- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Refreshed, well, as refreshed as college students can be, the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal (3-0, 1-0) are back home after consecutive road games followed by the bye week. UCLA (2-2, 1-0) has one of the better rushing attacks in the country. And unless you’ve been spelunking for the last 10 days, you might have heard the Cardinal lost one of their best run-stoppers to a season-ending knee injury. Still, the UCLA offense is fairly one-dimensional. And that one dimension happens to run right into the teeth of Stanford’s defense.
Prediction: Stanford 42, UCLA 7
Why they’ll win: Stanford is just a better all-around team. UCLA has never lacked for athletes. But Stanford can go athlete-for-athlete with the Bruins -- across both lines and in both backfields. You don't get the nation's longest winning streak with 22 scrubs on the field. The 3-4 is a good defensive scheme against UCLA’s pistol offense, because it allows for more speed where the Cardinal will need it most -- with the linebackers. UCLA hasn’t seen a rush defense like this all season. The Cardinal are quick -- and above all -- disciplined. Offensively, I don’t see any secondary in the conference -- maybe even the country -- that can handle Stanford’s tight-end trio of Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener and Levine Toilolo.
In the spotlight: Just because Stanford has a great run defense, doesn’t mean UCLA won’t try to test it. And don’t be shocked if early on they go right at the middle of Stanford’s linebackers. With Shayne Skov out for the year, Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley will be platooning at that middle linebacker spot next to Max Bergen. Coach David Shaw says Lancaster and Tarpley are up to the task. UCLA will probably look to make them prove it in the opening minutes.
Out on a limb: I’m just gonna throw this out there and see if it sticks: the Cardinal will get a special teams touchdown this week. UCLA’s punt coverage team is one of the worst in the country, allowing 19.7 yards per punt return. The kickoff coverage team is only slightly better, yielding 23 yards per return. Drew Terrell has one of the best punt return averages in the nation and Chris Owusu has come close to breaking one a couple of times on kickoffs. It's usually impossible to predict a special teams touchdown, but the numbers say this could be the week.