Stanford faced UCLA for the second time in less than a week. This game pitted the Cardinal against a ranked opponent for the fourth consecutive week.
Not only did Stanford win all four games, but the team now has won seven in a row, while compiling an 11-2 record for the season (8-1 in the Pac-12). This is the third year in a row the team won at least 10 games, but the first time it's going to the Rose Bowl in over a decade.
Stanford was favored in this game by nine points. The team did not play its best game of the year and was lucky to end up with a 27-24 win.
Stanford is a good team. Good teams find ways to win, even when they’re not at their best.
On Friday night in Stanford Stadium, UCLA played very well, and Stanford did not. Just six days after Stanford’s drubbing of UCLA, the Bruins proved early and often that they had come to Stanford Stadium to win.
This back-to-back thing is new. It’s a by-product of the new conference championship games created in the last few years. Before Friday, two college teams had not played each other in consecutive weeks in more than 75 years (Detroit vs. Villanova in 1935).
Playing teams twice in a season is rare for college ball but common in the pros. Pro coaches prepare different game plans for each game.
Stanford’s and UCLA’s head coaches both have good pro coaching experience on their resumes. We knew there would be a different game plan this time around, but we weren't sure how much of a difference it would make.
Now we know. It was huge.
UCLA was impressive. Its adjustments caught Stanford by surprise and kept Stanford on its heels much of the game.
It wasn't clear who would win until the very end of the game. This "Championship Game" was worthy of its title. Two good teams duked it out, with the Rose Bowl on the line.
Stanford did win 27-24, but it was hard-fought and could have gone either way.
Here were some of the keys to Stanford’s victory:
- An 80-yard interception return by Ed Reynolds
- A quarterback (Kevin Hogan) who found a way to win when it mattered most at the end of the game
- A wide receiver (Drew Terrell) who emerged from relative obscurity with several big catches
- Two 30-plus-yard field goals in two attempts by Jordan Williamson, while UCLA kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn missed a game-tying field goal at the end
- A defense that was surprisingly unimpressive for much of the game but showed up in the fourth quarter
- A slippery grass surface that seemed to cause more slips for UCLA than for Stanford
- No Stanford turnovers
Pac-12 champs and Rose-Bowl bound. That sounds pretty good for Stanford, and the team earned it.
A more detailed game description is given below.
First Quarter: Mostly UCLA
For the second week in a row, both teams scored on their first possession.
After the opening kickoff, UCLA marched the ball 85 yards for a touchdown. It happened quickly, culminating with a 51-yard run by star running back Johnathan Franklin, who is now UCLA’s all-time leading rusher. He gained 61 yards on the opening drive, which is almost as much as the Stanford defense averages per game (71 yards).
UCLA had clearly figured some things out based on lessons learned the prior week.
Stanford followed with a good drive of its own.
Seven of the 11 plays were by Stepfan Taylor. Although Taylor was bottled up for many of those plays, he did complete a nifty pass-and-run play for 33 yards. The drive also included a 13-yard run by QB Kevin Hogan on 3rd-and-long.
Hogan scored on a naked bootleg, where the entire UCLA team went to tackle Taylor on a fake handoff. Hogan rolled to his left, and no one was there. He ran into the end zone, though he could have just walked.
At this point, Stanford did not look sharp but got the job done. It had tied the score at 7-7.
UCLA followed with another long drive. This one was for 75 yards and included a 48-yard scamper by QB Brett Hundley, a 19-yard run by Franklin and finally a 5-yard rush by Hundley for the score.
UCLA led 14-7.
More importantly, UCLA repeatedly gashed the vaunted Stanford defense. Not only did UCLA have the lead on the scoreboard, it also had all the momentum.
One of the changes made by UCLA coaches on offense was extensive use of the spread offense.
Two or three receivers would often line up on one side of the field. Someone from the backfield would then be sent in motion toward those receivers. In the beginning, the quarterback threw swing passes to those backs, who often got good gains. The idea was to use the wide side of the field rather than go straight up against Stanford’s tough front seven.
Stanford responded by moving backs more to the outside to protect against this repeated pattern. Of course, UCLA then ran up the middle with a running back or the quarterback. Mixing these plays up created great success for UCLA and made Stanford look silly.
No team this year had made the Stanford defense look so bad.
Stanford got the ball late in the first quarter but had to punt after a short drive.
At the end of the first quarter, the score was 14-7. UCLA had the lead. It also had the ball and the momentum.
Second Quarter: Stanford Slows UCLA and Scores a Few Points
The second quarter started badly for Stanford. The first play was another long run off right tackle by Franklin, this time for 31 yards to midfield.
UCLA was having its way with Stanford’s defense and seemed to be on the way to a 21-7 lead. The crowd had been taken out of the game, and the Rose Bowl seemed to be slipping away for Stanford.
A few plays later came one of the key plays of the game.
On a 2nd-and-16 play, Hundley threw the ball to the right sideline. It got picked off by Ed Reynolds, who made some flashy moves and ran the ball back 80 yards. He appeared to have his fourth pick-six on the year. But officials ruled that he was down at the 1-yard line when Hundley tackled him from behind.
One play later, Taylor took it in to tie the score at 14-14. Stanford was still being outplayed but was even on the scoreboard.
The rest of the quarter was uneventful until the end. The teams punted five consecutive times.
