kevin Hogan at quarterback to redshirt junior Ryan Burns (6'5, 233). Hogan was a solidly above average quarterback for most of his career at Stanford, but then turned it on in a major way last season, looking like one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the conference, which was probably a big part of why Stanford's offense took such a leap.
Burns, to this point, looks pretty competent -- more like Hogan circa 2013, say, than Hogan circa 2015. So far, David Shaw and the Stanford offensive brain trust haven't really asked him to do a whole lot. Against USC, he threw just 15 passes, and against Kansas State, he threw just 18 as he split reps with redshirt sophomore Keller Chryst (6'5, 239). Burns actually completed the first ten passes of his career against Kansas State, which was impressive to see, and it seems like his early season performance has gotten him out of platooning with Chryst. He missed one wide-open throw that would have gone for a touchdown against USC, but Burns has otherwise looked like a pretty solid game manager, and hasn't yet shown a propensity to get rattled.
The other big change for Stanford has been on the offensive line. Stanford is replacing three starters from a year ago, and while everyone on the starting offensive line this year has some experience, it is a relatively green unit by Cardinal standards. The mainstays are junior tackle Casey Tucker (6'6, 302) and redshirt senior guard Johnny Caspers (6'4, 297). Each of them started last year, with Caspers having started each of the last two seasons. Redshirt junior Dave Bright (6'5, 296), who'll start opposite Caspers at the other guard spot, has played in every game over the last two years, but hasn't been a starter. The two real newcomers are redshirt sophomore center Jesse Burkett (6'4, 303) and redshirt sophomore tackle Austin Hall (6'5, 295), both of whom played in a few games last year, but nothing to speak of. So far this season, the offensive line has actually been pretty solid, but they haven't been tested by any significant pass rush so far.
Alright, we'll be honest -- we just wanted to see how far into this we could get without mentioning junior running back Christian McCaffrey (6'0, 200). McCaffrey is the guy who makes the whole thing go, and he's once again a do-everything dynamo for the Stanford offense. McCaffrey is the leading rusher on the team by 247 yards through two games, the leading receiver by 30 yards through two games, and the leading returner by 60 yards through two games. He's averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 10.6 yards per catch this year, and has already totaled nearly 500 yards of total offense through two games -- and it all feels almost ho-hum after last year! He has even had some bad luck, with a punt return touchdown called back by a questionable penalty against Kansas State, and then Burns missing him on a wide open touchdown pass against USC last week. Stanford is going to find ways for him to touch the ball at least 30 times on Saturday, and UCLA is going to have to do whatever it can to limit him. Sophomore Bryce Love (5'10, 187) will also get some work as a sort of hybrid running back and slot, but this is mostly the McCaffrey show.
The receiving corps is very solid, with redshirt senior Michael Rector (6'1, 187) probably being the star of the group. Rector has good speed and displays good toughness for his size. Burns has already shown a good connection with Rector, as he's probably been targeted more than any other Stanford receiver. Redshirt junior Francis Owusu (6'3, 221) is a big body who famously made the catch of the year over and around Jaleel Wadood last year. Sophomore Trent Irwin (6'2, 206) is as sure-handed as they come at receiver, and has markedly improved his athleticism since his junior year of high school. It's a group of receivers with generally good size that can pose matchup problems for opposing secondaries. At tight end, Stanford has redshirt sophomore Dalton Schultz (6'6, 241), who's a very good pass catcher that has improved as a blocker since coming to the Farm. When Stanford goes with two tight ends, which is often, redshirt junior Greg Taboada (6'5, 248) will line up opposite Schultz, and he's a big body with solid hands in his own right.
UCLA's defense has been a mixed bag through three games. If you looked just at the first quarter against Texas A&M and this past game against BYU, it's played pretty close to our expectations heading into the year, when we expected the Bruins to have a good to very good defense. Of course, there are the other seven quarters of football to consider, when the Bruins have not looked so good.
The biggest key for UCLA, if you are splitting the season into those chunks, has been the health of Takkarist McKinley and Eddie Vanderdoes. McKinley was hurt at the tail end of the first quarter against Texas A&M and didn't return until BYU -- and it's probably no coincidence that UCLA's defensive performance dropped off considerably without him on the field. McKinley gives UCLA a pass rush, but also gives UCLA a true defensive end who has the ability to play in space and redirect runs to the inside with his athleticism and ability to play in space. It's not too much of a stretch to say that outside of McKinley, UCLA doesn't have another defensive end who's an ideal fit for a 4-3.
Vanderdoes was out after the first quarter against UNLV, and the Bruins run defense suffered badly. With him back for BYU, the rush defense was very good. We expect Vanderdoes to be fully ready to go for Stanford after playing the whole game against BYU, but McKinley is more of a question mark. He practiced in a red jersey on Wednesday, but it's anyone's guess whether that means he'll play significant minutes on Saturday.
