Stanford Football: Johnathan Franklin

Happy Friday!

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 
You might have noticed a theme this week. We kicked off the "Biggest Shoes" series and had two polls (North and South) on replacing departed players. So that means it's now time for your Pac-12 bloggers to weigh in on which two players we believe leave the biggest holes. Given our penchant for quarterbacks, you might find our two choices surprising. Read on.

Ted Miller: I do not know what size 6-foot-3, 320-pound Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei's shoes are, but I'd bet they are among the biggest in the Pac-12 -- in more ways than one.

The thing about replacing a dominant interior defensive lineman is that it's difficult to measure what you're losing. An All-America receiver or running back or even cornerback leaves, and you feel fairly comfortable quantifying what is lost and must be replaced. Lotulelei, however, was more than the sum of his stats -- 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five sacks, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and a very important blocked kick.

Lotulelei changed what an offense could do. He changed blocking schemes. He demanded specific attention from an offensive coordinator and a line coach. He made sure the interior of the opposing offensive line -- even if the offense was winning the overall battle -- wanted to ask for its check.

He was a unique presence. An anomaly. A college center could start 48 games in his career and face a guy like him just once. That's why Lotulelei will be a first-round NFL draft pick, even with a heart condition. He could get picked in the top five if a team deems him healthy.

But his shoes are even bigger because Utah, after a disappointing defensive campaign in 2012, is replacing three of four defensive linemen. Moreover, the Utes were unhappy with their linebacker play last fall, even with all the protection Lotulelei provided. Opposing offensive lines, unencumbered by the need to double-team Lotulelei every play, will get a lot more hats on those linebackers in 2013. Not what coach Kyle Whittingham wants.

[+] EnlargeSam Schwartzstein
Charles Baus/CSMCenter Sam Schwartzstein was a huge piece of Stanford's recent offensive success.
The cupboard isn't empty. The Utes are high on Tenny Palepoi, a 305-pound senior who played well as the backup to defensive tackle Dave Kruger last season. And there are other big bodies: LT Tuipulotu, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a 320-pound redshirt freshman, and Viliseni Fauonuku will be in the mix.

Yet the Utes defensive coaches won't even pretend one of those guys will fill Lotulelei's shoes. They are just too big.

Kevin Gemmell: This is a tough one. I've been going through a bunch of players all week long trying to come to a conclusion on which one I wanted to write about (and Lotulelei was already taken). All of them are important -- Matt Barkley, Khaled Holmes, Robert Woods, Jordan Poyer, Travis Long, Markus Wheaton, Brandon Magee, Desmond Trufant, Stepfan Taylor, Johnathan Franklin, Zach Ertz, Dion Jordan and … (insert name I unintentionally omitted and now you feel wildly offended).

There really is no wrong answer here. Each player is a major contributor to his team in his own way. But the one name that kept coming back to me is Stanford center Sam Schwartzstein. I know, not as exciting as Kenjon Barner or glamorous as Matt Scott. But in terms of sheer contributions to the team that will be tough to replace, Schwartzstein has to be in the conversation.

In 2011, he was regarded as having the second-best football mind on the team -- behind only Andrew Luck. And he didn't lose any of that in 2012.

After the quarterback, there is no more important position on Stanford's offense than the center. He makes all of the scheme and protection calls at the line of scrimmage. He even calls plays in the huddle when the Cardinal go into the Wildcat.

Schwartzstein started every game since taking over for All-American Chase Beeler, and twice he blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in Taylor. The Cardinal played 14 games in 2012 and allowed just 20 sacks. In the 12-game regular season, they had allowed a conference-best 17. The year before that? Just 11 in 13 games. I know for a fact that there were zero quarterback-center exchange fumbles in 2011. And none comes to mind in 2012.

Khalil Wilkes, who started almost every game last year at left guard (one start at left tackle) moves over to compete with Conor McFadden for the gig. Maybe the transition from Schwartzstein to one of those guys will go as smoothly as the handoff from Beeler to Schwartzstein. After all, the new center will have one bona-fide All-American at his side and potentially a couple more on the line.

