Key Matchups in Upcoming UCLA vs. Stanford Battle

Peter KentContributor IIINovember 22, 2012

Key Matchups in Upcoming UCLA vs. Stanford Battle

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    Two very good teams will take the field at the Rose Bowl this weekend for the final regular season game for No. 17 UCLA and No. 8 Stanford.  Some may be surprised at just how good they are.  This will be a good game.

    The teams are strikingly similar in many ways.  It is no mistake that they are both vying for the Pac-12 championship and a possible berth in the Rose Bowl.  With the stakes so high, who has the upper hand

    You’ll be surprised to see just how much these teams have in common.

Overall Season Momentum

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    UCLA and Stanford bring 9-2 records into this week’s contest.  There had been uncertainty at the beginning of the season about both teams.  Stanford lost its star quarterback, while UCLA had a new coach.  Yet both teams have done very well.

    Stanford came off a very good season with a record of 11-2 in 2011.  Their only blemishes last year were a late-season loss to Oregon and a Fiesta Bowl OT loss to Oklahoma State.  However, All-American quarterback Andrew Luck is playing on Sundays this year, and it wasn't clear how the team would do without him.

    UCLA was coming off a 6-8 season in 2011.  That included season-ending losses to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game and Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

    This year Stanford’s two losses were to Washington (by four points) and to No. 1 Notre Dame in a controversial OT game.  They have now rolled off five consecutive victories, with the last two against then No. 11 Oregon State and then No. 1 Oregon.  Stanford has a lot of momentum right now.

    UCLA is feeling its oats after humbling archrival USC last week.  The Bruins had losses earlier in the season to Oregon State and California, but also bring a five-game winning streak into this week’s game.

    Advantage: Stanford

Coaching Staff

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    Both coaches are relatively new to their jobs.  For Jim Mora, this is his first year at UCLA.  For David Shaw, it’s his second as the head guy at Stanford.

    Yet both have deep football backgrounds.  Mora is the son of a former NFL head coach (also named Jim Mora), played college ball at Washington and had brief stints in the NFL as a head coach (for the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks). 

    Shaw is the son of a former NFL coach (Willie Shaw), played college ball at Stanford, had brief stints as an assistant coach in the NFL (for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens) and served several years as an assistant coach under Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego and Stanford.

    Shaw is 40, while Mora turned 51 this past Monday.  That gives Mora a slight edge on total experience.  Both are good coaches.

    Advantage: UCLA

Redshirt Freshman QB

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    Both teams will be fielding excellent redshirt freshmen quarterbacks.

    For UCLA, it’s Brett Hundley (No. 17).  He’s 6’3” and 223 pounds.  He’s versatile, with an ability to read defenses, scramble and deliver passes all over the field.  He set a freshman record with 25 TD passes, and has also run for eight TDs.

    For Stanford, it’s Kevin Hogan (No. 8).  He’s 6’4” and 224 pounds, giving him a one-inch and one-pound advantage.  The difference is that Hogan has only started two games.  For the prior nine games he was mostly on the bench.  Hogan has made the most of his playing time, including impressive wins over Oregon State and Oregon.  In both games he engineered fourth-quarter comebacks against very good teams.  Like Hundley, he has good mobility, reads the defenses well, has a good arm and can scramble.

    As long as they stay healthy, the two QBs should put on a good show.  Hogan is the newbie, and Hundley the seasoned veteran with a total of 10 games under his belt. 

    Advantage: UCLA

Seriously Good Running Back

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    In college football, it’s impressive to run for 1,000 yards in a season.  It’s even more impressive to run for 4,000 yards for a career.  Not many people do that.

    This game will feature not one running back with 4,000 yards, but two.  Pretty amazing.

    For UCLA, the go-to guy is senior Jonathan Franklin (No. 23).  He’s 5’11” and 195 pounds.  He has fine speed, quickness and explosiveness.  He’s tough to bring down.  For his career, he’s rushed for 4,110 yards.  This year he is averaging 131 yards per game and caught 26 passes on the season. He will be in the Heisman Trophy discussions this year.

    Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor (No. 33) is 5’11” and 215 pounds: same height, 20 pounds heavier.  He is eight rushing yards short of 4,000 for his career and should cross that threshold in the first quarter.  He’s tough to bring down, gives incredible second and third efforts, and has an amazing ability to make something out of nothing.  He averages 111 yards per game and caught 29 passes on the season.  He, too, will be in the Heisman Trophy discussions this year.

