Preview of Stanford Game

UCLA could really use a blow-out, and coming to the Rose Bowl this Saturday is perhaps the most blow-out-able team in the nation in Stanford. The Cardinal are pretty bad -- and they're also beset by injuries -- so it provides UCLA its chance...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- The Stanford Cardinal comes to the Rose Bowl Saturday to face the Bruins. Kick-off is 7:15 p.m., with the game being televised nationally on FSN and Barry Tompkins and Petros Papadakis in the announcer's booth.

-- UCLA is 2-1 overall and 0-1 in the Pac-10 after losing to Washington last week, 29-19.

-- Stanford is 0-4 and 0-2. The Cardinal have lost to Oregon, San Jose State, Navy and last week to Washington State.

-- UCLA leads the overall series, 42-31-3, but UCLA is just 4-3 versus the Cardinal in the last seven meetings.

-- UCLA has won the last eight games played between the two teams in the Rose Bowl. However, in the last 12 games played at the Rose Bowl, eight of those games have been decided by five points or less, including six that were decided by a field goal or less.  Stanford's last win against UCLA in the Rose Bowl was in 1996, 21-20.

-- Last year, UCLA came back from a 24-3 fourth-quarter deficit, tied the score with 46 seconds left and won the game in overtime, 30-27.  UCLA won the game on a 23-yard touchdown pass in overtime from Drew Olson to Brandon Breazell.

-- Stanford is coached by Walt Harris, who is in his second year on The Farm.  Last season he went 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the Pac-10. Prior to coming to Stanford he spent eight seasons as Pittsburgh's head coach, and led Pitt to six bowl games, including a BCS bowl (Fiesta, following 2004 season).  Harris, a Bay Area native, also was head coach at Pacific.  Harris has experienced a lot of adversity in terms of injuries this season, but his job security is still thought to be a tenuous one, especially with his 0-4 start and getting beaten by the likes of San Jose State and Navy.   Stanford also lost to 1-AA UC Davis last season.

-- Stanford's season, so far, has been an embarrassing one, unveiling a new stadium to two straight home losses.

-- It's the worst start for the Cardinal since 1987, under Jack Elway, when they started 0-4 (the fourth loss of the season was to UCLA, 49-0).  They finished the season 5-6, however.

The worst record in the modern era for Stanford football is the 1-10 season in 1983. That season they started off 0-6 and only beat Arizona.

-- To make matters worse, the Cardinal is ranked as having the 10th toughest schedule in the nation, and the toughest in the Pac-10.  After facing UCLA on the road this weekend, Stanford still has road games against Notre Dame, ASU, Cal and Washington.

-- Stanford is the least penalized team in the Pac-10, with the fewest penalties (13), fewest penalty yards (89) and fewest penalty yards per game (22.2).

STANFORD'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

You have to feel a bit sorry for Stanford this season. Not only are they not very good and not very talented, but a couple of their best players are out with injuries.

First let's get some stats out of the way.

-- Stanford is 100th in the nation in scoring offense and 9th in the Pac-10, averaging 15.8 points per game.

-- They are 75th in the nation and 9th in the Pac-10 in total offense, averaging 320 yards per game.

-- Their rushing offense is 97th in the country, and ninth in the Pac-10, averaging 96.8 points per game (if this leads you to wonder who is 10th in the Pac-10 in all of those categories, it's Arizona).

-- Stanford fares a little bit better through the air, its passing offense being 41st in the country and 7th in the Pac-10, averaging 223 yards per game.

All in all, though, it's a bleak offensive picture for the Cardinal.

Not very good to begin with, here are some of the bad breaks the Cardinal has been coping with:

Remember running back Nick Frank? The guy who exploited UCLA's rush defense a year ago? He announced his retirement from football two weeks ago because of a cervical spine condition.

Their star receiver, Mark Bradford, tore knee ligaments in the second game this season and is out, possibly for the rest of the season. In the opener against Oregon, Bradford had 9 catches for 108 yards.

Their other star receiver, junior Evan Moore, has a stress fracture in his foot that has him out indefinitely.  Moore was injured toward the end of his freshman season, and then injured again a year later, which made him miss his entire sophomore season.

Stanford's third best receiver, senior Marcus McCutcheon, has been out since injuring his knee in the season opener.

Stanford's starting center, Tim Mattran, went down before the season with a leg injury. 

Geez.  It's about as bad as UCLA's basketball team last December.  But the difference is, UCLA's basketball team had a great deal of talent around it when many guys went down. This Stanford team simply doesn't.

Senior quarterback Trent Edwards (6-4, 220) has been trying to make up for it all himself, and it hasn't been working. For one, it's difficult to complete a pass when there are consistently no receivers open. Despite all of the setbacks, though, Edwards has managed to eke out a passing game.  He's been pretty accurate in his throws, it's just difficult when you have no targets.  He's actually done a pretty good job with how little he has to work with.

And there is very little.

