-- UCLA (6-2, 4-0) travels to Stanford (2-4, 0-4) Saturday.
-- UCLA leads the series overall, 40-30-3, dating back to 1925. The two schools have played each other every year since, except in 1943 through 1945 because of World War II. The game Saturday will be the 74th in the series.
-- The last time UCLA faced Stanford in Palo Alto was 2001, when the Bruins were ranked fourth in the country and 6-0 when they lost 38-28. UCLA finished that season 7-4, losing the next three games.
-- UCLA won last year's game at the Rose Bowl, 28-18. -- Stanford is coached by Buddy Teevens, who's in his second year after taking over for the departed Tyrone Willingham, who went to Notre Dame. Teevens came to Stanford after being the offensive coordinator for Florida for three years. Teevens is 4-13 at Stanford.
-- There are coaches in both programs who have spent time at the opposing program. Both Stanford co-defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff and running backs coach Wayne Moses coached at UCLA, while UCLA assistants Steve Axman and Larry Kerr have spent time at Stanford.
-- Stanford's offense is the only one in the Pac-10 that ranks worse than UCLA's so far this season. UCLA has gained an average of 299.6 yards a game, while Stanford's is averging 295.3.
-- Stanford's rush defense has recorded two of the top eight marks in school history for fewest rushing ayrds allowed in a single game. The Cardinal allowed just nine yards on the ground against San Jose State, then held BYU to -5 yards. Stanford is giving up 108.7 yards a game, fifth in the conference, just ahead of UCLA's 116.9 yards a game.
-- This week's game at Stanford (12:30 p.m. PST) will be televised live by Fox Sports Net.
PREVIEW AND GAME EXPECTATIONS
Trick or treat?
Everything about this game suggests a treat for UCLA.
Bad Stanford offensive line? Many sacks by the "Baby Bulls," regardless of whether Rod Leisle plays or not. Time for Dave Ball (Goof) and Mat Ball (Odd) to pad their sack stats and guys like Ryan Boschetti, Asi Faoa, C.J. Niusulu et al. to get some serious stats, PT and love from the Bruin faithful. Time for the Three-Headed Monster of Brandon Chillar, Justin London and Spencer Havner to outperform Cerberus when defending the end zone (or the exit from Hades, as the case may be). Time for the Bruin D to wreak havoc on the Cardinal and avenge the bitter 2001 loss on The Farm.
|Dave Ball (AP).|
The "Great Pumpkin" red zone Stanford offense? (Cardinal faithful believe it exists, they badly want others to believe it exists, they wait all year for it to appear, even for just one stinking day, and then when they get a tantalizing glimpse of it, it turns out to be an ephemeral mirage, no more substantive than dotbomb stock options.) Don't believe me? Stranded was inside Oregon's 25 three times last week and came away with nada. The School That Stole Harvard's Idea For Naming Itself After a Color had one particularly humiliating stretch where it had seven cracks at the goal line from the one-yard line…and failed to score. When will the upstarts ever learn? Not this week, when the Bruin D drops their self-esteem so low even close proximity to the hash dens of Berkeley and the Esalen Institute won't help them.
Cornerbacks who refuse to turn and look for the ball? Go up top big-time. Okay, props to you, Coach A.J. Christoff. You certainly get the award for the most creative rationalization of your charges' inability to make a play on the ball. It's so good, here it is in whole:
But why don't Stanford's defensive backs turn at that last second [shades of Chris Roberts!]to try and make a play on those high, deep balls?
"If you turn your body to look at the ball, the receiver is going to make you pay for it," Christoff explains. "The fade pass has changed a lot in the last four to five years. It used to be a low-percentage play because it was mostly a one-on-one battle to jump for the ball. But now receivers have been taught to use their hands when you turn and show them your back [to push the CB in the back and create separation space]."
The ol' "I'm afraid of them getting pushed in the back when they turn, so I won't have them look back for the ball" ploy is a new one to most of us. Maybe those guys at UW and USC are clever enough to teach that stuff, but I doubt that UCLA is there yet. If the Cardinal Crazies are buying it after getting lit up for completed bombs of 51, 34, 36 and 31 yards against Wazzou, then Coach Christoff's ability to spin like a mother is probably being wasted coaching football.
