- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Pretty straight forward this week. There is a championship game tonight and we make a case for each of the teams.
Ted Miller: The easy answer for what Stanford needs to do to win the Pac-12 championship game over UCLA is to point at the Cardinal's 35-17 win last weekend and type, "You should do that again, Stanford. Only better."
In last week's game, Stanford outrushed UCLA 221 yards to 73. Its star running back back, Taylor, eclipsed UCLA's star running back, Johnathan Franklin, 142 yards to 65, with Taylor averaging 7.1 yards on his 21 carries compared to Franklin's 3.1 on 21.
The Cardinal sacked UCLA QB Brett Hundley seven times. It won the turnover battle 2-1. It was Stanford by the book, just as coach David Shaw would script it up.
The question, however, is if nearly duplicating a game plan will work against a smart UCLA staff that -- I know Bruins fans don't like reading this but I suspect it's true -- probably held some stuff back last week.
I expect UCLA to be more creative and aggressive on both sides of the ball. I suspect you'll see Hundley run the ball a lot more. While Stanford's credo is to be itself, they also need to anticipate some specific scheme wrinkles from the Bruins.
Of course, you mute potential fanciness when you win the battle at the line of scrimmage, which Stanford did on both sides of the ball in Game 1. It was particularly noteworthy that the Cardinal wasn't forced to blitz much to get to Hundley. I wonder what Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone might do to counter the likelihood his young O-line won't be able to win the battle up front?
So Stanford essentially needs to show up with last week's game plan, but with a page two. Stanford needs to line up and be itself and see if UCLA wasn't itself last week. Stanford needs to anticipate potential counters and be ready to counterpunch if the Bruins application of those counters is successful.
But, really, Stanford should just do what it did last week. Only better.
Kevin Gemmell: Any and all stories about UCLA and their chances of winning tonight have to start with the offensive line play. I'm not exactly breaking news here, but Hundley is going to get sacked. Franklin will take negative plays. That's the nature of playing against one of the best defenses in the country.
But seven sacks (as was the case last week) and nine tackles for a loss (as was the case last week) isn't going to cut it. Neither will 12 penalties for 135 yards. That's the good news for the Bruins heading into tonight's Pac-12 championship game. There is room for improvement -- in both the physical and the mental aspects of the game.
A lot of it is on the offensive line. But not all of it. Hundley needs to do a better job of recognizing where the pressure is coming from and getting rid of the ball quicker than he did last week. He's still a fantastic athlete, but he's still learning to be a complete quarterback -- that includes reading defenses. The Cardinal run a fairly sophisticated, NFL-style 3-4. And when Jason Tarver was the co-defensive coordinator last year, he installed a lot of different strands and stunts. And with their base defense and limited blitzing, they were still able to disrupt UCLA's offense. I'm sure Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason watched game film this week and in his best Mr. Burns voice, tapped his fingers together and cooed "exxxxcellent."
To counter this, I'd expect Mazzone to make Hundley more mobile this week -- more designed runs, sprint outs, a couple of boots, etc. Just enough to take some of the pressure off of the offensive line, back the Cardinal up a little bit, create some space for Franklin and buy Hundley a little more time.
I'd also expect a big game out of tight end Joseph Fauria. Just as the Zach Ertz/Levine Toilolo combo is a mismatch for the Cardinal offense, Fauria is Hundley's primary mismatch. He has more touchdowns than any FBS tight end (11) and Hundley is completing 75 percent of his throws with 11 touchdowns and zero picks when he targets a tight end.
And let's not forget whatever cosmic forces may be at work. Just consider the 2012 season: USC was No. 1; Oregon was unstoppable; Washington beat two Top 10s but lost to Washington State; Stanford was supposed to drop off; three of the four new coaches are going to the postseason and a sophomore from Arizona leads the nation in rushing. Apropos of nothing, but it would almost be a fitting bookend to this year if exactly what we all expect to happen -- Stanford winning -- doesn't.
2hChantel Jennings and Ted Miller