Stanford has been utilizing two true freshmen and two walk-ons at wide receiver. They've even gone to using a redshirt freshman quarterback, who is the #3 guy in the quarterback depth chart, Tavita Pritchard (6-4, 195), as a receiver. Junior Kelton Lynn (6-1, 190) and senior Michael Miller (6-1, 195) are the walk-ons, and Austin Yancy (6-0, 170) and Richard Sherman (6-3, 185) are the true freshmen. It would be like UCLA having only, say, Andrew Baumgartner, Bobby Whithorne (who has left the team), Terrence Austin and Dominique Johnson, and then also were using third-string Osaar Rasshan at wide receiver.  Lynn has been the leader, with five catches and a touchdown against WSU last week.

Sophomore tight end Jim Dray (6-5, 240) has emerged as a threat, having caught ten passes for 85 yards this season. 

Stanford's running game has been very unproductive, and it hasn't necessarily been because it's that bad. It's not good, but it's still not as bad as it might seem. Stanford hasn't gained much yardage on the ground mostly because its defense is so bad the offense has found itself behind quickly and has had to go to the pass to play catch-up. 

Cardinal freshman RB Toby Gerhart.

Perhaps the most promising offensive player on the squad is freshman running back Toby Gerhart (6-1, 229). While he hasn't had a break-out game yet, he leads the team in rushing with 216 yards, averaging 50 yards per game and 4.6 per carry, which is very good on a team averaging just 2.9 per carry.  UCLA recruited Gerhart hard, and it was justified; Gerhart is a big, strong and smart runner who doesn't go down easily.  Stanford starts junior Anthony Kimble (6-1, 195) who is a big, strong guy himself.  Kimble is a bit faster than Gerhart, but not by much, and speed is definitely the aspect lacking in Stanford's backfield.

The offensive line isn't a bad one, but isn't a great one. Junior Alex Fletcher (6-3, 300) is the leader now at center. Senior John Cochran (6-6, 315) is a veteran, getting most of his playing time at tackle over the years while having to make the move inside this season. He does present a big, immovable object for UCLA's smaller defensive tackles.

Stanford's offense has been beset by turnovers, mostly fumbles, which has really cost them dearly. They've lost six fumbles in just four games, at some very inopportune moments.

They've also allowed opposing defenses to pressure Edwards pretty easily. It's probably mostly due to Stanford being in throwing situations most of the time, but Stanford has given up 14 sacks, and Edwards does seem to have very little time to throw and is constantly in avoidance mode.

UCLA's defense comes into the game almost the flip side of Stanford's offense statistically, 16th in the nation in total defense and 14th in rushing defense.

It's still strange to fathom that UCLA's rushing defense has been so effective, but there you have it.

And it certainly isn't going to face anything this Saturday that will put that rushing defense stat into peril.  Last week against WSU, Stanford gained 28 yards on the ground.

UCLA, except for a few lapses, has drastically improved its technique and tackling, and has become a quick, swarming defense under new coordinator DeWayne Walker. UCLA's defensive drills in practice are extremely boring, repeating over and over the emphasis on technique and swarming to the ball, but it has proven to be very effective in the games.

UCLA's defensive line should be looking forward to Saturday. With Stanford's offense struggling to run the ball, putting itself in obvious passing situations, UCLA's quick defensive ends, Justin Hickman and Bruce Davis, should have an easy advantage over Stanford's big, slower offensive tackles.   Stanford does have an advantage in size if it chooses to run through its interior line, but UCLA's defense has been good as a unit in filling holes.  Safeties Chris Horton and Dennis Keyes have been exceptional against the run so far this season.

Chris Horton removing an opponent's helmet.

UCLA's secondary, surprisingly, has been the one part of the defense that has presented some questions so far this season. Cornerback Rodney Van has had some lapses, both in coverage and in tackling, and Walker gave true freshman Alterraun Verner more reps this week to foster some competition at the position.

Advantage:  UCLA.  Even though UCLA has had a few breakdowns in its secondary this season, Stanford just doesn't have the weapons to consistently exploit any weakness UCLA might have.  The Cardinal will try to go at Verner whenever he's in the game, but so far this season's he's held up well, and will probably fare better going against Stanford's walk-on and freshman WRs.   Expect the Bruins to be sending pressure quite a bit, against the run and against the pass, to plug running holes and harrass Edwards, since the quarterback just doesn't have a great deal of down-the-field options in the receivers he has.  Expect UCLA's pass rushers to have big days, with Hickman and Davis coming off an edge and finding Edwards a lot less elusive than Washington's Isaiah Stanback.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. STANFORD'S DEFENSE

Stanford's defense is the perfect panacea for UCLA's struggling offense (at least for a week).

Not only is Stanford's defense pretty bad, it's bad in a way that plays into UCLA's current offensive strengths.

You thought UCLA's rushing defense from a year ago was bad, Stanford has taken it to new heights - or new lows.  UCLA allowed 232 yards on the ground per game last year, while Stanford is allowing a whopping 312 per game so far this season, which is dead last in the country among Division 1-A teams.  Opponents are averaging 6 yards per carry against the Cardinal.  San Jose State ran for 342 yards against them.