But they won't be the ones making the calls. That falls on the center -- and Schwartzstein was outstanding at it. He was second-team all-conference and honored with the school's leadership award. Not Taylor, not Ertz. Not Shayne Skov nor Ryan Hewitt nor the aforementioned All-American David Yankey. The center … the most crucial position in Stanford's offense that you never hear about.

Tough shoes to fill, indeed.
We did a top-25 Pac-12 players list, and then asked you to provide your own.

The response was strong. Both in numbers of entries and the overall quality. A few of you listed mostly guys from your favorite team. One guy took the time to type out Matt Barkley 25 times.

I couldn't publish them all, of course. Further, I didn't consider ones that listed 25 guys with no explanation -- YOU DIDN'T FOLLOW DIRECTIONS! -- and I didn't include ones that just said "switch these two players, drop Reggie Dunn and your list would be perfect."

I also have a celebrity contribution, the last one, that I found pretty interesting.

Couple of general thoughts:
Once again, here's our list.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah

Here are some of your thoughts.

Braxton from Fargo, N.D.:

1. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
3. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
4. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
5. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
6. Jonathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
7. Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
8. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
9. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
10. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
11. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
12. Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
13. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
14. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
15. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
16. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
17. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
18. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
19. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
20. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
21. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
22. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
23. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
24. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
25. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

First off I do not think a sole kick returner (Reggie Dunn) belongs in a top 25 player list. I would make an exception with De'Anthony Thomas, though he plays a much more vital role in Oregon's offense, than Dunn in Utah's offense. Leaving off Austin Seferian-Jenkins is absurd. If you would take off Seferian-Jenkins off Washington's offense, they would be incredibly one-demensional. Taylor Kelly almost made my list, but I just didn't see enough fire-power in him through the season.

My take: Reasonable list. Added Seferian-Jenkins, Sankey and Trufant -- three Huskies -- and dropped Dunn, Kelly and Crichton. Could be argued.

(Read full post)

Poll: Best postseason game of 2012

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
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On Tuesday we polled you on the best regular-season game of the 2012 season. With more than 6,700 votes, Stanford's win over Oregon remains slightly ahead of the USC-Oregon game.

But there were nine other games after the regular season ended -- the Pac-12 championship game and eight bowl games.

Since the Pac-12 lost four of those games, those losses probably wouldn't qualify in a "best of" poll (stop your snickering, Oregon fans).

So for today's poll question, we're asking what the was the Pac-12's best postseason game.

Your options:

SportsNation

What was the best Pac-12 postseason game in the 2012 season?

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    10%
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    19%
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    7%
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    17%
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    47%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,862)

Pac-12 title game: It was the long-awaited rematch -- a full six days in the making. After the Cardinal thumped the Bruins at the Rose Bowl in the regular season finale, 35-17, they met six days later at Stanford. This time around, it was a much tighter contest. UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin exploded for 194 yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns. Three times the Bruins held the lead, including a 24-17 edge heading into the fourth quarter. But Kevin Hogan's legs and arm -- coupled with a pair of Jordan Williamson field goals -- were enough to lock up the 27-24 win for the Cardinal.

New Mexico Bowl: The first bowl game of the 2012 postseason may very well have been the most thrilling. Arizona mounted a furious comeback in the final two minutes, erasing a 48-35 deficit, to pull off a shocking 49-48 victory over Nevada. Arizona scored 14 points in the final minute (after recovering an onside kick), including a 2-yard go-ahead touchdown pass from Matt Scott to Tyler Slavin with 19 seconds left in the game.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: The other Arizona team didn't need any last second miracles as Arizona State throttled Navy 62-28. But what made this game compelling was running back Marion Grice -- playing with a heavy heart following his brother's murder -- erupted for 159 yards and two touchdowns to earn offensive MVP honors.

The Rose Bowl: In vintage 2012 Stanford fashion, the Cardinal gutted out a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead on rushing touchdowns from Kelsey Young and Stepfan Taylor and let the defense and Williamson do the rest of the work. It was Stanford's eighth victory of the season coming by a touchdown or less.

The Fiesta Bowl: If the Rose Bowl was vintage Stanford, the Fiesta was vintage Oregon -- which used its speed to overwhelm Kansas State. De'Anthony Thomas set the tone by returning the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, Kenjon Barner rushed for 143 yards and the defense kept Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein and the Wildcats to just 283 yards of total offense.

