OPPONENT: Stanford Cardinal (10-2, 7-1 Pac-12)
PLACE: Stanford Stadium, Palo Alto, CA
DATE AND TIME: Friday, November 30, 5:00 p.m.
TV: Fox Channel 11
LINE: Stanford by 8
This hasn’t happened in a while, two major college football teams playing in consecutive games.
And not just two major college football teams, but two major college football teams from the same conference.
The last time two FBS teams played each other twice in a row? 1935.
The last time two FBS teams from the same conference played each other twice in a row? 1917.
To put that in perspective, America was just entering World War I, the Chicago White Sox were two years away from throwing the World Series in that infamous Black Sox scandal, and – get this – one of the two participants involved in this bit of history, UCLA, didn’t even exist as they wouldn’t open its doors as the Southern Branch of the University of California for another two years.
That’s one important significance as the Bruins and the Stanford Cardinal meet for the second time in six days to decide who will represent the Pacific 12 Conference in the Rose Bowl on January 1st, only this time at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto as the 8th ranked Cardinal achieved the better overall record by beating 17th ranked UCLA 35-17, who come into the game at 9-3 (6-3 in the Pac-12).
Those nine wins that Jim Mora’s team achieved was a three-win swing from the six wins that the Bruins had last season when they faced Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
Unlike in 2011, however, UCLA didn’t back into this title game because of USC being on probation and banned from the post season and with a coach who was fired and was making his final appearance in Eugene; this Bruin team won the Pac-12 South fair and square.
In order to avenge their loss to the Cardinal, UCLA has to somehow overcome the advantage that Stanford has in the two areas that led them to victory the first time around – the interior lines on both sides of the ball and the Cardinal linebackers.
Not to mention that newly chosen Pac-12 Coach of the Year David Shaw’s squad is loaded with veterans on the offensive line and the defensive front seven who have post season experience as they have played in BCS bowls the past two years, so it’s safe to say that they know what they are doing.
In fact, if there were a playoff this year, as there will be in 2014, I would have Stanford going all the way to the national title game. They are playing that well right now and it’s well known that in any kind of playoff, it’s the team that is playing the best at that time that wins the championship.
Meanwhile, the only post season experience UCLA has had in recent years was in lower level games like the Eagle Bank Bowl in 2009 and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco last year. And as many of the Bruins are young, particularly the offensive line – well, if you can’t see the advantage that the Cardinal has, I don’t know what to tell you.
The Bruins must somehow find a way to contain Stepfan Taylor as the senior running back went off for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries the last time these two teams met, including a 49-yard scoring jaunt that broke the game open. As Stanford’s achilles heel is in their wide receivers, a good idea would be for UCLA’s front seven to stack the line and force Kevin Hogan, their quarterback who’s the only one of their main guys that is not a veteran as he is a redshirt freshman, to throw the ball.
As well as to make sure that all-everything tight end Zach Ertz is covered like a blanket.
On offense, look for UCLA to flush Brett Hundley out of pocket and get him scrambling more as although he threw for 261 yards, the quarterback was also sacked seven times.
Xavier Sua-Filo and the rest of the offensive line must somehow overcome its youth and inexperience – three freshmen start in that unit – and perform better if UCLA is to have a shot at winning.
And the Bruin receivers absolutely must do better than they did last time as they dropped several key passes, including drops on two crucial fourth down plays in the fourth quarter.
Despite not being able to beat the Cardinal at home and now having to go to their place, the Bruins will have plenty of motivation to earn their first conference championship and Rose Bowl bid since the 1998 season. As Shaw said, “To think that UCLA is going to come up (to Palo Alto) and roll over for us is completely wrong.”
I had recently said that based on what happened in their previous game, UCLA had no chance against Stanford.
I was wrong – UCLA does have a chance to beat the Cardinal if they make the right adjustments, execute better, and cut out the mistakes and especially the penalties as they have the most yellow flags of all 120 FBS teams in that category.
I’ll be honest: I don’t think that the Bruins’ chances to win are that great as they are playing a team that’s a buzzsaw right now, but I’m not automatically conceding the game to Stanford, either, as it’s always tough to beat the same team twice in the same season.
In other words, UCLA can win this game.
Can they pull it off and bring the Pac-12 crown to Westwood?
Tune in Friday night and find out…