Stanford's 3-4 defense has really hurt them against the run, but it also doesn't help that the Cardinal just doesn't have much talent in its front seven.  Stanford's defense last year was atrocious (104th overall in the country), and then it lost three of its best starters in its front seven.

Sophomore nose tackle Ekom Udofia (6-2, 310) is trying to step in, but he's been struggling. The defensive ends, senior Chris Horn (6-5, 270) and junior Pannel Egboh (6-6, 280), are big and not particularly quick.

Stanford LB Michael Okwo.

At linebacker last season was probably Stanford's best player from a year ago, John Alston.  Senior Michael Okwo (6-0, 225) has stepped in and been an occasional bright spot, but the linebackers were thought to be the strength of the defense (and the reason why the coaches stayed with the 3-4), but so far this year they've been getting run over.  Senior Udeme Udofia (6-4, 240) is the guy who puts his hand down sometimes.

In the secondary, Stanford has a veteran group - a typical Stanford type of group:  solid, 5-year guys.  Safety Trevor Hooper (6-1, 205) is probably the biggest playmaker, and the other safety, David Lofton (6-4, 220) is a linebacker playing safety.  The Cardinal had a hard time finding someone for an open cornerback spot, so they moved safety Brandon Harrison (6-2, 215) there, who is big and someone that quicker receivers can exploit.

The strength of UCLA's offense right is its running game, with running back Chris Markey 8th in the nation in rushing and first in the Pac-10, averaging 121 yards per game.  Markey has been good in the last couple games and, even though he hasn't hit one out of the park, he's shown good vision, decision-making and a quickness to the hole.

A worry, though, has been his back-up, Kahlil Bell, who has really struggled recently.  Derrick Williams hasn't gotten a sniff at playing time, seemingly in the UCLA coaches' doghouse.  If Bell sputters again, expect the Bruins to go to true freshman Chane Moline, who has the ability to give them the inside-the-tackle runner the Bruins need.

Also look for fullback Michael Pitre to get more than his usual touches on the ball in this game, with the UCLA coaches giving him runs from scrimmage as well as quick passes in the flat.

UCLA's passing game has been a mess the last two games. The coaches have made bad play calls and the players haven't executed the plays called very well.  Luckily for UCLA the pass won't have to be completely relied upon for the offense to move the ball, so look for the coaches to give quarterback Ben Olson some easy throws to get him in rhythm.  You'd have to think, too, that UCLA is eager to show it can throw the ball down the field after a shockingly limited pass package against Washington.

UCLA receiver Marcus Everett.

The forgotten players in UCLA's offense have definitely been its wide receivers.  The old stalwarts, Junior Taylor, Brandon Breazell and Marcus Everett, have only 19 catches between the three of them in three games.  Chris Markey has more catches than Everett (Markey has six and Everett five). Leading the team in catches, surprisingly, is walk-on Matt Willis

Tight end Logan Paulsen also has more catches than Everett, with six himself.  The better receiving tight end, Ryan Moya, however, also hasn't been involved very much in the offense so far this season.

Advantage: UCLA.  It really is what the doctored order for a sputtering UCLA offense: a defense that is horrendous against the run.  UCLA's offense, at this point, needs to get some safe yards and it's been running the ball well, so going up against Stanford's sieve for a rushing defense is perfect.   UCLA should make sure it can move down the field emphasizing the run, which will then give it the luxury to get its passing game working again.   Stanford, on the other hand, will do everything it can to stop UCLA's running game, and expect to see many bodies in the box in an effort to do that.

It will be very interesting to watch the play-calling in this game, particularly in the redzone.  But, given how badly Stanford is against the run, don't expect UCLA to neglect its running game, even within 20 yards of the goal line.  If UCLA is opening up the huge running holes that Stanford's defense has allowed so far this season, the Bruins are going to do what they think they need to do to end the Red Zone Touchdown Drought.

Special teams look to play a big part in this game. Stanford's special teams have been woeful and a big reason why Stanford has been playing from-behind for most of the season so far.  Punt and kick-off returns have been particularly bad, commonly making Stanford's offense start with very bad field position.  UCLA's special teams will look to build on a better performance against Washington, even though Bruin punter Aaron Perez had a relapse to his old ways of predominantly 35-yarders against the Huskies.

Prediction:  The only reason why UCLA wouldn't blow out the Cardinal is if they come out flat.  And it's a possibility. Psychologically, coming off a very deflating loss against a Washington team they know they should have beaten, to now face a bad 0-4 Stanford team, it's not exactly inspiring. How much energy and focus UCLA brings to the Rose Bowl field Saturday will say a great deal about this year's team and the coaching staff's ability to lead it.

It's this simple: If UCLA doesn't blow out this pitiful Stanford team by more than three touchdowns it will be a disappointing effort.

UCLA 34
Stanford 13


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