Pac-12's best moments in 2012

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
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Here's a collection of great moments/storylines from the 2012 Pac-12 season in no particular order:

  • Clutch catches: A couple from Arizona wide receivers come to mind. There was Austin Hill laying out in the season opener against Toledo for a 30-yard touchdown -- quite possibly the best catch in the Pac-12 this season -- and Tyler Slavin's snag in the New Mexico Bowl. Zach Ertz's haul-in against Oregon was as clutch as it gets.
  • [+] EnlargeReggie Dunn
    Russ Isabella/US PresswireUtah's Reggie Dunn was a threat to go the distance every time he touched the ball.
    Dunn and done: It was a record-setting year for Utah's All-American kick returner Reggie Dunn. He set the NCAA single-season record with four 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns. He set the NCAA mark for career 100-yard kickoff returns with five, the single-game 100-yard kickoff return record with two and the kick return average in a game at 74.0. He also tied the NCAA record for kick return touchdowns in a game from any distance with two. His performance prompted one of the best quotes of the year from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "I can't believe they kicked to him," Whittingham said after the Colorado game.
  • Having their moment: Colorado is going to get mentioned a lot in this post -- mostly because of what others did to it. But in a season loaded with disappointments, it was a gritty fourth-quarter performance that stands out as a highlight for the Buffs. Trailing 31-14 in the final frame, Colorado outscored the Washington State Cougars 21-3 in the final 7:06 for their only win of the season, a 35-34 victory in Pullman, Wash.
  • The other side of Colorado: Feeling good after reading that, Buffs fans? Here comes the rub. Pac-12 teams exploded against Colorado this year with several record-setting performances. We've already mentioned Dunn getting one of his kickoff return TDs against the Buffs. But before that, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods had record-setting days against Colorado. Barkley threw six touchdowns and completed 95 percent of his passes (19 of 20), giving him the Pac-12 career touchdown record. Woods caught eight balls to set the USC career receptions record and he became the first USC player to have four touchdown catches in one game. A couple of weeks later, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey ran for a league-record 366 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 14.6 yards per carry. In conference games, Colorado was outscored, on average, 49-17.
  • Clutch kicks: In what was a very off year for Pac-12 kickers, a few key moments stand out: Ka'imi Fairbairn's 33-yard game winner lifted the Bruins to a 45-43 win at Arizona State; Jordan Williamson's 37-yarder in overtime downed Oregon and changed the entire landscape of college football; and WSU's Andrew Furney was oh-so-money in the Apple Cup, drilling a 45-yarder to tie the game in the closing minutes and then hitting a 27-yarder in overtime.
  • UW shockers: For as shocking as the Apple Cup demise was for the Huskies, they also provided a couple of big shockers of their own, knocking off a pair of top-10 teams. A week after Stanford stunned USC (not as stunning as it was at the time), Washington held the No. 8 Cardinal without an offensive touchdown in a 17-13 home win. A month later -- to the day -- it snapped No. 7 Oregon State's six-game winning streak, also at the Clink.
  • SoCal slugfest: Before the season, we all looked to the Oregon-USC game as the first of two that would determine the conference championship. As it turned out, neither team even reached the title game. But the game itself didn't disappoint. It was a 62-51 thrill ride in which Kenjon Barner rushed for 321 yards and four touchdowns, Barkley threw for 484 yards and five scores and the two schools gained 1,345 yards of total offense between them.
  • Quarterback controversies: Midseason switches and turnover at the position seemed like a constant throughout the Pac-12. Only four schools -- Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and Washington -- started the same quarterback in every game this season. Injury caused changes at Arizona, Cal, Oregon State, USC and Utah, while competitions/switches happened at Washington State, Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado. In the end, it was a good move for Stanford -- which went on to win the Pac-12 title. At Oregon State, the competition is certainly wide open after the Alamo Bowl collapse. Colorado has some things to figure out with a new coaching staff and we'll see if Connor Halliday can hold on to the job next year.
  • Heisman shutout: The Pac-12 didn't have a finalist for the first time since 2008 -- despite strong seasons from Marqise Lee, Barner, Carey, Johnathan Franklin, etc. Barkley was the preseason favorite, but fizzled as USC imploded. Despite having the nation's top wide receiver and three of the four consensus All-American running backs, the Pac-12 was snubbed out of a trip to New York.
  • Stanford's staying power: Surely, 2012 was the year Stanford would come back to earth. No Andrew Luck, no Coby Fleener, no Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. But behind a fierce defense, the Cardinal won the league title, Kevin Hogan is 5-0 as a starter at quarterback and the Cardinal won the Rose Bowl. Not bad for a rebuilding year.
  • Coaches are better than ever: Jim Mora, Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez all took their teams to bowl games in their first seasons. Mike Riley has his team back in the Top 25. David Shaw has won the coach of the year honor twice in two seasons. Chip Kelly is back. Sonny Dykes has an exciting offense. Mike MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding. The Pac-12 might have the hottest crop of coaches in the country. That's a very good thing.
  • 2-0: There are many ways to judge the talent of a conference. BCS bowl games are the biggest litmus test. The Pac-12 went 4-4 in the bowl season, but won both of its BCS games: Stanford beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Oregon thrashing Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. History judges the best of the best. And there was no doubt those two teams earned everything they got this year.