Anyway, Craig Bragg and Junior Taylor will most likely be the first Bruins to thank Mr. Christoff at game's end if Matt Moore doesn't beat them to the Cardinal sideline first. Saturday's post-Halloween game could be the equivalent of the Giant Size Snickers bar for the Bruin passing attack stats-wise after Kellen Clemens and Barney Fife went 23 for 27 against them last week. The thing everybody in Eugene wanted to know was…what happened those other four times? Those guys were wide open.
The least athletic team overall in the Pac-10 playing in front of a silent but miniscule home crowd located leagues from the playing field? In space, no one can hear you scream. But that doesn't mean the Cardinal won't test the theory when Doc Kreis' special forces plow The Farm hands under.
Bruin fans, being the hard-to-please football cognoscenti immortalized in hard-hitting, incredibly well-sourced articles by such fabulous writers as The Los Angeles Times's Mike DiGiovanna, and always, always looking on the bright side of life, no doubt are scared this Halloween worrying about the parallels between the 2003 and the 2001 match-up.
Those Bruins were unbeaten and ranked 4th in the nation. These Bruins are twice-punked and unranked. Those Cardinal were 4-1 and ranked 20th, having beaten Joey Harrington and Oregon, as well as Carson Palmer and USC, and averaging over 39 ppg. These Cardinal are rank, as in, "My ass be stankin'! Who took the TP?"
As you can see, the similarities are unmistakable.
So the Bruins certainly could get tricked this Halloween by Stranded, just not like Winston Justice was.
Super frosh Mark Bradford from Fremont HS (teammate of Bruin FR CB Mil'von James), after a 7-catch, 153-yard performance against the stellar pass defense of Oregon and Nick Aliotti (ahem), could continue his roll and consistently finds ways to slash through, Jason-like, the implicit under/over, inside/outside double-team the Bruins' corners and safeties put on the outside receivers. Then again, maybe not.
|Maurice Drew (Getty Images)|
Probably their best bet to trick UCLA is to just blitz like "Night of the Living Dead." If you've seen one wave of flesh-eating, unstoppable zombies, you've seen all Cardinal ballers. The Bruins of 2003 are just as susceptible to pass rush pressure as any of Bob Toledo's recent teams, and until UCLA finds a way to consistently blunt the rush and keep Matt Moore from taking a hit, they won't be able to focus on passing the rock. Tune in around 4:20 on Saturday to see if the Bruins are flying high or if they're burnt.
I expect this be the week the UCLA O blossoms. Remember, a team generally improves the most between games 1 and 2, although very few would argue that the Illinois game was an improvement offensively over the Colorado game. We know Dan Fouts wouldn't. But the Stanford game is essentially Matt Moore's second game this season.
After starting strongly against A-State, the game caught up a little with Moore from the second quarter on.
This week, the game should be slower for Moore, he should be more relaxed and comfortable, and so I expect to see an increased awareness of ball security. No more playing "Three Flies Up" with the guys in the ugly unis.
And I also expect to see better technique. When a QB throws the ball high, it's because he's taking too long a stride with his front foot, usually in an attempt to get a little extra on it or because he's amped up. When the ball flutters coming out of his hand, it's because he's dropping down to ¾ arm instead of coming over the top.
Those things should disappear this week. Moore isn't nearly as technically tight as, say, Aaron Rodgers, but he's been well-taught in HS, and his technique is generally pretty good; without good, reliable technique, forget hitting 5 or 6 passes in a row.
With the gambling D Stanford is expected to bring on Saturday, I expect to see UCLA find a way to buy Moore enough time to stay erect, and enough time for Bragg or Taylor to run away from coverage, so that UCLA can connect on 3 or 4 long touchdown bombs.
When the bomb isn't available, or when it just isn't the smartest play, I expect to see Moore improvise in the face of pressure and find a safety valve receiver who is in a position to ramble, much like he did against ASU when he dropped the ball off to Manuel White, who then rumbled for 26 yards. Or swing the ball wide, anything to diffuse the energy Stanford will bring on the blitz.
I expect to see UCLA continue to use motion away from and formations to the short side of the field to get the defense in a position where runs to the short side leave running backs Maurice Drew, Tyler Ebell or Akil Harris unaccounted for.
