UCLA Football: 5 Reasons the Bruins Can Win the Rematch with Stanford
The No. 8 Stanford Cardinal handily defeated the No. 17 UCLA Bruins on Saturday behind stalwart defensive play and punishing running from senior RB Stepfan Taylor.
With the win, the Cardinal clinched the Pac-12 North and set up a rematch with the Bruins in the conference title game this Friday, November 30.
Stanford (10-2, 8-1) continued its impressive streak, knocking off a third consecutive ranked opponent, while UCLA (9-3, 6-3) dropped its first decision since October 6 at Cal.
Freshman QB Kevin Hogan tossed for 160 yards and a TD on 15-of-22 passing to lead the Cardinal, exhibiting mature-beyond-his-years poise and decision-making.
Meanwhile, Taylor pounded the Bruins for 142 yards and two TDs with an average of 7.1 yards per carry, despite resting for the majority of the second half.
The 5'11", 215-pound power back's numbers are even more stunning when you consider that UCLA was stacking the box with nine or more defenders for most of the evening.
Stanford held UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin to 65 yards rushing with a paltry average of 3.1 YPC, while limiting the Bruins to a season-low in points.
In spite of all of this, the rematch on Friday figures to be much closer, as head coach Jim Mora should have his team fired up and ready to go.
Here are five reasons why the Bruins can pull the upset in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
1. Passing Game Will Find Its Rhythm
Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
One of the keys to victory for Stanford on Saturday was its ability to stifle the otherwise potent UCLA passing attack.
The Bruins were limited to 261 yards passing and one touchdown, while giving up seven sacks and a Brett Hundley interception.
The effort was worsened by a number of dropped passes by Bruin receivers and some poorly placed throws from Hundley. A myriad of penalties, including some untimely holding calls, also hurt UCLA's chances on offense.
The ability of the Bruin aerial attack to get back on track will be crucial in Friday's rematch, especially since the Stanford front seven will likely snuff out the rushing game yet again.
UCLA had some success on its opening drive, moving 87 yards down the field in just two minutes. The drive was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Hundley's favorite target, 6'7" flanker Joe Fauria.
With a head-to-head game under its belt and another week's worth of practice and game film, UCLA will likely bring more to the table next week.
If the Bruins can find their offensive rhythm and limit mistakes like dropped balls and costly sacks, the Cardinal will be hard pressed to contain both the running and passing attacks.
But if UCLA continues to move in the wrong direction and hamper itself, a very talented and physical Stanford defense will be ready to take advantage.
2. Hundley Will Learn to Throw the Ball Away
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
When the Bruins watch game film from Saturday's loss, one glaring area that will need to be addressed is protection along the offensive line.
Stanford's defense ranks No. 1 in the country in sacks, tackles for loss and rushing defense, and that advantage played a massive role in Saturday's victory over UCLA.
But one statistic from the game that won't be replicated in the rematch on Friday is the ridiculous number of QB takedowns that Stanford's beastly front seven produced.
UCLA gave up seven sacks on Saturday, the most allowed this season for a team that was already among the worst in the nation in that category. The lost yards piled up throughout the night, ruining the Bruins' field position and setting up long downs early and often.
However, if you watched the game, you surely noticed that at least half of those sacks could have been avoided if Brett Hundley had just thrown the ball away.
Hundley finally showed progress in this department toward the end of the game, managing to get rid of the ball once the pocket broke down on a play late in the fourth. But if the Bruins hope to beat Stanford and reach the Rose Bowl game, Hundley will need to ingrain that habit in his brain.
Coach Mora will certainly make a point to groom his young signal-caller this week, reminding him that an incompletion is far better than a five-yard loss.
This will prove critical in the Pac-12 title game, as the Cardinal's defensive front should be able to handle the UCLA offensive line again.
3. UCLA Has Made Strides in the Kicking Game
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
This may not seem like a major reason to buy into the Bruins on Friday, but it could prove vital in what figures to be a hard-fought battle.