    Advantage: Even

Very Big Tight Ends

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    It’s interesting that the primary receiver for both teams is a tight end, not a wide receiver.  In UCLA’s case, it’s Joseph Fauria (No. 8), who is 6’7” and 255 pounds.  He’s big, he’s tough and he can run.  It’s great to have a target like that who usually towers over the defense.  This year Fauria has 35 receptions, including 10 for TDs in 10 games. 

    Stanford, however, does not take a back seat here.  Its primary aerial target is Zach Ertz (No. 86), who is 6’6” and 252 pounds.  Ertz is one of the best tight ends in the country and can do it all.  He has 58 receptions on the year, of which six went for TDs.

    Stanford has another advantage, too.  In addition to Ertz, the Cardinal have two other very tall tight ends.  One is Levine Toilolo (No. 11), who is 6’8” and 265 pounds, and the other is freshman Luke Kaumatule (No. 98) at 6’7” and 253 pounds.  Between those two Toilolo has seen more playing time.  The three tall receivers give Stanford a lot of options. 

    Advantage: Stanford

Offensive Line

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    Good teams have good offensive lines.  They give the QB time to develop a play and open up holes for the running game.  Part of the reason teams have a good running games is because of the offensive lines.

    UCLA has had a stronger rushing game between the two.  Part of that, of course, is due to the running backs.  As a team, it averages 207 yards per game, compared to 169 for Stanford.

    On the passing side, the nod again goes to UCLA.  The Bruins average 281 yards per game compared to 212 for Stanford.

    Another measure of the offensive line is sacks allowed.  Here Stanford has the edge, having given up only 14 sacks for the year compared to 36 given up by UCLA.

    Both teams have good O-lines.

    Advantage: UCLA

Team Defense

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    Many people believe that defenses win games.  That has certainly been Stanford’s formula this year.  Its defensive front seven have been brilliant all year.  The team has led the nation much of the year in rushing defense.  This week they are No. 2, giving up an average of 71 yards per game.  UCLA ranks No. 44, giving up more than twice as many rushing yards per game.

    The secondary is not quite as strong.  Stanford allows an average of 257 passing yards per game.  But UCLA gives up even more, allowing an average of 273 yards per game.

    Stanford also has deceptively quick team speed on defense.  This was never more evident than in the Oregon upset where Stanford’s defensive players were often able to keep pace with Oregon’s lightning-quick offensive stars.

    The most important defensive stat, however, is points allowed.  That tells the tale.  In this case, Stanford has a big advantage.  The Cardinal rank 10th in the country, giving up an average of 17 points per game.  The Bruins rank 50th and yield an average of 25 points per game.

    Advantage: Stanford

Special Teams

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    In tight games, field position can make a huge difference.  Special teams play a big part in that, particularly in the kicking game.

    UCLA’s placekicker Jeff Locke (No. 18) has a huge leg.  Almost 80 percent of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.  That’s a big weapon.  Stanford’s Jordan Williamson (No. 19) also has a big leg and does almost as well.

    Both teams also do well with the punting game.  Stanford’s Daniel Zychlinski (No. 36) averages 43 yards per punt and has had 17 punts over 50 yards.  Locke also does the punting for UCLA.  He averages 43 yards per punt and has had 16 over 50 yards.

    Field-goal kicking is not quite a even between the two teams.  Here Stanford has an advantage.  Williamson kicks for Stanford.  He is only 13-of-22 on the year, but has a long of 48 yards.  For UCLA, Ka'imi Fairbairn is 12-of-17, but has a long of only 36 yards.

    Advantage: Stanford

The X-Factor

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    Who wants it more?  This one is up for debate, and an argument could be made for both teams. 

    Stanford’s schedule has been building to a crescendo in the last three games against Oregon State, Oregon and now UCLA.  The team has a lot to prove and has consistently been overcoming obstacles.  With a new quarterback giving the offense a jolt, together with a consistently excellent defense, the team is in a good position for a win.

    UCLA is coming off four relatively easy victories before the emotional win against USC.  The Bruins, too, have something to prove.  They rose to the occasion for their rivalry game against the Trojans.  The question is whether they can do it again against the Cardinal.

    No matter what, this game promises to be entertaining for the fans and a fitting end to the Pac-12 season.

    If Stanford does happen to prevail, the teams will have the opportunity to go back to the locker room, call it a day and prep for a rematch six days later in Stanford Stadium.  That would be fun, too.

    Predicted winner: Stanford