Friday, November 23, 2012
Five things to watch: Stanford at UCLA
By Peter Yoon
No. 17 UCLA (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) plays No. 8 Stanford (9-2, 7-1) in a Pac-12 game at the Rose Bowl that will help decide the winner of the Pac-12 North, UCLA's opponent in the Pac-12 title game and the location of the Pac-12 title game. Saturday's game against the Cardinal is at 3:30 p.m. Pacific and will be televised by Fox. Here are five things to watch:
1. The ramifications
If Stanford wins, the Cardinal and UCLA will have a rematch for the Pac-12 championship Friday in Palo Alto. If UCLA wins, the Pac-12 title game will be either in Eugene, Ore., or at the Rose Bowl. In order for the Bruins to host the Pac-12 title game, they will need to win and for Oregon State to defeat Oregon. That scenario would set up a UCLA-Stanford rematch at the Rose Bowl. But if Oregon defeats Oregon State and UCLA defeats Stanford, it would mean UCLA at Oregon for the Pac-12 title game for the second consecutive year. The Oregon-Oregon State game will kick off at noon so it should be over right around kickoff of the UCLA-Stanford game and everyone will know exactly what is at stake between the Bruins and the Cardinal.
2. Get in the zone
You can't win a game without scoring points, but the trouble is Stanford doesn't give up too many of them. The Cardinal is No. 10 in the nation in scoring defense, having given up only 16.91 points per game. They've given up only 11.4 points per game during their five-game win streak and that includes a 17-14 victory over Oregon, the No. 2 scoring offense in the country at 51 points a game. Stanford has given up more than 20 points only twice this season and has held five opponents to two touchdowns or fewer. UCLA is averaging 37.73 points per game and 42.8 during its five-game win streak, but the last time UCLA faced a top-25 scoring defense, the Bruins lost 27-20 to Oregon State.
3. Block party
UCLA has blocked six kicks over the past two games, using those special-teams plays to help turn the momentum of those games. Last week against USC, after the Trojans had closed a 24-0 deficit to 24-20, Eric Kendricks blocked a punt that set up a UCLA touchdown. Two weeks ago against Washington State, Datone Jones blocked a field goal on the first possession of the game and Sheldon Price returned it for a touchdown to set the tone. Continuing to use special teams to make game-changing plays will be key for the Bruins if they are unable to negotiate Stanford's stout defense.
4. No Luck
Stanford no longer has top-NFL draft pick Andrew Luck and its passing game has faltered. Josh Nunes began the season as the quarterback but was averaging only 205 yards passing before getting replaced by redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan three weeks ago. Hogan is 3-0, including the victory over Oregon, but he's averaging only 216.3 yards per game through the air in those three games. Stanford was No. 10 in the nation and No. 2 in the Pac-12 in total offense last season, but is No. 85 in the nation and No. 8 in the conference this season. Tight end Zack Ertz (6-foot-6, 252) poses a matchup problem because of his size, but Stanford doesn't have the type of game-breaking receivers that have given UCLA problems this season.
5. Protect the passer
Stanford is No. 2 in the nation in sacks with an average of four per game. The Cardinal boasts one of the top front sevens in the nation with linebackers Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy along with defensive linemen Ben Gardener and Henry Anderson leading the way. They also lead the nation with 9.18 tackles for loss per game, so the Bruins will have to find a way to keep Cardinal defenders out of the backfield. It won't be easy. UCLA is giving up 3.27 sacks per game -- No. 110 in the nation -- but if Brett Hundley can stay on his feet, Stanford is vulnerable against the pass. The Cardinal is giving up 257.09 yards passing per game to rank No. 89 in the country in pass defense.