Pac-12 on Walter Camp All-America team

December, 6, 2012
12/06/12
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The Pac-12 was well-represented on the Walter Camp Foundation's 2012 All-America team, released Thursday.

USC sophomore receiver Marqise Lee, Stanford senior tight end Zach Ertz and a pair of running backs, Oregon senior Kenjon Barner and Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey, were named to the first-team offense.

Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei and Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer, both seniors, earned spots on the first-team defense.

The conference got two players on the second teams, one on each side of the ball: UCLA senior running back Johnathan Franklin and Arizona State junior defensive tackle Will Sutton.

For the complete Walter Camp list, click here.

Instant analysis: Stanford 27, UCLA 24

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Here's a quick take on Stanford's 27-24 victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game:

It was over when: It was over only when UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a 51-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the score with 39 seconds left.

Game ball goes to: UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, who was shut down in last week's meeting, gained 201 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns. It was a brilliant effort.

Stat of the game: 1-0. That was the turnover total in favor of Stanford. And UCLA's turnover was a Brett Hundley interception that was returned 80 yards by Ed Reynolds to the Bruins' 1-yard line, which set up the tying score at 14-14. It was big.

Stat of the game II: UCLA gained 282 yards rushing after getting just 73 in last week's game. But it didn't matter.

Unsung hero of the game: Stanford redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan was again unflappable. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 153 yards with a 26-yard touchdown. He also rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries with a score.

What it means: It means Stanford is headed to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. UCLA likely ends up in the Alamo Bowl.

Halftime: Stanford 17, UCLA 14

November, 30, 2012
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- UCLA started fast, serving notice that its offense wouldn't get dominated as it was last weekend, but Stanford answered and used a 37-yard field goal on the final play before halftime to go up 17-14.

UCLA had 266 yards at the half, including 168 yards rushing. It had 334 total yards and 73 rushing in last week's 35-17 loss to the Cardinal.

Still, the biggest play was a mistake from Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley. Stanford safety Ed Reynolds grabbed an errant pass and rambled 80 yards to the Bruins 1-yard line (it looked like Reynolds' fourth pick-six of the season, but the officials said no and it held up on review).

At the time, UCLA was driving with a 14-7 lead. Stepfan Taylor tied the game on the next play.

Then both defenses seemed to settle in, at least until Stanford went 62 yards to set up the go-ahead field goal.

Taylor rushed for 39 yards in the first half and became Stanford's all-time leading rusher, breaking Darrin Nelson's record.

UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin rushed for 118 yards on 10 carries, including a 51-yard touchdown. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan completed 10 of 12 passes for 93 yards and rushed for 42 yards on eight carries.

Take 2: Stanford vs. UCLA (take 2)

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
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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."

To beat UCLA, Stanford needs to do what it typically does: Run the ball. Stop the run. Sack the opposing QB. Protect the football. Lots of Stepfan Taylor with a little Zach Ertz mixed in.

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.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PRESSWIREStanford's Stepfan Taylor rushed 20 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA last week.
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.

Pac-12: Who will transform tomorrow?