The last punt was taken by Stanford on its own 17-yard line with a minute-and-a-half to go. QB Hogan engineered an efficient 10-play, 63-yard drive, getting the ball close enough for Jordan Williamson to kick a 37-yard field goal as the gun sounded.
Stanford went into the locker room with a 17-14 lead, but it had been outplayed. The defense had given up 173 yards on the ground in the first half, more than 100 yards above the season average.
Stanford may have been ahead on the scoreboard, but it still felt like UCLA had the momentum.
Third Quarter: UCLA Reasserts Itself
Stanford received the ball to start the second half. But all it could manage was a three-and-out. The ball went right back to UCLA, and it did not waste time. On the second play, Franklin rushed for 32 yards, reminding Stanford that this was a different UCLA. This was not the team Stanford had controlled the previous week.
This team meant business.
The drive stalled at the Stanford 13-yard line, and UCLA kicked a short field goal to tie the score at 17-17.
Stanford had to punt after a short drive, and UCLA was back in business. The Bruins drove down the field, with Franklin carrying the ball into the end zone on a 20-yard running play.
UCLA up, 24-17.
Stanford ran a few more plays before the third quarter ended. When the officials blew the whistle, the UCLA team gathered on the sideline in a big circle. Everyone was jumping up and down and yelling with delirious joy.
The Bruins could taste the victory.
On the other side of the field, Stanford was listless and appeared dejected. After a truly great season, was a victory going to slip away from a Cardinal team that had dominated UCLA just one week earlier?
Or could Stanford dig deep and pull out one more fourth-quarter victory?
Fourth Quarter: Stanford Finds a Way to Win
Stanford found new life early in the fourth quarter and then called on the defense to win the game. The team had won many games like that.
Why not one more?
On Stanford’s first drive of the fourth quarter, it got down to the UCLA 26-yard line.
On a 3rd-and-15 play, Kevin Hogan took the snap and stood in the pocket looking for an open receiver. All-American Zach Ertz had been double-covered all day and was not open. But the double coverage left TE Drew Terrell open on the right sideline. Hogan lofted a perfect pass over a UCLA defender right into Terrell’s chest in the end zone.
Stanford had tied the score at 24-24, and the crowd was back in the game.
On the next possession, UCLA started with poor field position. The Stanford defense rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out.
Stanford got the ball with great field position near midfield and went to work.
Five plays later, the Cardinal faced a 4th-and-8 deep in UCLA territory. Kicker Williamson followed with a 36-yard field goal, giving Stanford the 27-24 lead.
The crowd loved it.
There was still plenty of time left, almost seven minutes. UCLA got the ball two more times. But it failed to convert on fourth down on one drive and missed a very long field goal on the other.
Stanford’s offense did sputter for much of the game. Still, money time was the fourth quarter, and Stanford did enough to take the lead.
Stanford’s defense had one of its worst outings of the year yet still came through in the clutch in the fourth quarter to preserve the victory and gain the team a berth in the Rose Bowl.
These two teams were evenly matched with several stars. The key offensive players included:
- QBs Hundley and Hogan. Both redshirt freshman quarterbacks had good outings with their arms and their legs. UCLA's Hundley was 23-of-32 (72 percent) for 177 yards with one critical interception; he also ran for 83 yards and one TD. Hogan was 16-of-23 (70 percent) for 155 yards with no interceptions; he ran for 47 yards and one TD.
- RBs Franklin and Taylor. Both running backs broke their all-time school records in this game, which is an amazing fact. Last week was all Taylor for Stanford; this week was mostly Franklin. He had a fantastic game: 194 yards rushing plus 22 receiving yards. Taylor had 78 rushing yards and 55 receiving yards. These guys should both have good pro careers.
- TEs Fauria and Ertz. Surprisingly, neither of these guys had a big day. UCLA's Fauria caught only one pass for 17 yards, while Ertz caught three passes for 19 yards. Both, however, attracted double coverage most of the game. That gave them influence on the defensive schemes, creating opportunities for others.
Both teams have plenty of stars beyond those mentioned above. All Pac-12 honors went to the following:
- First team offense
- OL Xavier Su’a-Filo
- Second team offense
- OL Jeff Baca
- First team defense
- LB Anthony Barr
- Second team defense
- DL Datone Jones
- First team special teams
- P Jeff Locke
- Second team special teams
- ST David Allen
- First team offense
- TE Zach Ertz
- OL David Yankey
- Second team offense
- RB Stepfan Taylor
- OL Kevin Danser
- OL Sam Schwartzstein
- First team defense
- LB Trent Murphy
- LB Chase Thomas
- DB Ed Reynolds
- Second team defense
- DL Henry Anderson
- DL Ben Gardner
QB Kevin Hogan got honorable mention, which is pretty good considering that he sat on the bench for much of the first nine games and only started the last three before the championship game.
In a few days, the bowl pairings will be announced. Stanford knows it's going to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. It will play the winner of the Big Ten championship game between Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Stanford has not been to the Rose Bowl since 1999. In that game, Stanford lost to Wisconsin by a score of 17-9. Depending upon the outcome of the Big Ten championship, Stanford may have a shot at revenge.
This also represents the third consecutive year Stanford will play in a BCS bowl game, which has never happened before in Stanford history.
This team has gone through many changes, including a new coach, the departure of All-American QB Andrew Luck and even a change of quarterbacks this season.
Stanford has done very well.
UCLA is likely to go to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio or the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
This has been a great season for both teams. Fortunately, we’ll get to see them one more time during the holidays.