Stanford Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. UCLA
In a must-win situation against UCLA, the Stanford football program will look to keep its Rose Bowl dreams alive. With freshman quarterbacks on both teams, the passing game becomes key for the Cardinal.
Stanford rolls into this game on a five-game win streak, which includes victories over Oregon and Oregon State. Tied for first in the Pac-12 North, the Cardinal have to win.
UCLA, on the other hand, has the Pac-12 South won and is in a win-win situation.
So with the pressure on, how do the Cardinal top these Bruins?
Use Kevin Hogan
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Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor is an amazing athlete, and he's key to David Shaw's offense. But Stanford cannot beat UCLA by playing one-dimensional offense.
How do they avoid that? Get Kevin Hogan going.
Since stepping under center for the Cardinal in Week 9, Hogan's done more than prove himself. As a starter, the freshman is completing 74.6 percent of his passes, averaging 216 yards per game with six touchdowns.
It's not amazing production, but it's more than they were getting out of Josh Nunes. And with Hogan's ability to scramble, the Cardinal offense becomes more dynamic.
This UCLA defense cannot be beat purely on the ground or through the air, but hit them with a combined attack and they will stumble.
Contain Jonathan Franklin
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Stanford's done it all season long and it's gotten it this far. Contain the running game and it should be fine.
But can it do that against Jonathan Franklin? UCLA's running back has been one of the best in football this season, rushing for 1,441 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Despite his great season, he has been shut down before; Franklin was held to a mere 45 yards in the Bruins' loss to Oregon State earlier this year.
When Franklin's held under 4.0 yards per carry or not allowed to score, UCLA tends to struggle.
Stanford just needs to stick to its bread and butter. Use that speed on the edges and power up the middle to contain the running game.
If it does that, it should have no problem slowing down that Bruin offense.
Protect the Football
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At plus-six on the season, these two teams are tied for third in the Pac-12 in turnover margin. While UCLA has more turnovers gained than Stanford, the Bruins have also lost the ball more times.
But the Cardinal have not had the best fundamentals lately. Over its last two games, Stanford has seen five fumbles (four lost) while throwing three interceptions.
UCLA can bring just as much pressure as Stanford, and the Bruins are very good at getting the ball back.
Stanford managed to win its last two games, but both were very close. Not to mention, the Cardinal have four turnovers between their two losses this season.
If Stanford wants to avoid the stress of a close game—or a loss—it has to protect the ball better.
Make Brett Hundley Uncomfortable
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While the Stanford defense is a brick wall up front, it's rather soft in the secondary. The Cardinal rank 87th in the FBS, allowing 257.1 passing yards per game.
But just because they give up a lot of yards per game does not mean they're a bad passing defense.
The pass rush is monstrous—ranking second in the Pac-12 with 44 sacks—with Stanford getting its best pressure from a corps of tough linebackers.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley will have a hard time rolling out against the Cardinal run defense, which makes him vulnerable in the pocket.
That's when Stanford's pressure can force him into bad throws.
The inexperienced Hundley has struggled against strong pass rushes this season, and he's yet to face one as devastating as Stanford's.
As long as the Cardinal keep him on his toes, the redshirt freshman will be in for a rough day.
Lean on Zach Ertz
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Stanford's passing attack works best when it's run through tight end Zach Ertz. He leads the team in receiving yards (745) and receptions (58), and he's third in touchdowns (six).
Kevin Hogan is especially fond of his tight end. In Hogan's three starts, Ertz is averaging 8.6 catches and 74 yards per game, with a touchdown in each.
The best tight ends UCLA has faced this season have come from Oregon State, Cal, Utah and USC.
In those four games, opposing tight ends accumulated 253 yards while averaging 13.5 yards per catch.
Not only have the Bruins not faced a lot of tough ends, but the ones they have faced have been able to do a lot of damage. And they've yet to face anyone as dangerous as Ertz.
If the Cardinal lean on their No. 1 receiver, they should have a good day through the air.