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
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Fourteen weeks ago, the UCLA offensive line was young. Fourteen weeks ago, it was inexperienced. But it's time to grow up. And if the Bruins want to return to their home field for a BCS bowl game with the Pac-12 title in tow, they are going to have to play better tonight against Stanford than they did six days ago.

And not just physically, but mentally. The UCLA offensive line accounted for five of the 12 penalties and 45 of the 135 yards.

Of course, we'll first give credit where credit is due. Stanford's front seven -- even without nose tackle Terrence Stephens for the second consecutive week -- is filthy good.

Last week the Cardinal held UCLA to 73 rushing yards on 33 attempts and had seven sacks. Per the ESPN Stats & Information folks, the last time UCLA had been sacked more than six times in a game was in October 2008 (also against Stanford).

In last Saturday's 35-17 loss, the Cardinal forced Johnathan Franklin inside the tackles on 17 of his 21 attempts; they held him to just 48 yards (2.8 average) with no touchdowns or runs for more than 10 yards on those carries.

Further, Stanford did most of its damage with just its base defense, sending four or fewer rushers 84.8 percent of the time. And when they did blitz, the Cardinal were highly effective. Seven times the Cardinal blitzed Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley when he dropped back; he was just 1 of 7 against the blitz. The one happened to be his touchdown pass to Joseph Fauria.

Yes, this has turned into a post about just how good Stanford's defense is. And it illustrates how the UCLA offensive line will have to transform from last week to this week to give the Bruins a shot at the Pac-12 title.

Video: Pac-12 on the spot

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
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Who's on the spot in the Pac-12 championship game? On offense, it's UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin. On defense, it's Stanford inside linebackers Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley.

Bruins look for improvement in rematch

November, 27, 2012
11/27/12
9:00
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Like every coach after a loss, UCLA's Jim Mora walked off the field of the Rose Bowl Saturday night wondering what he could have done differently. Rarely do coaches actually get the chance to put those lamentations into motion.

Just six days after the Stanford Cardinal downed the Bruins, the teams meet again Friday at Stanford Stadium where Mora & Co. will have an opportunity to correct the mistakes of the very-recent past.

"I suppose the fact that we are playing each other, as opposed to playing another opponent, helps both teams in their preparation because there is a knowledge base already in place of your current opponent," Mora said. "In terms of physical challenges, I think it's just making sure you get the right mixture of rest and work so that your players are sharp on Friday night. You have to alter things a little bit, but we don't want to step too far out of our routine."

Performance, however, must be altered. There is no magic mortar for penetrating Stanford's fortified front seven. Mora preached the obvious when talking about what his team needs to do different in Round 2. Protect the quarterback. Run the football. Stop the run.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Alex GallardoBrett Hundley and the Bruins will have try to limit Stanford's pass rush in Saturday's rematch.
Sounds an awful lot like the philosophy of the team he's facing. Stanford is a team that plays the percentages as well as any team in the country. The offense is decidedly low-risk and they are content to pound away and wear down opponents on offense while taking the occasional, calculated risk downfield. And if it fails, they have no reservations unleashing one of the nation's top-rated defenses to get the ball back.

Saturday night, Mora saw first-hand what the Cardinal are capable of. They sacked quarterback Brett Hundley seven times and limited the Bruins to 334 yards of offense (73 on the ground). On five of UCLA's 14 offensive drives, they went three-and-out. On a sixth, Hundley threw a pick on the third play.

And then there are the self-inflicted wounds. Against the Cardinal, UCLA was flagged 12 times for 135 yards.

"It's hard enough to move the ball against a really good defense anyway, but you can't keep shooting yourself in the foot and think you can run up and down the field against a defense like that," said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "We're such a rhythm offense. All offenses are rhythm, I suppose, but our tempo goes fast and we have a tendency to play better that way. Then you stop and start back and it's third-and-20. I've got no ideas."

Mazzone isn't talking in hyperbole, either. Look at the play-by-play stat sheet from the game and there are chunks that read like this:

  • 1-10-UCLA 18. False Start.
  • 1-15-UCLA 13, Hundley, Brett sacked.
  • 2-20UCLA 8, Hundley, Brett sacked.
  • 3-22 UCLA 6, Franklin, Johnathan rush for 9 yards.
  • 4-13, UCLA 15, Punt.