The linebacker corps, not coincidentally as well, had its best game of the season against BYU -- since the defensive line played so well, the linebackers had to deal with fewer offensive linemen and were freed up to make plays. This was the most disruptive game in a while for the UCLA defense, with Kenny Young and Jayon Brown both recording sacks. Young and Brown both played excellent games, and hopefully that gives them each something to build on heading into conference play.
The secondary has been the consistent strength of the defense through three games. At cornerback, the tandem of Fabian Moreau and Nathan Meadors has given UCLA its best cornerback play in quite some time -- certainly, since Jim Mora arrived in Westwood. At safety, UCLA perhaps has a brewing position battle, as Adarius Pickett has looked very good in a backup role, and could compete with starters Randall Goforth and Jaleel Wadood for more playing time. Goforth sat out last week for mysterious reasons, so we're not sure if he'll be back this week, but given Pickett's play last week, UCLA should be fine either way.
If we were certain that McKinley would be healthy, we'd be inclined to make this an "even" advantage, but as it stands, it's hard to know what to think of UCLA's defense without McKinley, and we have to at least entertain the possibility that he'll be out, or at least limited, for this game.
The strategy against Stanford has to be fairly simple at this point in the year -- stack the box, and force Burns to beat you through the air. That didn't work against Kevin Hogan over the years, largely because Hogan strapped on his big boy pants every time Stanford faced UCLA, but the Bruins will just have to hope that Burns doesn't get the same hypnosis/pep talk/or whatever that Hogan got before every UCLA game the last four years. Burns has looked good through two games, but it's just two games, and if UCLA can take away the running game by committing seven or eight to the box at virtually all times, they could drastically limit the Stanford attack.
If McKinley is out, though, even with seven or eight committed to the box, Stanford might still be able to find room to run on the edge, or at the very least hit some swings out of the backfield, since UCLA's ends, without McKinley, are not great in pursuit or in space. What we'd like to see is a general aggressive mentality, with some controlled blitzing to test Stanford's new-ish offensive line, some pressing of the corners, and an overall commitment to attacking this Stanford offense rather than reacting to it.
If UCLA is very aggressive defensively, we like the Bruins' chances -- this Stanford offense isn't yet super elite. But if it's a coverage-based effort, with a whole lot of four-man rush, it might mean the death from a thousand paper cuts that always seems to happen against the Cardinal.
Redshirt senior Conrad Ukropina (6'1, 195) had a strong claim to being not only the best kicker in the Pac-12 last year, but arguably the nation. He made 18 of 20 field goals, including a walk-off 45-yard make against Notre Dame last year. He has also made 80 straight point afters, missing just one of 86 in his Stanford career. At punter, sophomore Jake Bailey (6'2, 194) has been very good in his first year as the full-time punter, averaging almost 45 yards per punt, with 4 of 7 downed inside the 20. He's also the kickoff specialist and has been 50% on touchbacks this year.
The return game is basically all McCaffrey, and he's a stud. He's a danger to score every time he touches the ball, which makes him one of the toughest return men in the country. He had a touchdown on a kick return last year and another on a punt return.
UCLA's kicking game has been surprisingly solid so far this year, with true freshman J.J. Molson making all but two field goals and looking pretty OK on kickoffs, while fellow freshman Austin Kent has made everyone forget the last two years of struggle at punter. The return game hasn't been nearly as solid, with Ishmael Adams not yet looking like the explosive returner he was as a sophomore.
UCLA should be extremely motivated for this game. The Bruins are losers of eight straight to the Cardinal, including five under Jim Mora, and will no doubt be fired up for the conference opener, in primetime, at home, against the top team in the Pac-12.
It's also perhaps a slight look-ahead spot for the Cardinal, with a titanic clash looming next week against fellow top ten team Washington, and you could even make an argument it's a letdown spot as well, with Stanford making quick work of USC last week, with the Trojans having been more competitive recently with Stanford than UCLA has been.
So, that all has to play into this -- while we don't love the match ups for UCLA, there are enough soft factors surrounding the game that there's reason to think the Bruins could have more than a puncher's chance.
But we don't love the match ups, and that's the most significant thing. If UCLA had a strong interior rushing attack, we'd feel better about the offense's ability to generate yards and points against the Stanford defense. On the other side, if we knew McKinley would be fully ready to go, we'd feel much better about UCLA's chances of limiting Stanford's offensive attack.
As it stands, from our perspective, this game will largely hinge on Josh Rosen. If he is able to put together his first truly great game of the 2016 season on Saturday, that could be enough to tip this in favor of UCLA. Stanford isn't yet humming along the way it always does toward the end of a season -- they're still ironing things out offensively, and the defense is probably not yet as good as it will be at the end of the year. If Rosen can put it all together in this game, he could jumpstart UCLA's season with a huge win, and leave the Bruins poised for an excellent conference season that, given the relative ease of the remaining conference schedule, could end with a rematch against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game.
The stage is set, Josh.