For the past few years, Stanford University’s football program has been one of those teams where in order to beat them, opponents have to play a perfect game.
The fact that this David Shaw-led Cardinal team from Palo Alto was an angry bunch after getting upset by Utah and were looking for redemption at home on “The Farm” – against a Pac-12 rival who was ranked in the top ten, no less – didn’t help the UCLA Bruins either as Jim Mora’s team tried to end a five-game losing streak to a school that is considered the best institution of higher learning in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River.
Add to that Stanford applying their tried-and-true formula of a grind-it-out, smash-mouth offense – running back Tyler Gaffney bullied his way to 171 yards and two touchdowns, carrying several UCLA defenders on quite a few of those yards – and a defense that held the Bruins to 73 yards on the ground and 265 yards overall, and the result was the same as it has been since 2008:
Stanford 24 – UCLA 10
It was the Bruins’ first loss of 2013, their third straight defeat to the Cardinal – who entered the BCS rankings at #6 – in the past 11 months, and their 6th straight setback to them.
Remember my statement about opponents needing a perfect performance to beat a team like Stanford, now 6-1 and 4-1 in the Pac-12 Conference?
Well, now 12th-ranked UCLA fell far short of perfection on a sunny and warm Saturday afternoon before a sellout crowd of 51,424 at Stanford Stadium that featured a large contingent of discouraged and dejected Bruin fans.
Not that the Bruins played like the Bad News Bears, but the Cardinal outmuscled UCLA (5-1, 2-1 in the Pac-12) – again – on both sides of the ball.
I mean, even though they stacked the box on defense, Stanford hardly blitzed, and Brett Hundley STILL found himself running for his life as he was sacked four times and harassed throughout the game.
That pressure certainly contributed to the Bruin quarterback throwing for only 192 yards and having Jordan Richards intercept him twice, the second pick killing off any last hopes in the fourth quarter.
UCLA’s offensive line, depleted at the start with two freshmen playing against an Stanford defensive front seven that’s perhaps the best in the nation, saw Simon Goines – one of the few Bruin blockers with experience – go down with a knee injury (as did his backup, Conor McDermott, with a separated shoulder) and had much to do with Hundley and the offense’s sub-par day as the Cardinal took complete advantage of the Bruins’ youth and inexperience among their big uglies.
Four of UCLA’s seven penalties – not too bad overall, considering their longtime problems there – were false starts on the line that maimed drives as the yellow flags were thrown after good gains.
To be perfectly honest, the Bruins’ offense hasn’t performed they way they should since Torian White tore an ACL and broke a bone in his leg; it’s clear that not only has losing White deeply hurt this team, UCLA’s chances of a great season may well be in jeopardy as Goines’ and McDermott’s injuries leaves them even more shorthanded up front.
And as I’ve always said…
If you don’t have a good offensive line, you don’t have a good football team.
An even bigger key to this setback was Stanford’s success in slowing down the pace of the Bruins’ usually high-flying offense, holding them to a time of possession of a mere 22 minutes and 49 seconds while they had the ball for 15 minutes longer than that.
The Cardinal, as in accordance to their offensive style, was in absolutely no hurry, especially in the fourth quarter as they kept the ball on the ground, tiring out the UCLA defense as the Bruins had their hands on their hips between plays – a sign of fatigue – by then.
The stats of Hundley and Stanford’s signal caller Kevin Hogan may have been relatively similar – Hogan completed 18 of 25 passes for 225 yards and a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch by Kodi Whitfield to break a 3-3 tie halfway through the third quarter while Hundley completed 24 of his 39 throws – but let’s face it Bruin Nation:
Hogan clearly outplayed Hundley on Saturday, as the junior looked more like a top NFL draft pick than Hundley, who many scouts have going in the first round if he comes out, did.
Despite Gaffney’s big day, UCLA’s defense should be given credit for keeping the team in the game, as Stanford was only winning 3-0 at halftime and 17-10 late in the fourth quarter. They gave their offensive counterparts numerous chances to tie the game, but the 11 defensive guys wearing red jerseys and white helmets with the big red “S” on the side were just too much for the Bruins – again.
Any team that holds an opponent who was averaging 45.8 points a game going in, as UCLA was, to only ten must be given props.
The one highlight for Hundley and company was his three-yard scoring throw to Shaq Evans to open the fourth, capping off a 75-yard drive and giving the Bruin fans some legitimate hope.
A big mistake that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone made was to not give Malcolm Jones, a bruising runner who could stand up to that Stanford front seven, more opportunities as he only carried the ball five times. He averaged six yards a pop in the game; the Bruins would have been better off to give Jones at least 15 to 20 carries.
But as they say, hindsight is 20-20.
And UCLA cannot dwell on this loss or cry in their spilled soup, because they will be going from playing a bunch of Incredible Hulks to playing a bunch of Road Runners next Saturday:
#3 Oregon Ducks (7-0, 4-0 in the Pac-12 Conference)
PLACE: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 26, 4:00 p.m. PT
LAST MEETING: Oregon won, 49-31, in the 2011 Pac-12 Championship Game
ALL-TIME SERIES: UCLA leads, 39-26
I can hear much of Bruin Nation yelping “Gulp!”, “Oh No!”, and “We don’t have a chance!” right about now as UCLA prepares to face an Oregon Duck squad that’s been killing teams all year.
A complete preview of this game will appear on this site later this week.