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Pac-12 Championship: UCLA Bruins Will Be More Competitive, but Can They Win?

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Pac-12 Championship: UCLA Bruins Will Be More Competitive, but Can They Win?
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UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley

It's not easy to beat the same team within a six-day period, but that is exactly what is being asked of the Stanford Cardinal. 

Oh, you beat the Bruins 35-17 last Saturday? Great...now do it again or you can't go to the Rose Bowl. 

UCLA gets the long end of the stick here. While the Cardinal have to beat UCLA twice to smell those roses in Pasadena, Calif., UCLA just has to do it once. It's almost unfair to Stanford, but UCLA has to take advantage of this "gift." Actually, the real gift was avoiding having to play Oregon in Eugene, but going up to Palo Alto in December is also a fairly chilly deal.

So the Bruins have no chance to beat the Cardinal, right?

Well, UCLA has gone 2-4 against Stanford in the last six contests, dropping the last four games. Head coach Jim Mora is 0-1 against Stanford. Obviously some adjustments need to be made, and they start with the offensive line.

Quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked seven times by the Cardinal's ferocious pass rush. The Bruins shouldn't feel too bad because the Cardinal sack every quarterback they face—they are ranked No. 1 among all teams in sacks.

Running back Johnathan Franklin, who averages over 125 yards per game, was limited to just 65 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries. The previous week against USC, Franklin rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.

Obviously, the offensive line isn't protecting Hundley in the pocket, and it isn't creating enough push for Franklin. UCLA will have to put together a different type of game plan to score more points, and that falls on offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

Mazzone will undoubtedly call for more quick hitches, outs and slants. Hundley will have to take more snaps in the shotgun, and he'll also have to roll out more after the snap—that's not a problem for Hundley because he is a dual-threat passer. 

Franklin is also going to have to block more in the backfield. Once Hundley opens up the passing game with the additional protection from Franklin, the defense will drop more guys back in coverage and that'll open up the running game.

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It wouldn't hurt to have Mazzone spread out the line more either—the defensive line will have more yardage in front of it during the pass rush and it'll also have to pursue Hundley from wider angles.

The Bruin defense needs to do two things better: Cover tight end Zach Ertz and unleash defensive end Ellis McCarthy.

In last week's game, Ertz torched UCLA's defense with five catches and 71 yards. Outside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (6'3", 235 lbs) is really the only defender that comes close to Ertz's 6'6" frame, so Zumwalt is going to have be the designated spy on Ertz. Where Ertz goes, so goes Zumwalt because the Bruins' secondary is just too small to cover Ertz.

Ellis McCarthy needs his inner monster to become unleashed. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan might think twice about scampering around the corner with 6'5", 330-pound Ellis McCarthy waiting to give him a meet-and-greet. The true freshman arrived this year in Westwood with a lot of hype and hoopla, and I can't see UCLA not using him more this Friday. 

Stanford isn't going to change its game plan for UCLA because it doesn't have to—it beat UCLA with that game plan. So UCLA has Stanford's game plan and will make adjustments to counter Stanford's front seven. 

In the meantime, Stanford has no idea what UCLA will be doing. You have to like UCLA's chances with the element of surprise on its side.  

Things could get very interesting this Friday. 

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