The more I think about this weekend's game the more it feels like our guys are getting ready for a Big-10 style slugfest in Palo Alto. It's probably not a coincidence since we are going to be taking on a team coached by someone with classic Big-10 roots, who is putting together a team Bo Schembechler would feel good about. As 4.0 Point Stance noted in the comment threads yesterday Stanford is going to be serving up a steady dose of power plays all afternoon long at the Farm:
[A]s everyone knows, Stanford’s entire offense is predicated on between the tackles running. Expect to see a steady dose of power plays (guard pulls to strong side) and the occasional counter. Harbaugh also loves to run the lead draw out of the I, although I didn’t see any of those against Washington. Stop those three plays and you stop the Stanford offense.
Gerhardt is one of the 5 best backs in the country. I genuinely believe this. I also believe that Owen Maricec, the fullback, is one of the five best fullbacks in the country. Andrew Luck is the golden boy 5* quarterback, but he’s unproven and Harbaugh is not comfortable telling him to sling it.
Wide receivers are a different story. Not a deep group to say the least. Ryan Whalen is the token white possession receiver. He’s probably got the best hands on the team. But Chris Owusu, the true soph, is the one to pay attention to. Incredible athlete with 3 KR touchdowns on the year. They’ll try to get him the ball on the edges via end arounds or screens and let him turn on the jets. He’s a threat to score from anywhere.
More on Owusu later. Let's go back to Gerhart. Suffice to say our defensive coaches are working over time this week to figure out how to go straight after Gerhart and the Stanford offensive line. This is going to be a matchup of brute strength between two units (Stanford OL and Bruin DL) that have enjoyed a decent start to this season. From the LA Times:
"I remember hitting him last year and it gave me a headache," Price said. "He is the toughest runner I've ever come across."
Price isn't alone in those thoughts. Gerhart enters this week's game against the Bruins as the third-leading rusher in the nation, averaging 129 yards a game. The 6-foot-1, 237-pound senior from Norco rambled over, around and through Washington for 200 yards in the Cardinal's 34-14 victory Saturday.
The Bruins don't need to be reminded about Gerhart's ability. He gained 138 yards and scored two touchdowns against them last season.
"You've got to tackle," Coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He's not going down with any one person, so you've got to be physical and you've got to wrap up."
That is a concern going into the game, as Neuheisel said that the Bruins' 23-9 victory over Kansas State on Sept. 19 was, "maybe for the first time all year we didn't tackle very well."
Still, this plays into UCLA's strength. The Bruins are tied for ninth nationally against the run, giving up only 74 yards a game.
One of the concerns I have is in our last three games UCLA took a little while before getting going on defense. It was almost as if Coach Bullough was feeling the other OC out before making his adjustments. Not sure if we are going to be able to do that this time around. I think it will be imperative for our defense to set a physical tone early in this game with clean and solid tackling and swarming to the ball carrier. Of course it will also entail our secondary being very disciplined so that they are not biting on play action fakes that Luck likes to pull off every now and then.
Meanwhile, as Stanford will no doubt will try to grind out and wear out our defense, our offense will have to put together it's own version of ball control by grinding out with decent running game. More on that after the jump.
Whoever plays QB for the Bruins on Saturday, coaches will look to him to manage the game and for him to manage the game against an opponent like Stanford effectively, he is going to need some strong ground support. Well coaches specifically worked on the running game on Sunday:
During much of Sunday's practice - rather than give his players the weekend off in their one bye week, Neuheisel pardoned his players on Friday and Saturday - the Bruins focused on the running game in preparation of their Saturday showdown at Stanford. [...]
With redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince on the shelf with a broken jaw, Craft is back in the saddle. So is Harkey.
But the running game has an almost entirely different look this year, and the Bruins are better for it.
"In this particular case, the numbers don't lie - we weren't very good last year," running backs coach Wayne Moses said. "It's on everybody. It takes a whole team to run the ball - the line blocking, receivers blocking. It's not one individual group; it's been a collective team effort. We're better this time around because, collectively, we're blocking better."
UCLA's running backs are averaging 4.8 yards per carry and have been stopped for just 23 yards worth of losses. With Franklin as the early workhorse - though the return of redshirt junior Christian Ramirez from an ankle injury could shake things up - plus the contribution of sophomore Derrick Coleman, redshirt freshman Milton Knox and freshman Damien Thigpen, it appears that the Bruins are starting from the ground up.
Still, the Bruins rank just seventh in the Pac-10 in rushing yardage, 68 th in the country, and 108 in total offense.
Well the Bruins are going to find out how much improvements they have made since this past season on Saturday. Last year they ran for just 86 yards against the Cardinal, who also had Kevin Craft under pressure all afternoon long until the Bruins went on no huddle at the end of both halves. If the Bruins revert back to last year's form, it will be a long afternoon in Palo Alto. For them to have a chance this weekend, they will have to provide Kevin time to throw and more importantly keep building on the momentum from this year by continuing to open running lanes for Jet Ski, DC, Knox, and possibly Ramirez/Thigpen.
Now going back to, Chris Owusu, he could potentially present a bigger headache than Toby Gerhart. In this first quarter of 2009 season, he has emerged as one of the best game breakers in college football. From Ted Miller on WWL:
Stanford receiver Chris Owusu: In the win over Washington, Owusu upstaged Stanford running back Toby Gerhart's career-high 200 yards rushing, which included a 60-yard TD run, by returning the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. It was his third kickoff return for a TD this season. In four games. That ties the Pac-10 record set by USC's Anthony Davis in 1974 and UCLA's Matthew Slater in 2007.
So I hope the extra work Coach Frank Gansz Jr did with our special teams this past week will pay off on Saturday. We can't afford to have the slip ups we had against KSU against Stanford with someone like Owusu returning kicks. It will come down to playing focused and disciplined on special teams coverage, where guys will have to stay within their lanes and do some old fashioned solid tackling. Given how both teams are going to be looking to ball control and blast each other all afternoon long, field position is going to be a big factor on who has the edge in this game. The way the matchup is shaping up, it sure sounds like something Bo Schembechler would be fired up for this Saturday.