Stanford Preview

The UCLA-Stanford match-up will prove to be quite a bit more competitive than their two most recent games in the Rose Bowl (Stanford didn't score in either of them). While Stanford will probably own the line of scrimmage, the Cardinal is, more or less, Oregon Lite...

NOTEWORTHY FACTORS

-- The Stanford Cardinal come to the Rose Bowl Saturday for a kick-off at 1:00. The game will be televised locally by FSN West, with Bill Macdonald and James Washington in the booth.

-- You could make a case that Stanford is the surprise of the Pac-10, currently at 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the conference. They've beaten Oregon State (36-28), San Jose State (23-10), Washington in Seattle (35-28) and Arizona (24-23). They've lost at Arizona State (41-17), at TCU (31-14) and at Notre Dame (28-21).

-- Last week, the Cardinal had a big win over Arizona, overtaking the Wildcats on a touchdown with 25 seconds left, capping an 11-play, 60-yard game-winning drive led by back-up quarterback Alex Loukas, who replaced Tavita Pritchard, sidelined with a mild concussion.

-- The Bruins and Cardinal meet for the 79th time in the series which dates back to 1925, with the two teams having met every year consecutively since 1946. UCLA leads the series, 44-31-3, with UCLA having victories in four of the last five meetings. UCLA also has won the last five straight match-ups in the Rose Bowl.

-- In fact, the last time Stanford beat UCLA in the Rose Bowl was in 1996, 21-20.

-- Last season, UCLA opened the season at Stanford, to break in the Jim Harbaugh era at Stanford, with UCLA coming away with a 45-17 win.

-- UCLA has shut out Stanford in its last two meetings at the Rose Bowl, in 2006 (31-0) and in 2004 (21-0). -- Stanford hasn't scored a point in the Rose Bowl since the second quarter of the game in 2002 (which UCLA won 28-18). So, the Cardinal hasn't scored in the last 10 quarters its played at the Rose Bowl.

-- Stanford started out the 2005 season 4-3, and then finished 5-6.

-- A win Saturday would give the Cardinal its best eight-game start since the 2001 season, when it finished 9-3. A win would also give Stanford its first 4-1 start in the conference since 2001.

-- Stanford is coached by Jim Harbaugh, in his second season on The Farm. Last season he went 4-8 and 3-6, and included among those wins was perhaps the biggest upset in the history of college football when the Cardinal beat #1-ranked USC at the Coliseum. Harbaugh came to Stanford from the University of San Diego and, of course, played quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL predominantly for the Chicago Bears. He has infused the Stanford program with some energy, and is recruiting well, currently ranked #12 nationally in Scout.com's on-going rankings for 2009.

-- UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel owns a 3-0 record against Stanford as a head coach, with each of those three wins coming while he was the head coach at Washington.

-- Stanford is 1-3 on the road this season, with its one win coming against winless Washington.

-- The feeling around The Farm is that the UCLA game is a must-win if the Cardinal hopes to get bowl eligible this season, since it finishes off the season playing Oregon, USC and Cal.

-- Fifteen of UCLA's players have made their first career stars this season. A total of 28 players saw the first action of their career.

-- UCLA has had 11 true freshmen play so far this season, one shy of the school record of 12 that played in the 2004 season (2007-2; 2006-8; 2005-9). UCLA has also played 10 redshirt freshmen this season.

-- The Bruins are 24-2 when they win the turnover battle over the last five-plus seasons. In that same time, it is 13-30 when it loses the turnover battle, including 1-4 so far this season.

-- Last week against Arizona, Stanford back-up quarterback Jason Forcier played for the Cardinal, and UCLA back-up quarterback Chris Forcier played against Oregon. Chris is Jason's younger brother.

-- It's UCLA's Homecoming.

-- UCLA is favored by 2.5.

-- The weather calls for a bit of cooling by Saturday, with a high in Pasadena of 80 degrees for Saturday.

STANFORD'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

The Cardinal offense is one-dimensional, but they do that one dimension pretty well.

UCLA faced a similar offense just last week at Oregon, one that runs the ball extremely well but doesn't pass it very effectively.

Quarterback Tavita Pritchard.
Stanford is averaging 184 yards per game on the ground, second in the Pac-10 to Oregon, but only 149 yards per game through the air, which is last in the conference.

It also uses some spread principles, mostly to spread the field and give their running backs more room to run.

In other words, this is Oregon Lite.

Stanford's starting tailback, Toby Gerhart (JR, 6-1, 232), who averages 91 yards per game (4th in the Pac-10) runs like a fullback and is very good at shedding tackles. If that wasn't enough beef coming at you, Stanford's second-stringer is Anthony Kimble (SR, 6-1, 217), a big back who is averaging 59 yards per game himself. Doing the math, the two of them are providing 150 yards per game from the tailback spot, and last week both ran for over 100 yards against Arizona.

