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Sunday, November 25, 2012
First look at Pac-12 Championship Game: UCLA at Stanford

By Peter Yoon

LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-12 Championship Game will be the tail end of the closest thing college football may get to a doubleheader.

It’s the second tilt of a home-and-home series in back-to-back weeks.

The UCLA Bruins and Stanford Cardinal will meet Friday at Stanford Stadium in the second annual conference title game, giving fans coaches and players a serious case of deja vu.

The game will take place less than a week after Stanford (10-2, 8-1) earned a spot in the title game with a convincing 35-17 victory over UCLA (9-3, 6-3), which had clinched its spot in the championship game a week earlier.

“It’s a really interesting scenario playing a team twice in a row, really within six days,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “I can’t recall ever being in this situation before.

“I don’t know how to play it. It’s unique. It’s new. It’s a whole, new experience for me and it’s interesting. It’ll be fun to see how it all plays out.”

Mora certainly hopes it plays out differently than Saturday’s game. Stanford dominated all facets of the game, especially on the ground. The Cardinal outrushed the Bruins 221 yards to 73 -- representing the second-most running yards against UCLA this season and the second-fewest gained by the Bruins.

Mora said he was uncertain whether being on the losing end of such a game would be beneficial as the teams prepare for a rematch. On one hand, he said, he’ll be able to break down exactly how Stanford played the game and how the Cardinal were able to dominate. On the other, Stanford will be able to see UCLA’s weak spots and try to exploit them more aggressively.

“I think it cancels each other out,” Mora said. “I don’t know. I’ve never been in this before, so I don’t know what the advantages or disadvantages are.”

One thing Mora knows for sure is that it will be tough sledding once again. Stanford now boasts the No. 1 rushing defense in the country and the Cardinal also are tops the nation in sacks and tackles for a loss.

The Cardinal feature a stout front seven and they were on full display Saturday when they sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley a season-high seven times and had nine tackles for a loss.

And the Cardinal rushing attack carved up UCLA. Stepfan Taylor had 142 yards rushing and averaged 7.2 yards per carry Saturday, taking advantage of a large, strong offensive line that pushed around UCLA’s front seven most of the game.

It’ll take a quick study to figure out how to slow down Stanford, but Mora said some familiarity might help. He likened it to his days as an NFL coach, when teams would play division rivals twice a year.

“You become very familiar with those teams,” he said. “And you’ll see patterns. You’ll see certain plays that they only run against you. Or certain coverages that they only run against you or that they tweak to play against you. So I think there are some similarities in that respect. But this six-day window makes it really interesting.”

Mora said he expects some changes in the schemes from both teams as they prepare for the rematch but that neither team will want to get too drastic with changes. After all, both squads earned a spot in the championship game doing things a certain way, so it’s unlikely either will want to stray too far from what has brought success.

Plus, with fewer to prepare, there may not be the luxury of time to add in too much.

“There are a couple of tweaks we can make that hopefully will help us,” Mora said. “Along the same lines, they are going to make a couple of tweaks, as well, so it’s a game of cat and mouse.”