Last week's formula of passing game execution in 1st half, followed by running game execution in 2nd half is great from a fan's perspective, and I'm hoping to see it played out again this week. Hopefully, UCLA will have 60%+ of its plays be of the ‘positive' variety (3+ yards per play, or acquisition of a 1st down/TD).
Other wishes include:
- Pass-to-run ratio of 55:45
- 75+ plays
- 5+ minute edge in TOP
- Gross rushing totals before sacks of 200+ yards
- Passing yardage of 300+ yards, with 2 or less INTs/fumbles
- 40+ points
While the Bruins might not need him this week, I'd love to see J.D. Groves get some carries as the featured back. For those who recall the fall camp, Groves got a chance to tote the pig when the Bruins were running low on RBs, and JD did extremely well. He looked very comfortable and extremely effective blasting the ball Alstott-style off-tackle. A power-running game requires a power back. UCLA isn't going to bludgeon many teams into submission with 180 lb. tailbacks.
If the Bruins need a short-yardage back, who's the guy? Akil will probably get first crack, but at 233 lbs., Groves might be the answer.
Of course, if the Bruins get inspired play-calling, there may not be a need to worry about short-yardage success after ripping off play after play of 10+ yardage.
The key to beating a D is making them change direction. A D that can flow to the ball is a happy, probably very successful D. So far, UCLA hasn't had many plays where, by design, it has forced the D, or even a single defender, to first start one way, stop, and then head back the other. When it does, the UCLA O will really start to click.
|Oshiomogho Atogwe (Getty Images)|
Call me a kill-joy, but watching the O celebrate on the sideline the first TD of the game against ASU gave me the queasy feeling that the O was well on its way to being self-satisfied. I fear that the leaders on O don't have that methodical greediness/ruthlessness that the great teams have.
And if Stanford has 4+ sacks, then Erica Jong should write a new book, "Fear of Passing." Keep an eye on junior FS Oshiomogho Atogwe. Omigosh, as his friends call him, will be expected to make plays for the Cardinal all over.
I expect Matt Moore to smoke this game. There are four games left, a mini-season that can go a long way to heal the angst of a disconcerting-in-some-ways season. Hopefully, the Bruins will not only try to maximize the experience of each game, but also succeed, starting with Stanford.
I expect UCLA to collapse the pocket against Stanford. However, QB Chris Lewis is the wild card. He's big, strong and even fast enough to hurt the Bruins with his feet, the way Rodgers did.
But the three-headed monster of Chillar, London and Havner will make him pay if he does. By the time the 2nd half rolls around, the D will have Lewis trained.
The CBs will continue to play well. Keith Short is the right guy to replace Matt Ware because he tackles well, he plays the slant and post routes very well, and he's got the maturity to forget the last play and concentrate on making the next.
Bottom line, the UCLA D should have a great game. The Cardinal doesn't have the weapons or the scheme to threaten the Bruins in a serious way.
|Stanford OT Kirk Chambers (Getty Images)|
So maybe coming out flat is an over-inflated fear. The next bogey man would be that, like Arizona, Stanford comes out with different looks that UCLA hasn't seen before.
All things considered, Stanford is a team whose talent and style might challenge UCLA: The Cardinal has a QB that has been successful against UCLA in the past. Most of their running plays are from a shotgun set, so the D has to look up to see where to go. RB JR Lemon is a big, strong guy, in the mold of Clarence Farmer and Mike Bell.
Special Teams: Once again, I expect solid performance from the UCLA special teams. PK Justin Medlock and P Chris Kluwe are contributing more and more each week.
Kluwe just needs to avoid pulling a Lucy to Medlock's Charlie Brown on PATs where the snap isn't handled cleanly.
And UCLA needs to win the "gunner battle." Last week, UCLA couldn't keep the ASU gunners away from PR Craig Bragg. And UCLA's gunners never seemed to make a play down field.
My fear is that UCLA will play down to the level of the competition in an effort to save itself for later games in November.
I'd love to see UCLA show the ‘Eye of the Tiger' and play with passion and desire.
All things considered, I expect the Bruins to win comfortably, 45-21.