Stanford, in fact, is on a three-game stretch of gaining more than 200 yards on the ground per game.

Again, it's all about the offensive line. The Cardinal have one of the best OLs in the Pac-10, led by potential all-conference center Alex Fletcher (SR, 6-3, 296) and guard Chris Marinelli (JR, 6-7, 297).

Quarterback Tavita Pritchard (JR, 6-4, 205), who will always be remembered as the guy who led Stanford to the big win over USC last season, is having a Kevin-Craft-esque season, experiencing stretches where he's effective but some considerable inconsistency. Pritchard suffered a concussion against Arizona last week in the first half, and sat out the rest of the game, and Alex Loukas (SO, 6-4, 224) and Jason Forcier (JR, 6-2, 207) split time at the position in the second half. On Stanford's winning drive, it was Loukas who completed a key 21-yard throw, his only pass of the night. Loukas also ran for 39 yards, mostly on designed running plays so, again, it sounds like Oregon de ja vu all over again. Forcier, the older brother of UCLA quarterback Chris Forcier, didn't do much, completing 2 of 6 passes for 18 yards and was erratic.

The word out of Palo Alto is that Pritchard will be cleared to play, and that's probably bad news for UCLA since Pritchard is actually a good running quarterback himself, and UCLA showed last week how they can struggle against a good running quarterback.

Part of the reason Stanford is struggling when throwing the ball is the loss of two good receivers from last season – Mark Bradford and Evan Moore – and having to replace them with inexperienced players. Ryan Whalen (SO, 6-2, 205) has come the closest to stepping up, leading the team in receptions with 27. Doug Baldwin (SO, 5-11, 185) has been their money guy, having three touchdown receptions in each of the last three games. A guy to watch is true freshman Chris Owusu (FR, 6-2, 185) who had to sit out the first six games of the season because of injury but, last week in his first action of his career, had three catches. But Stanford's talent at wide receiver has definitely fallen off from last season.

Brigham Harwell and Akeem Ayers.
In a way, probably the best preparation UCLA could have had for Stanford is playing Oregon the week before. UCLA allowed a whopping 323 yards rushing last week, and we've heard that the UCLA defensive coaches have been working extreme overtime to shore up that issue. Whether it's successful or not, that's a question. In practice, UCLA has definitely been playing musical chairs at safety, trying to find a more productive combination, and a possible replacement for Bret Lockett, who was abysmal last week, missing many tackles.

UCLA will be without starting defensive end Tom Blake due to a sports hernia, and filling in for him will be Reginald Stokes and true freshman Datone Jones. Jones will probably make some mistakes but UCLA wants his athleticism on the field. A great battle will be between UCLA's two interior lineman, Brian Price and Brigham Harwell, going up against Fletcher and Marinelli.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Akeem Ayers has continued to get better and be more effective every week. Of course, getting more playing time like has (over John Hale) at stronside linebacker tends to help. Ayers was one of the defensive bright spots last week and he'll be needed to fly around the field and make tackles on the various Cardinal ball-carriers.

Advantage: Stanford. Like we said above, Stanford is Oregon Lite. It runs the ball well, with two good tailbacks and a good running quarterback out of a semi-spread attack. It uses a short passing game to try to set up its running game, but it also likes to try to surprise you and get one of its receivers behind the defense every once in a while.

UCLA did well in stopping Oregon's two tailbacks last week, but couldn't get a handle on its running quarterback. You would think that, given that experience being so fresh on the mind of Defensive Coordinator DeWayne Walker and with Stanford being so similar offensively just a week later, the Bruins will scheme and play better. Expect Stanford to be able to run the ball well, though, but they generally haven't run the ball near as well on the road this season.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. STANFORD'S DEFENSE

The Bruins face another pretty mediocre defense this week, continuing the string of the previous three games.

The Cardinal D is eighth in the Pac-10 in total defense (386 yards per game) and last in passing defense (271 per game).

In other words, again, it's very similar to Oregon – but Oregon Lite.

Linebacker Pat Maynor.
It's also very similar to Oregon in the fact a good rush defense, led by a good front seven. Nose tackle Ekom Udofia (SR, 6-2, 310) has been a mainstay, while defensive end Erik Lorig (JR, 6-4, 270) is having a good year, getting good penetration to make stops in the backfield.

At linebacker, Pat Maynor (SR, 6-2, 225) is having one of the best seasons for a player at his position in the league, with 54 tackles (7th in Pac-10) and 4 sacks (8th). Clinton Snyder (JR, 6-4, 240) is also a playmaker at the strongside position.

