Last week, we went through a three part preview of Stanford. You can read Part I, where we looked at the coaching staff, Part II, where we previewed the offense, and Part III, where we examined the defense at the relevant links. While we don't need to rehash the previews, there are some things that we learned about Stanford after watching the first game.
First and foremost, Stanford's offensive line looks much more versatile than we initially thought. The line may start LT David Yankey , LG, Khalil Wilkes, C Sam Schwartzstein, RG, Kevin Danser and RT Cameron Fleming, but they use 5* freshman Kyle Murphy and Josh Garnett, as well as 4* freshman Andrus Peat and mix and match lineman all over the field, as well as sub in extra lineman and go to goal line formation frequently. This is a line that can wear a defense down both physically with size and fresh bodies, and mentally with constant formation changes, and they are going to be even better in the future.
This was also the first time that I saw quarterback Kevin Hogan play, and I was impressed. He didn't wow me with down field passing, and only threw for 160 yards, but he was 15/22 passing and eluded UCLA's pass rush effectively all night. He played intelligently and composed, which is exactly what one would expect from a Stanford quarterback.
In general, I thought UCLA played defense well, but Stanford gashed UCLA twice on two long runs out of the heavy sets that accounted for 89 of Stanford's 221 rushing yards. I have no doubt that Coach Mora and Coach Spanos will give those sets some extra attention this week. Speaking of big plays, 3 of Stanford's 5 touchdowns came on drives aided by big plays and/or turnovers. Another Stanford score came after an iffy pass interference call that could have easily gone the other way. Obviously, big plays, turnovers, and penalties are part of the game, but UCLA played much better than the score would indicate, and did a very good job at preventing Stanford from sustaining long scoring drives. Eliminate some of those mistakes, and Stanford's score becomes much more manageable.
UCLA will need to keep Stanford's score manageable, because the offense simply isn't going to score much against a defense playing as well as Stanford's is right now. Stanford's defensive front is even better than I thought. Stanford really shut down UCLA's run game, allowing only 73 yards on 33 carries. They sacked Brett Hundley 7 times, and were able to get consistent pressure with three or four rushers, enabling them to sit back in a fairly conservative shell. It's tough for an offense to score when moving the ball is as difficult as it is against Stanford.
As good as Stanford's defense is, there are some holes. I like our receivers against their secondary in one on one situations. Our guys dropped a few passes that would have sustained drives, and Hundley was more erratic than usual, but there were opportunities. UCLA's offense will need to be more creative and avoid 3rd and long situations, and I wouldn't be surprised to see UCLA use a quick passing game on first down more often.
That concludes the preview of the Pac-12 Championship game. Fire away with any additional thoughts and comments.