There was a lot on the line for both UCLA and Stanford in their game Saturday. UCLA had already secured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game, but didn't know its opponent. With a win, it would be Oregon; with a loss, it would be a rematch with Stanford.
For Stanford, a victory was required to win the Pac-12 North and earn a spot in the championship game, and to keep hopes alive for the Rose Bowl. Otherwise the season would be over, and a lesser bowl game would follow.
It was a gorgeous afternoon in Pasadena, as the Bruins hosted the Cardinal. Both teams entered the game with 9-2 records and a fair amount of momentum. UCLA beat archrival USC last week for the first time in five years. Meanwhile, Stanford was coming off consecutive wins against the two highly ranked Oregon schools, including a huge upset last week of No. 1 Oregon.
On paper the teams were surprisingly similar. Each had a superb running back, an excellent redshirt freshman quarterback, and a huge tight end as the primary target for the QBs. It looked like it would be a battle of heavyweights.
Stanford’s defense has been exceptional all season. Could Stanford's defense be the difference in the game? As you will read below, the answer was yes.
First Quarter Played To A Draw
Stanford took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards down the field to score a TD and take a 7-0 lead. With a combination of six running and five passing plays, Stanford looked good.
UCLA was not daunted. They took the ensuing drive 87 yards down the field in six plays. Redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley (No. 17) looked great. On one play he eluded would-be tacklers and tossed a 71-yard pass and run play down the right side. On the capper, while running backwards he tossed a 13-yard pass to the near left corner of the end zone to 6’7” star Joseph Fauria (No. 8) where only he could catch it. It was a pretty TD, the score was tied 7-7.
Stanford Surges In Second Quarter
Stanford scored two TDs in the middle of the second quarter a minute and a half apart. The second came on a 49-yard rush up the middle by star running back Stepfan Taylor (No. 33). UCLA had stacked the line to stop Taylor. Once he broke through a gap, he saw nothing but daylight and won the foot race to the end zone. With a 21-7 lead, it looked like Stanford was on its way.
Late in the quarter Stanford muffed a punt on a bad snap. UCLA took over deep in Stanford territory. But the defense came up big once again, holding the Bruins to a field goal. Halftime score: 21-10, and UCLA was still in it.
Knockout Punch In Third Quarter
A key UCLA turnover in the middle of the third quarter became the turning point of the game.
Jordan Richards (No. 8) intercepted a Hundley pass near midfield. On the next play, Taylor ran for 40 yards, two yards short of the end zone. A few plays later he took it in for the score.
Then, in the blink of an eye, UCLA fumbled the ensuing kickoff. Former running back and current nickelback Usua Amanam (No. 15) picked up the loose pigskin and ran it 10 yards to pay dirt 13 seconds after Stanford's previous TD. Suddenly Stanford led 35-10 and UCLA was in trouble.
Late in the quarter UCLA responded with a TD. But even at 35-17, the Bruins knew they had a steep uphill battle against the Cardinal defense. In fact, they would not score again.
Stanford Defense Shuts UCLA Down
Stanford’s defense showed up all day in many ways. In the fourth quarter, for example, UCLA turned the ball over on downs twice. They never could overcome the defensive pressure.
UCLA’s QB got sacked seven times. Stanford is second in the nation in sacks, averaging four per game. Hundley got a lot more than that.
Hundley did his best with scrambles and the passing game, but was held to 20-of-38 for 261 yards, well below his average.
Star UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin (No. 23) has over 4,000 yards in his outstanding career, but was held to 65 yards rushing. That’s about half his average. Stanford is No. 2 in the country in rush defense, holding 11 of its last 15 opponents to under 100 yards. Just as they had done against Oregon's heralded running game the week before, Stanford kept UCLA's running game in check.
Stanford’s offense and special teams did their jobs. But once again the defense led the way to victory.
UCLA also did itself no favors with penalties. They lead the nation in penalties committed, and had 12 in this game. Many stopped drives or negated good gains.
Stepfan Taylor Great Again
It was no surprise that Stepfan Taylor got a lot of touches, often running up the middle. All year teams have been keying on him. It doesn't matter. He’s good enough and strong enough to eventually find gaps and rack up yards. He gets stronger as the game goes on.
Taylor’s numbers were great: 20 rushes for 142 yards and 2 TDs, and three receptions for another 27 yards. He was taken out of the game late in the third quarter and rested so he’d be sharp for the Championship game next week.
Stanford fans will remember great runners like Toby Gerhard, Tommy Vardell and Darrin Nelson. But the greatest runner of all time for Stanford is Stepfan Taylor. Each game the records keep falling. On this day, Taylor went over the 4,000-yard mark, and completed his record-breaking 21st 100-yard game. With two games to go, Taylor will hold most of the all-time rushing records for Stanford. He is special.
Kevin Hogan Impressive
Stanford’s QB Kevin Hogan had another good game. He went 15-for-22 for 160 yards and one touchdown. He also ran four times for 25 yards.
Once again he demonstrated his skill as a field general, making good decisions and providing leadership. In his three starts over the last three weeks as the Stanford QB, he has beaten No. 13 Oregon State, No. 1 Oregon, and No. 15 UCLA. That’s quite impressive.
UCLA Rematch On The Farm
Stanford and UCLA both have good coaches. It will be interesting to see how the game plans change less than a week after the previous game.
In the AP poll, Stanford jumped from No. 11 to No. 8, while UCLA dropped two spots to No. 17.
The winner will get an automatic bid to the Rose Bowl game on January 1.
The Rose Bowl may be UCLA’s home stadium, but over the holidays, it may well be the location for the Cardinal’s bowl game, not the Bruins’. We’ll know soon, as the rematch on Friday night for the Pac-12 championship will tell the tale. The rematch promises to be another good game.