A monumental Pac-12 clash will take place this weekend between the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal (5-1) and the No. 9 UCLA Bruins (5-0) in Palo Alto.
The Cardinal defeated the Bruins twice in 2012, including a 27-24 victory in the Pac-12 Championship Game. UCLA would love to pay back the favor and get a win on the road at Stanford Stadium.
UCLA is coming off of a relatively ho-hum victory against a decimated Cal squad. Stanford lost its first game of the season at Utah last Saturday.
Here's everything you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Oct. 19
Time: 12:30 p.m. PT
Place: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, Calif.
TV: ABC or ESPN2
Radio: Sirius XM Radio
Line: Stanford -6 per VegasInsider.com
Defend in space
Last Saturday Utah gashed the Cardinal defense with bubble screens, swing passes and anything on the edge.
The Utes forced Stanford to defend sideline to sideline as opposed to a more direct manner. With Stanford having a big, physical defense, UCLA will definitely try to exploit Stanford laterally via the swing pass—a staple in Noel Mazzone's offense.
In response, Stanford has to tackle well. It might behoove the unit to play nickel defense. That formation will allow for more speed to come onto the field. It would, in theory, help to compensate for the litany of wideouts that UCLA will showcase on Saturday.
Pound the rock
Stanford needs to establish the run game against UCLA. With an effective rush attack, it opens up everything else for the Cardinal.
Play action will come as a result of success on the ground. An added wrinkle could include quarterback Kevin Hogan running the zone read. Without the tight ends of yesteryear on the roster (Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener), the Cardinal have incorporated some spread principles.
Play action to tight ends will now likely mean crossing patterns to receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste.
By running the ball and controlling the clock, UCLA's potent offense would be kept off the field. It would also hurt the Bruins offense from a rhythm standpoint.
UCLA is the most penalized team in the entire country. The Bruins cannot shoot themselves in the proverbial foot if they are to realistically win this contest.
UCLA's inexperience has led to procedural penalties for the most part. The frequency with which their young players occur has been considerable. Personal foul problems out of frustration have also been a problem.
Against a team as disciplined and well coached as Stanford, minimizing these mistakes will be imperative.
Use the speed of skill position players
Stanford had problems dealing with Utah's skill position players out on the perimeter. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's goal as a play-caller is to get his fast athletes out in space.
Expect heavy doses of that on Saturday. Mazzone will make the Cardinal defend laterally against Steven Manfro and Paul Perkins on swing passes out of the backfield. Bubble screens to Devin Fuller and Shaq Evans are likely probable as well.
The quarterback admittedly did not perform well in the loss to Utah last week. In total, he did go 15-of-27 for 246 yards and a touchdown. However, there were large portions of the second half in which the offense had difficulties playing with consistency and rhythm.
Utah initially blitzed a lot in the beginning of the game. Hogan was adept at throwing quickly and accurately. As the Utes began to drop into coverage—virtually daring Hogan to beat them with his arm—he struggled.
He needs to play well against UCLA and needs to have the confidence to throw the ball down the field. Expect Stanford to get him going early with some short passes. Hogan's ability to use his legs could also be an interesting element in this contest.
Montgomery is unquestionably Stanford's most explosive athlete. The receiver has returned kickoffs for touchdowns in two straight weeks. His combination of physicality and pure speed will test UCLA's secondary.
Expect corner Fabian Moreau to get the assignment on Montgomery. If Stanford is running the ball effectively, Moreau needs to be cautious about the play-action pass. Should he get sucked in toward the line of scrimmage on a play fake, it'll likely result in a big play for the Cardinal.
On the season, he leads Stanford with 31 catches for 514 yards and five touchdowns.
Fuller had a breakout game of sorts against Cal last week. He had a season high in catches (six) and receiving yards (98). He was slicing the Golden Bears defense apart with his agility. It seems as if he was a threat to score a touchdown every time he touched the ball.
The New Jerseyan will be a key player in this contest. Up to this point, the Cardinal have not faced a slot receiver with the talent of Fuller. His quickness allows him to be a safety valve for Brett Hundley of sorts.
Being a high school quarterback, it would not be a surprise to see UCLA utilize Fuller in a trick play on Saturday.
It will be fascinating to see how UCLA defends in the secondary. One would think UCLA's top cover corner, Fabian Moreau, will likely defend Ty Montgomery.
That would leave 5'8" Ishmael Adams to defend Stanford's 6'4", 232-pound receiver Devon Cajuste. Although a linebacker, Jack has the speed to defend bigger receivers. Will he line up as a corner against Cajuste?
It's rather unlikely that he'd do it on every single play. However, he could match up against him in the slot on occasion. Jack's athleticism offers great versatility on the football field.
UCLA receiver Jordan Payton said of Stanford in the Los Angeles Times:
We have been waiting for this. Stanford, man, we lost to them twice in one year. We know that, we remember that. This is definitely a big game for us.
Stanford head coach David Shaw said of Anthony Barr in the Times Herald:
He's the best defensive player I've seen in this conference in the last couple years, and I don't think it's close.
UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure said of Stanford's offensive line on the school's website:
Stanford looks like the best offensive line that we've seen. When you play Stanford, the first thing you have to stop is the power play. [David] Yankey and [Andrus] Peat are some of the best in the country. We have quite a challenge on our hands this upcoming Saturday.
Shaw on UCLA:
Efficiency. The quarterback is playing at a high level. Defensively, they're playing smart, sound, good, hard football. They will be tough to beat.
UCLA 27, Stanford 24
This game will come down to execution and discipline.
It's no secret that Stanford does both things quite well. UCLA will have to match the Cardinal in terms of discipline from a penalty standpoint. The Bruins absolutely cannot commit a mass amount of self-inflicted wounds. Procedural penalties, simple mental errors and anything of that nature needs to be squelched if UCLA is to win.
Both teams should be motivated in this game. Stanford will want to play well in front of its crowd on homecoming weekend, especially after suffering a loss last week.
Additionally, the Bruins will want to atone for losing two games to the Cardinal last year. Expect both things to play to their proverbial strengths. UCLA will try to get its athletes out in space and use their speed on the perimeter.
Stanford will look to pound UCLA into submission via the run game. All in all, it should be a fantastic ballgame. The difference will come at the quarterback position. Hundley will simply outplay Hogan, and the Bruins will come away with a close victory.