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What to watch: Stanford vs. UCLA

9/29/2011

PALO ALTO -- A few things to keep an eye on Saturday when UCLA travels to Stanford Stadium to face the No. 6 Cardinal.

  • MEDIC! UCLA’s M.A.S.H. unit secondary has a tough task ahead of it. The Bruins already struggle, ranking 72nd in the nation out of 120 FBS schools. Now they have to contend with the extremely accurate Andrew Luck and his skyscraper tight ends. Even if four of the five injured Bruins players see the field, most of them will have had limited practice during the week. That spells a big game for Luck & Co.

  • Secondary stoppers: Stanford’s pass defense -- as has been well documented on this blog -- is actually ranked lower than UCLA’s. But at least it has a good reason. Because the run defense has been so good and the scores in the first three games have been so one-sided, teams have had no other option but to throw the ball. This week, however, will be a good test for the secondary as run-stoppers. Coach David Shaw said you have to treat the pistol offense like you would an option team, which means everyone has an option assignment -- including the secondary. Like linebackers, the cornerbacks and safeties will have to quickly shed blocks and contribute to the rush defense. Discipline is key.

  • Sea of Tree? With students back on campus, players said this week they are hoping for a solid turnout at Stanford Stadium -- a venue notorious for a passing interest in its football team. Allegedly, all of the student tickets sold out within three hours. Stanford Stadium will never be Death Valley or the Rose Bowl, but with the nation’s longest winning streak on the line, a solid fan base can make the difference if things get tight.

  • Keep it balanced: Stanford has done a great job through the first three games keeping its offense balanced, and thus keeping opposing defenses off guard and guessing. Don’t expect it to change that up for the Bruins. The running game really took off against Arizona, with Stepfan Taylor gobbling up a career high 153 yards. That paved the way for the Cardinal play-action, which had the Wildcats stupefied in the second half.

  • Something special: I alluded to this in my prediction post earlier this morning -- the fact that Stanford has been on the verge of making something happen in the return game, and UCLA has one of the weakest punt coverage teams in the nation and it is below average in kickoff coverage. If ever there was a contest tailor-made for Drew Terrell and/or Chris Owusu to shine in the return game, this would be it.