It's a repetitive theme. And self-scouting the mistakes -- both mental or otherwise -- will be key in the rematch.

"They were probably doing the same thing," Mora said. "I don't know where you gain an advantage. I think really what it comes down to is the team that executes better and plays the hardest and makes the fewest mistakes will give itself the best chance to win ... Without giving away our game plan, I will say this. We certainly need to do a better job of protecting our quarterback. We gave up seven sacks against a really good front. Regardless of how good they are we have to do a better job there."

Whatever the adjustments, Stanford head coach David Shaw said he's expecting UCLA's best.

"To think that UCLA is going to come up here and roll over for us is completely wrong," Shaw said. "I'm no stranger to their head coach. I know him extremely well. He's a very competitive person and he's going to get his troops fired up and ready to come up here and take it to us so we have to prepare for their best shot and make sure they get our best shot."

Pac-12 2012 awards announced

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
3:14
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The Pac-12 conference has announced its 2012 individual honors and all-conference first and second teams as voted on by the coaches.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee, WR, USC.
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE, Arizona State.
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams, DE, USC.
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Marcus Mariota, Fr., Oregon
RB Kenjon Barner, Sr., Oregon
RB Ka’Deem Carey, So., Arizona
WR Marqise Lee, So., USC
WR Markus Wheaton, Sr., Oregon State
TE Zach Ertz, Sr., Stanford
OL Hroniss Grasu, So., Oregon
OL Khaled Holmes, Sr., USC
OL Brian Schwenke, Sr., California
OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, So., UCLA
OL David Yankey, Jr., Stanford

SECOND-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Matt Scott, Sr., Arizona
RB Johnathan Franklin, Sr., UCLA
RB Stepfan Taylor, Sr., Stanford
WR Austin Hill, So., Arizona
WR Robert Woods, Jr., USC
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So., Washington
OL Jeff Baca, Sr., UCLA
OL David Bakhtiari, Jr., Colorado
OL Sam Brenner, Sr., Utah
OL Kevin Danser, Sr., Stanford
OL Sam Schwartzstein, Sr., Stanford

FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Scott Crichton, So., Oregon State
DL Dion Jordan, Sr., Oregon
DL Star Lotulelei, Sr., Utah (2)
DL Will Sutton, Jr., Arizona State
LB Anthony Barr, Jr., UCLA
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford
LB Chase Thomas, Sr., Stanford (2)
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, So., Oregon
DB Jordan Poyer, Sr., Oregon State
DB Ed Reynolds, Jr., Stanford
DB Desmond Trufant, Sr., Washington

SECOND-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Henry Anderson, Jr., Stanford
DL Morgan Breslin, Jr., USC
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Datone Jones, Sr., UCLA
LB Kiko Alonso, Sr., Oregon
LB Michael Clay, Sr., Oregon
LB Brandon Magee, Sr., Arizona State
DB Deone Bucannon, Jr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Jr., Arizona State
DB T.J. McDonald, Sr., USC
DB Nickell Robey, Jr., USC

FIRST-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Vince D'Amato, Jr., California
P Jeff Locke, Sr., UCLA
RS Reggie Dunn, Sr., Utah
ST Jordan Jenkins, Sr., Oregon State

SECOND-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Andrew Furney, Jr., Washington State
P Josh Hubner, Sr., Arizona State
RS Marqise Lee, So., USC
ST David Allen, Sr., UCLA

ALL-PAC-12 HONORABLE MENTION
NOTES
  • By School: OREGON and STANFORD placed the most players on the first team with five selections each, followed by OREGON STATE with four.
  • By Class: Of the 26 first-team selections, 14 are seniors, five are juniors, six are sophomores and one freshman.
  • Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches--WR Marqise Lee of USC.
  • Two-time selections: Two players are repeat first-team selections from last year--DT Star Lotulelei of Utah, LB Chase Thomas of Stanford.
  • All-Academic: Two players were named to the first team on both the All-Pac-12 Team and the Pac-12 All-Academic Football Team--P Jeff Locke of UCLA, OL Khaled Holmes, USC. In addition, OL Kevin Danser of Stanford, DL Ben Gardner of Stanford and Michael Clay of Oregon were named second-team All-Academic and second-team All-Pac-12.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- The 24-hour rule is not in effect for Stanford or UCLA. Not even close.

