Stanford vs. UCLA: 10 Things We Learned from the Cardinal's Win over the Bruins
Many expected that USC-Oregon on Nov. 3 was going to be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Boy were they wrong.
In reality, it was Stanford-UCLA on Nov. 24 that was the true preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game, which the Cardinal won handily in a 35-17 game at the Rose Bowl.
With the win, we learned much about both teams, and the conference as a whole.
This will hopefully let us make the correct prediction for the No. 30th Pac-12 Championship Game in Palo Alto, CA between Stanford and UCLA.
Penalties Can Really Hurt UCLA
Stanford only managed to out gain the Bruins by 47 yards (381 to 334).
Yet, what undid UCLA's chances of winning the game was all of the dirty laundry that they left out on the field.
The Bruins were penalized 12 times for 135 yards, which ruined their field position on almost every drive, while also giving the Cardinal free yards.
Stanford's Defense Is SEC Good
Stanford has allowed over 100-yards rushing only three times this entire season, giving them the No.1 rushing defense in the entire nation.
You can look to South Bend, IN or Tuscaloosa, AL for the nations best defense, but you can't overlook Palo Alto, CA.
The Cardinal are ranked 10th in the nation in points against and have given up a mere 16.9 points to opponents, including only 14 to an Oregon team that averages 51.1 points.
Stepfan Taylor, Kevin Hogan and Zach Ertz can all provide a great offense for David Shaw, but it is Stanford's defense that makes them a truly special team.
Brett Hundley Is Human
There were times on Saturday night when Brett Hundley looked every bit of an elite quarterback.
Unfortunately, there were plenty of examples where Hundley looked exactly what he truly is, a redshirt freshmen.
Hundley had to force a lot of throws against the Cardinal, which ended in 18 incompletions and a loss.
UCLA needed Hundley to be able to win this game through the air, but it was his inability to do so which doomed them.
Stepfan Taylor Is One of the Nations Best Running Backs
Giving Taylor the player of the game award is the easiest thing for me.
Taylor carried the pigskin 20 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns, while also adding 27 yards on three receptions.
The biggest thing for me, though, was his ability to protect his quarterback.
All game long you could see Taylor lay down multiple blocks to set up bootlegs for Kevin Hogan, and to allow his quarterback a few extra seconds in the pocket.
In my honest opinion, there are few running backs nation wide that are better than Taylor. No one can match his blend of strength and speed, as well his ability to break tackles to get into the open space and rip off a huge run, as he did multiple times against UCLA.
If you were paying close enough attention, you could notice that some of Taylor's best runs came when UCLA stuffed the box with nine or 10 bodies. Unfortunately it didn't do much to stop the Cardinal run game.
UCLA's Defense CAN Be Really Good
A hats off to Jim Mora and his defensive coordinator Lou Spanos for improving the Bruin's defense so much that they could find ways to stop Stanford's offensive fire power multiple times.
There were plenty of examples during the game where you could see an elite squad from UCLA easily getting into the backfield and making plays.
Unfortunately, there was an equal amount of plays where they looked down right awful.
Blown coverages in the passing game, the inability to bring down Stepfan Taylor and the allowances for Kevin Hogan to move around after the pocket collapsed and make a long play.
This unit has a lot going for it, but they also have plenty of improvements to make.
David Shaw Is the Coach of the Year
How exactly do you lose your two best linemen, your top receivers and your quarterback, a guy named Andrew Luck, and then go on to win 10 games?
Can we please just give David Shaw the Coach of the Year award?
Stanford has only two losses this season, a trap game against Washington and that goal-line stop at the hands of Notre Dame, which is still hotly contested.
In place of those losses, Shaw has led Stanford to wins over then No. 2 USC, No. 11 Oregon State, No. 2 Oregon, Arizona, who had been ranked on multiple occasions this season, and now No. 17 UCLA to win the Pac-12 North.
Shaw has gotten the job done in Palo Alto and deserves the recognition for that.
While many talk about how Chip Kelly has revolutionized the game, Shaw too has revolutionized the game.
Look at what Shaw's done with two tight end sets and you'll see exactly what I mean.
Jonathan Franklin Doesn't Deserve to Be a Finalist for the Doak Walker Award
Many have gotten lost in Jonathan Franklin's 1,500 yards this season.
But what some tend to forget is that Franklin collapses against good competition.
Against Oregon State, Utah and Stanford, Franklin managed only 45, 79 and 69 yards respectively.
Yet somehow, Franklin earned one of the three coveted Doak Walker finalist spots over much better backs like Stephen Jefferson and Stepfan Taylor.
Kevin Hogan Is the Clear Replacement for Andrew Luck
In his three starts this season, Hogan has led the Cardinal to three wins against three Top 25 teams.
Two of those victories came on the road against Oregon and UCLA.
Hogan as also totaled 10 touchdowns while only turning the ball over three times.
Can you imagine how good Stanford would have been had Hogan started the entire season? I can promise you they would have beaten Washington, and Notre Dame could have been a different outcome.
Hogan is already off to a better start than Luck, winning 10 games in his first season compared to Luck's eight.
Stanford Is More Than Just Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck
I'll admit it, even I thought Stanford would crumble once Jim Harbaugh left to coach the San Francisco 49ers.
In David Shaw's first season, the Cardinal still won 11 games.
Okay, it was just because they had Andrew Luck; 2012 they'll win eight games at the most.
2012 has come and the Cardinal have beaten my beloved Oregon Ducks, and will most likely become the Pac-12 champions.
Congratulations to Stanford for proving that they are more than just brains, and continuing to be a competitive football team.
Being wrong has never felt so good.
The Media Was Wrong
As I said in the introduction, everybody thought for sure that it would be Oregon vs. USC for the Pac-12 title.
Stanford was picked to finish second in the North while UCLA was picked to finish third in the South.
Instead, both teams will be playing for the Pac-12 next Friday, and have a good chance at finishing with double-digit win seasons.