Before we get started with our football roundup (there is a huge day ahead for all of us) make sure you take a little moment to take a little moment to reflect what this day means for all of us. Say a little prayer for all Americans who lost their lives 9 years ago and all the incredible men and women who risk their own lives to protect our freedom every day. Football and rest of college athletics don't really mean all that much in the grand scheme of things when you reflect on a day like today. So it is wonderful for UCLA to go out of their way to commemorate what should be a special day at the Rose Bowl (and all around college football).
Speaking of football, I don't think I need to weave together the storylines for today in detail. We have talked about it all week. According to conventional wisdom in traditional media, Jim Harbaugh's Stanford should come in and roll right over Rick Neuheisel's hapless UCLA to end their losing streak in the Cathedral of college football. The week has been filled with reports in traditional media with dumb and ignorant apples and oranges comparisons between Harbaugh and Neuheisel, to launch cheap shots at the state of UCLA program which is just one game into CRN's 3rd season in Westwood. Then there has been obsession over status of UCLA's starting QB (freak outs despite the fact we have the best QB coach in the country) and some panic on the state of our defense. Stanford meanwhile is apparently sitting pretty and looking like juggernaut after a demolishing of lower division program (UCLA BTW has never played a lower division program in its history).
In other words, if you wean through the traditional media narrative (except for some isolated instances) UCLA has absolutely no shot to win this game today. So with that kind of backdrop it will be interesting to see what kind of mindset UCLA team comes out of with this afternoon. For me though, I think the first thing to look for will be how both of our units are performing in their respective first drives in both halves of today's game. In next few weeks, I want to look up the charts for our first half first drives for our defense during this past season (and early season games this year) and compared that to those from the last two seasons under previous DC. I am not sure what I am going to find but I just get the sense that what happened in Kansas State was not an anamoly and that it wasn't just limited to Chuck Bullough coached units at UCLA. Anyway, at least for tonight it will be huge for UCLA to come out and get 3 and outs in that first series and set the tone for the game. More after the jump.
From the Bay Area perspective here are some of the things they are looking out for tonight against UCLA:
What to watch for
1. After working on a base 3-4 defense through much of camp, Stanford almost exclusively used a 4-2-5 against Sac State because the Hornets couldn't run the ball. Stanford probably will mix things up tonight.
2. Coach Jim Harbaugh indicates he'll use all five tailbacks, but one or two need to rise to the top to give the running game some continuity. In order to improve, running backs need to see game action, not take a number on the sideline.
As for UCLA Bruin receivers (along with the QB of course) are going to be on spotlight tonight at the Rose Bowl. Collectively as a group they had an atrocious season debut against Kansas State. The LA Times had the following comments from WR coach Reggie Moore and Ricky Marvray:
"We definitely fine-toothed-combed the film and made them understand that from here on out we have to make big plays," said wide receivers coach Reggie Moore. "Our group has to be the catalyst to take us where we need to go."
There was extra work for all.
"We made sure that we each got six, seven, eight balls during each drill," said wide receiver Ricky Marvray, a Corona Centennial grad. "This is our job."
We will see how Bruin receivers do their part in excuting their responsibilities. This just doesn't involve catching the ball, but also includes crisp route running and blocking for their team-mates. This is a group we all expect to excel this season. So we are hoping to see tangible improvements tonight. Moreover, if the starting crew (Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario) are not getting it done, sure hope the coaches are going to look more at guys like Josh Smith (who is a known commodity in terms of his speed and play making abilities), Ricky Marvray (a practice sensation who made his presence felt immediately against KSU) and Randall Carroll today (whatever happened to him?).
4. Youth is served-UCLA coaches went quite conservative on player rotations last week, skittish about using young players in a tight game on the road. That should change this week with freshmen Cassius Marsh, Seali'i Epenesa, Keenan Graham, Dietrich Riley and Malcolm Jones expected to have much bigger roles.
Malcolm Jones only got 3 carries in the second half last weekend. He looked smooth, decisive and aggressive averaging almost 7 yards per attempt. I hope coaches get him going early against a Stanford defense, which wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire last season, and is a bit banged up heading into this game.
It will be interesting to see what kind of defensive formation the Cardinal throw at the revolver formation. From the AP writeup:
"UCLA has a bunch of single-back formations, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of (4-2-5 defense) again," said Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas, who made two sacks against Sacramento State. "The pistol offense is confusing. They can go both ways any time they want. It will be challenging to prepare for them."
Keep in mind the Trees made a much hyped move of switching over to a 3-4 defense this off-season under their new DC. They didn't show any of that against Sacramento State sticking with their nickel package. So UCLA coaches don't have much tape to with heading into this game.
Lastly, can't forget about the special teams. This is one spot where UCLA could have an edge. From the LA Times:
UCLA kicker Kai Forbath has made 40 consecutive field-goal attempts from less than 50 yards, and is nine for 12 beyond 50 in his career. He appears to be over a groin injury that nearly kept him out of the opener.
Stanford receiver Chris Owusu returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season. Owusu did not play last week and is listed as questionable for Saturday's game because of an undisclosed injury.
UCLA's Jeff Locke averaged 45 yards a punt last week - with kicks of 55 and 60 yards - but has been bothered by a sore knee.
Owusu is explosive. We will have to keep an eye out for him for sure. Then again it's unclear how effective he is going to be due to injury issues. Of course I will take our kickers over anyone else's. Meanwhile, keeping my fingers crossed to see more of Smith at PR duties. Embree may be the veteran (in terms of experience at UCLA) but I think we can really use Smith's explosiveness in this department. Yet another thing to keep an eye on in terms of how UCLA coaches manage their personnel decisions tonight.
The game gets started at 7:30 pm PST on tWWL. Leading up to that there is a huge slate of some tasty games on the menu. We will put up a pre-game open thread around 12:30 pm PST, leading up to our game thread about half an hour prior to kick off. Enjoy your Saturday.