“There are no 24-hour rules when you are playing for a championship,” said Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy of the time coaches generally allow a team to savor or sulk following a win or loss.

And across the hallway in the other locker room…

“All we have to do is get better in six days. Plenty of time, right?” UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone asked, rhetorically, sarcastically.

They better. Because the Stanford Cardinal came into the Rose Bowl and sacked quarterback Brett Hundley seven times, held Doak Walker finalist Johnathan Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries and locked up the Pac-12 North Division with a 35-17 win over the Bruins.

“Not this time, no 24 hours,” said Hundley. “It’s an after-the-game-rule. I’m already on to next Friday. There is no 24 hours. This loss, it is what it is, we’ll get better from it.”

The teams will meet again on Friday at Stanford Stadium for the Pac-12 title and a shot at the Rose Bowl on the line.

“It’s going to be hard,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “It’s going to be 10 times harder than this game was … Beating Oregon last week didn’t help us win this game. Winning this game is not going to help us win the next game. As I like to say, each game is its own lifetime. It’s its own entity. Every game is different and you have to approach it that way.”

If the Cardinal do what they did Saturday -- and to that point if UCLA does what it did – the Cardinal will be in a BCS game for the third straight season. Running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20 carries (7.1 average) and one of the nation’s best defenses was stifling.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PRESSWIREStanford's Stepfan Taylor rushed 20 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns against UCLA.
“This will be a tough night to sleep, if you do sleep,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, whose team surrendered 221 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns. “All you can do is start watching film and figuring out how to get better.”

The Stanford defense, however, did what it does best. It pressured the quarterback, got penetration and tallied nine tackles for a loss -- two apiece from A.J. Tarpley and Chase Thomas, who also had a pair of sacks.

“Brett was under a lot of pressure tonight, so we have to do a better job of finding a way to protect Brett,” said UCLA head coach Jim Mora. “I think that it’s a combination -- pressuring with four and then they brought five and six. And sometimes we did not get open. Sometimes he didn’t find the open guy. Sometimes they beat us. I think it was a combination of all those things.”

Offensively, Taylor continued to roll for the Cardinal (10-2, 8-1) -- winners of six straight. It’s the third straight game he’s gone for more than 100 yards and the eighth time this season. He said if the Cardinal stick to what has worked for them all year -- power running behind their vicious defense -- they should be fine.

“We shouldn’t make it difficult,” he said. “We knew if we won this game what the situation would be. We have a mature enough team to understand the situation and that it’s a quick turnaround. We need to get our bodies right and get back on film and watch this to be ready. They did some great things tonight. We have to study what they did and be able to make adjustments.”

The home team showed flashes of why they are the South Division champs. But they also continued a disturbing trend -- excessive penalties. In the previous three games, the Bruins (9-3, 6-3) had committed 13 (Arizona), 12 (Washington State) and 12 (USC) penalties. Saturday they were flagged 12 times for 135 yards. Mora, Mazzone and Hundley all pointed to penalties when reviewing the stat sheet as a top concern.

“Yes, it’s disappointing,” Mora said. “But we have to get over it quickly because we have a game on Friday night.”

One of the intriguing factors about the rematch is that it’s a clean slate for both teams. Each will have the opportunity to self-scout tendencies, mistakes and tells. But at the same time, neither team is going to drastically change what got them to the conference championship.

“Both teams will probably have similar game plans, but it definitely helps to see the team you’re playing in the following week,” said Stanford defensive back Usua Amanam, who scored a touchdown after recovering a UCLA fumble off a kickoff -- a pivotal game-changing play midway through the third quarter. “You kind of know what to look for and you’ll have a feel for them. But the same can be said for UCLA.”

Stanford safety Jordan Richards, who nabbed Stanford’s lone interception, said he’s taking a moment to enjoy the win -- because without it the Cardinal wouldn’t be playing next week. But a moment is long enough.

“Losing next week makes this game irrelevant,” he said. “We’re going to prepare to win like we did this week and try to dominate.”

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Thursday, 8/28
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