UCLA hasn't had much of a threat in the kicking game this season, as true freshman Ka'imi Fairbairn's career long was 35 yards before Saturday night.
Fairbairn was 0-for-3 on attempts of 40 yards or longer, so the Bruins have been forced to punt or go for it on fourth downs throughout the year.
But Fairbairn blasted a 48-yard field goal right down the middle against Stanford, giving the youngster a huge confidence boost and providing the UCLA offense some much-needed support.
On the other sideline, Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson has struggled mightily this season, despite nailing the game-winner in overtime against Oregon last week.
Williamson is an unimpressive 13-of-23, including a miss against UCLA that kept the Bruins within striking distance in the fourth quarter.
In the punting department, UCLA looks to have an advantage as well.
Senior punter Jeff Locke has continued his campaign of dominance, booting six kicks for an average of 45 yards with a long of 58 against Stanford.
On the other hand, the Cardinal lost starting punter Daniel Zychlinski after he was drilled by Anthony Barr on a fumbled snap in the second quarter.
Zychlinksi, a senior who has been dominant for Stanford, did not return and appeared to be nursing a shoulder injury. His status for the Pac-12 title game is questionable. If he can't go, it will give UCLA the edge on special teams.
If the game comes down to the wire in Palo Alto, a leg-up in the kicking game could be what puts the Bruins over the top.
4. It's Tough to Beat a Team Twice in a Row
UCLA has to contain RB Stepfan Taylor to win on Friday
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
When teams play each other twice in the same season, the result of the second game is often far different from the first.
Last season, LSU knocked off Alabama in the "Game of the Century," but was shut out by the Crimson Tide when it mattered most, in the BCS National Championship Game.
In 2010, Nebraska stomped on the Washington Huskies in the regular season, winning by a final margin of 56-21 in Seattle. But when the Huskers met UW in the Holiday Bowl, NU only managed seven points in a 19-7 losing effort.
And while there are certainly some rematches that were wholly one-sided, history appears to favor a split.
UCLA has a little bit of history on its side as well. In 1976, the Bruins were embarrassed by Ohio State in the regular season, 41-20, but got revenge on the No. 1 Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl, winning 23-10.
Obviously, none of these results mean anything when the players take the field on Friday, but it's interesting to consider past precedents.
In the case of the 2012 UCLA-Stanford two-game series, the Bruins might have the advantage because of how easily the Cardinal won the first time around.
Allow me to explain myself.
When the two teams are preparing this week, the Bruins will have 60 minutes of game film that showcases exactly how Stanford dismantled them.
On the other hand, the Cardinal won't have much to take away from their film viewing, as UCLA's effort was absolutely dreadful for most of the night.
Therefore, while Stanford will be looking to replicate its strong performance, the Bruins will be bringing different looks and new wrinkles to the all-important Pac-12 title game.
For that reason, look for UCLA to be a different squad in Game 2 of the back-to-back meetings.
5. The Rose Bowl Game Is on the Line
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
In Saturday's matchup, the Stanford Cardinal had everything to gain, while the UCLA Bruins had little to play for.
Just minutes before kickoff, word came down that Oregon had handled Oregon State in the Civil War, putting the pressure on Stanford to clinch the North and play host in the Pac-12 title game.
The news also meant that UCLA's chances to host the conference championship had vanished, and that a win over the Cardinal would force the Bruins to visit the Ducks for a shot at the Rose Bowl.
While Mora and his players insist there was no lapse in effort or concentration, the product on the field raised serious doubt.
You have to credit the Cardinal for playing a complete and inspired game, but the Bruins looked downright sloppy in many ways as well.
But when UCLA and Stanford line up on Friday, there's no question that both teams will leave everything on the field, as the winner will walk away with a berth in The Granddaddy of Them All.
Obviously, this motivation goes both ways, so the intensity figures to be more equal this time around than it was on Saturday.
UCLA is going for its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1998-99 season, while the Cardinal is vying for its first berth since 1999-2000.
Look for both squads to give their best effort on the Farm on Friday, as the outcome of the game is the difference between BCS glory and a spot in the Alamo Bowl.