Like watching a piece of lumber slowly fed into a wood chipper, the result of last night's Stanford–UCLA game seemed inevitable. Stanford's offense, already ninth-best in the country at 46 PPG, probably couldn't wait to test the leaky Bruins defense.
Given a week to prepare, it was almost unfair.
The chasm of class between the two teams could be summed up on the opening drive. After an impressive march to get within the Cardinal five, the visiting Bruins could not break the plane on three consecutive rushes. Instead of going for the field goal, UCLA tried a QB sneak and was denied again.
Then Stanford, starting on their own 1-yard line, put together a 16-play, 99-yard scoring drive that took the rest of the quarter to complete.
Once up 7–0, there was no turning back.
UCLA can't gain one yard when they need to, while Stanford makes 99 look effortless.
And it wasn't just that the Cardinal put together such an impressive scoring drive to start the game, it was the way they did it.
Counters, three-tight end sets, gadget plays—Stanford threw everything in their playbook at UCLA except the kitchen sink. Andrew Luck threw for 68 yards and a touchdown, then caught a pass himself for 13 more. In snagging the touchdown grab, Coby Fleener only needed one hand between two Bruin defenders.
The rest of the game did not go that much differently. The Cardinal scored at will, and UCLA showed flashes of brilliance, but could never overcome its mistakes. They were not the better team coming into the game and did nothing to change that perception on the field.
That being said, there are some positives to take away from Saturday night's pummeling. Here are the grades for the UCLA offensive, defensive and special teams units.
Total Offense: 343 yards (141 rushing, 202 passing)
Top Performers: Richard Brehaut (18-of-33, 202 yards, 2 TDs)
Johnathan Franklin (12 carries, 96 yards)
Joseph Fauria (3 receptions, 43 yards, 2 TD)
To some pained fans of Bruin Nation, this actually might seem a little high, but hear me out.
Despite only managing 19 points, the UCLA offense didn't look too bad. Yes, they could not manage one yard when they needed to, but in the bigger scheme of things they're moving in a positive direction.
After scoring exactly zero points the last time these two tangled, 19 (should have been 21) is actually a significant step forward against an improved Stanford squad.
I like the play call on fourth down at the Stanford goal line. Rick Neuheisel has finally realized that every game this season will be a referendum on his abilities as a head coach and has started to call the games accordingly.
Going for it in that situation is not only a recognition of the need for a lot of points to stay with Stanford, but also an internalization of what Bruin fans want to see from him.
We want to see aggressive play-calling. We want to see them playing with a sense of urgency. If Neuheisel continues to inject that leave it all on the field mentality in his offense for the rest of the season, UCLA could surprise some teams with big offensive numbers.
Neuheisel also seemed to reach the self-evident truth most Bruin fans came to after the Houston game: Joseph Fauria is their best offensive weapon, so you should probably throw to him.
At 6'8'' and a lean 252 pounds, Fauria is arguably one of the best tight ends in the nation. He's certainly the best Bruin TE since Marcedes Lewis and a huge matchup problem for any secondary.
So why, after an impressive six receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown against Houston, did Fauria only earn three receptions for 43 yards and no touchdowns over the next three games?
The redshirt junior is the complete package and showed it Saturday night. He deserves more balls thrown his way, and the Bruin offense will only benefit from doing so.
It was also good to see Johnathan Franklin bounce back from a series of mediocre games. Against Texas he was a non-factor and was injured early in the Oregon State game, so to see him break away from the defensive line and frequently gash the secondary was a fantastic return to form.
Stanford's rush-defense came into the game as one of the best in the nation, and Franklin came four yards short of a 100-yard performance.
However, it is still clear that the offensive line needs work. In their only offensive turnover of the game it was Brehaut who committed the fumble, but it was the offensive line that was guilty of the crime. Brehaut never had a chance and was under too much pressure the entire game for the Bruins to match Stanford's success through the air.
Total Yards Allowed: 442 (202 rushing, 240 passing)
Top Performer: Patrick Larimore (11 tackles)
Going up against one of the best offenses in the country was already a tough order, but UCLA had to do it without Tony Dye and Sheldon Price in their secondary.
Stanford was just as advertised: a balanced attack that could pretty much do whatever it wanted.
Slow, back-breaking, clock-eating drives? Check.
Two-play, don't-blink drives? Check.
They all ended in touchdowns regardless of the pace.
This is less the fault of UCLA's defense as it is the impressiveness of the Cardinal offense, so for the most part the Bruins' defense gets a pass from me this week. There were still missed tackles, untouched runners and wide open receivers, but we'll see Stanford do that to better defenses this season.
It should be said that the other Bruin units could have made the defense's job easier. Fumbles by the offense and special teams twice gave Stanford a short field which is, in this case, code for 14 points. The Cardinal threw so many looks at UCLA that they were justifiably confused and only once got a Stanford runner in the backfield.
Going forward, UCLA still needs to continue to improve its tackling. Due to injury fears (and really, who can blame them) the Bruins do not practice tackling and it shows, but as they get more and more experience on the field that should improve.
What needs to get better in the immediate future is their pressure on the quarterback. If they were going to have any chance at stopping Andrew Luck, constant pressure needed to be applied and wasn't.
Luck finished the game 23-of-27 for 227 yards, three touchdowns, no picks and no sacks. UCLA should learn from this and move on.
And that's kind; if there was a lower grade, I'd give it.
After a string of nationally-recognized kickers (Justin Medlock, Kai Forbath), UCLA cannot seem to find one who can make an extra point.
Jeff Locke missed two out of three wide right, killing whatever momentum UCLA gained with those scores. It's not entirely his fault (he also serves as punter), but in a big game against a high-scoring offense, you need whatever points you can get.
It got so bad that play-by-play man Joel Myers suggested on-air (not entirely in jest) that UCLA should host an open call on campus for place kickers. Rick Neuheisel has already resorted to that to an extent, scouring the school's soccer team for possible legs.
While I liked the surprise onside kick call, if Stanford recovers with a short field that's essentially gifting them points. Neuheisel had faith in his special teams, the rest of us didn't, and Stanford recovered to eventually score.
Special teams didn't just kill UCLA through the kicking game—they also did it receiving. With the game still in the balance at 24-13 and after forcing a Stanford punt, Taylor Embree did not call for a fair catch with Cardinals all around him and was justifiably forced to fumble.
Stanford took advantage of the short field and put the game out of reach in four plays, capped off by a brilliant wildcat run straight up the middle.
It's safe to say that if the offense keeps improving, the Bruins are going to be in a lot of close games; for a time, they were surprisingly in Saturday night. It's the little things, the missed kicks and the fumbles, that will decide if they can manage a bowl berth or be destined for another 4-8 season.