Stanford, like Oregon, returned some veterans to its defensive secondary, but the brain trust in Palo Alto is scratching its collective head a bit over why they've been so vulnerable. They've been exceptionally porous on third downs, particularly on third-and-longs. Opponents are completing almost half (16 of 33) of its third-and-longs.

Veteran safety Bo McNally (JR, 6-0, 205) has been trying to keep it together, but veteran corner Wopamo Osaisai (SR, 5-11, 198) has generally been getting burned. In fact, the new starter at corner, Kris Evans (JR, 6-0, 18), has generally fared better, and redshirt freshman at free safety, Sean Wiser (FR, 6-2, 194), has struggled.

UCLA's offense has generally been improving in the last three games. The Bruins, miraculously, gained more yards last week playing against Oregon in Autzen Stadium (351) than they did at home the week before against Washington State (325).

Receiver Taylor Embree.
The increased productivity is almost entirely due to a steadily improving passing game, with Kevin Craft steadily improving his consistency. UCLA's young receivers are clearly starting to feel more comfortable. It's a bit fortuitous that, in the week that UCLA could generally be without Terrence Austin, it's leading receiver so far this season, because of a concussion, it gets back veteran Marcus Everett. Tight end Ryan Moya is responsible for three of UCLA's 5 passing touchdowns, and Freshman Taylor Embree has also been a reliable target, especially on third down.

Craft needs to take his development, however, to the next step, and that involves being able to go through his reads and find a secondary receiver, and look downfield.

The one thing that Stanford has done well in terms of the passing game is put pressure on the quarterback. They, though, have also been susceptible to a scramling QB, and Craft has good enough mobility to pick up critical yards with his feet.

What really kept UCLA from winning last week against Oregon (well, among a few thing) was the lack of a running game. Defenses are dedicating an extra man to the box and challenging Craft to beat them but, still, UCLA needs to be more effective on the ground. Kahlil Bell was running pretty effortlessly this week in practice, which is key since even a less than 100% healthy Bell gives UCLA more capability of gaining yards after contact, which is definitely what UCLA needs from its tailback position.

It will be interesting to see how the shake-up at offensive line this week (Micah Kia moving to starting right tackle, Nick Ekbatani to right guard, and Micah Reed, returning from his injury, playing some at left guard), will bolster UCLA's running game. UCLA offensive line coach Bob Palcic is trying to get some guys on the line who can move.

Advantage: UCLA. Yep. With its improvement over the last few weeks, the Bruins' offense gets the nod. Stanford's passing defense had a good outing against Arizona last week but it looks more like an aberration compared to the rest of the season. And UCLA's passing game is continuing to improve. Stanford is good against the run, but UCLA has been gaining yards and putting up respectable points in the last couple of weeks without a running game.

Stanford's Special Teams aren't particularly special. They are netting the most punting yards in the conference, and its freshman punter, David Green (Fr, 6-1, 200) has proven to be solid. Field goal kicker Aaron Zagory (SR, 6-0, 176) has range out to about 55 yards.

Prediction:

It's a pretty close call, with the two teams being pretty evenly matched. Where Stanford is strong, UCLA is on the weaker side, and where UCLA is strong, or stronger, Stanford is fairly weak.

The aspect that the Cardinal definitely has going for it – that is responsible for its 4-2 record so far – is its two good lines. Stanford's offensive line is better than UCLA's defensive line, and Stanford's defensive line is better than UCLA's offensive line.

But the Stanford defense has shown far too much vulnerability, especially on the road. And it's offense, while it's completely ground-dominated, has a very short average time of possesion. UCLA, which has passed the ball more than its run in recent weeks, has possesed the ball far longer than Stanford. As long as UCLA can hold onto the ball longer, if it can limit its turnovers, it wins.

For both of these teams this season, the wins and losses have been almost entirely decided by turnovers. Both have poor turnover margins. It's boring to make the assertion, but whoever wins the turnover battle in this one will win the game.

Other than turnovers, we'll have to go with the most decisive (and another pedestrian) determining factor: home-field advantage. Stanford has played considerably worse on the road this season, going 1-3 on the road, with its one win against lowly Washington. UCLA is 2-2 at home, and is coming off a pretty decent showing on the road playing in one of the toughest places to play in the country.

UCLA almost beat Oregon last week on the road. This week, they're playing Oregon Lite, at home.

Stanford is averaging 28 points per game at home and 17.5 points on the road.

The Cardinal is giving up 29 points per game on the road.

UCLA is averaging 28 points per game at home.

UCLA 28
Stanford 20


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