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Stanford Notes

So let’s open up our notebook for Stanford. Jim Harbaugh’s Stanford is coming into town on a high note. They are still high about their thrilling victory over Arizona which came courtesy or clutch last minute drive. They pulled it off with junior backup QB Alex Loukas, who took over late in the game after starting QB Tavita Prtichard went out with a mild concussion.

Stanford after flailing through the bottom feeding Harrris and Teevens era is coming alive under Harbaugh, who Ted Miller thinks is the mid-season coach of the year:

In his second season, Jim Harbaugh has led Stanford, now 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the conference, back to respectability by emphasizing a blue-collar attitude and a physical style of play. Leaning on a potent running attack that ranks second in the Pac-10 with 184 yards per game, the Cardinal have played their way into bowl contention. Moreover, Harbaugh is proving an effective recruiter as he's expected to sign a class that ranks among the top 25 in the nation.

Can't really argue against that. I like Harbaugh a lot and he would have been my pick to be Lloyd Carr's successor in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh may eventually end up at his alma mater some day, but not any time soon. Still the second year coach is already being talked about a hot coaching commodity for the Forty Niners. Our old friend, Tim Kawakami (former LA Times beat writer for UCLA, who actually knew something about college hoops) is already seeing the future:

Hmmm. The day he was hired at Stanford, Harbaugh honored Bill Walsh's legacy (Walsh was on hand); we all know that Walsh's first tenure at Stanford lasted exactly two years before he left to create the 49ers dynasty.

But I think the Yorks probably would be too scared of Harbaugh's intensity and cockiness to consider him as Mike Nolan's replacement with the 49ers.

Al Davis is a different story. Harbaugh's first NFL coaching job was on the Raiders' offensive staff in 2002-03. Harbaugh was an Al favorite then, and Harbaugh sure brightened up when I asked about the Raiders owner.

"I talk to Mr. Davis now and then," Harbaugh said, adding that the last conversation came around draft time when Davis asked him about his former quarterback at the University of San Diego, Josh Johnson.

"I love talking to him. I consider him a mentor, and it was always special every time he would pull me aside with the Raiders or call me on the phone. He's the best.

"Nobody can talk football like Mr. Davis. Every time I talk to him, I always glean something about football."

So the Raiders have a vacancy at coach, with Tom Cable laboring as the temp. Jim, if Al calls you, what will you do?

"I'll always take a call from Mr. Davis," Harbaugh said.

Well, obviously Tim is joking (kind of?). But then again he was also joking about Pittsburgh head coach Howland coaching in Westwood back in 2002, when Lavin was taking UCLA for his last charade run to Steve-16 (sorry can’t find a good link any more on article Kawakami wrote around March of 2002, when he talked about how Howland could one day coach at UCLA). Anyway, back to the present.

Stanford is coming down to the Rose Bowl with a solid football team led by a very good football coach. I know lot of you believe that this is a must win game for UCLA, but I think we should also appreciate how difficult it is going to be for Bruins to pull out a win.

Let’s go over some numbers and will start by looking at the matchup between UCLA’s offense and Stanford’s defense.

Bruin Offense 08 Rank Per Game Cardinal Defense 08
Per Game
Rushing Offense 9 91.76 Rushing Defense 4 114.29
Pass Offense 6 205.50 Pass Defense 10 271.71
Pass Eff. Offense 8 108.94 Pass Eff. Defense 7 109.28
Total Offense 9 297.17 Total Defense 8 386.00
Scoring Offense 7 20.00 Scoring Defense 7 27.00

There are couple of stats that obviously stand out right away. First, an anemic Bruin rushing attack will be taking on a solid Stanford rush defense, which is barely giving up l15 yards per game. The Stanford is anchored by a defense line, which Jon Wilner (another former UCLA beat writer who used to work at the Daily News) considers to be the best DL in Palo Alto in almost a decade. From a recent post Jon published in the College Sports Hotline (his blog in the San Jose Mercury News):

It’s pretty good relative to other lines in the Pac-10 (fourth in yards-per-carry allowed: 3.4), and it’s very good compared to recent Stanford lines.

The unit is big and experienced, quick off the ball and physical. In fact, several opposing coaches have made note of Stanford’s physicality, with specific mentions of the defensive line and the Toby Gerhart-Owen Marecic backfield.

So … just how good is this line?

My first thought: It’s Stanford’s best since the Willie Howard/Matt Leonard/Riall Johnson-led group in 2000. (I’m counting Johnson as a lineman even though he was listed as an outside linebacker: he played a hybrid DE/OLB position.)

To make sure I wasn’t overlooking any lines from 2001-07, I checked with my ultra-savvy Stanford football source (USSFS).

He noted some of the more talented players over the years (Amon Gordon, Austin Lee, Babatunde Oshinowo, Julian Jenkins) but concluded that, yes, this is probably the best unit since ‘00.

And other than quarterback, there is no important position/unit than defensive line. If you can’t stop the run, you’ve got no chance (see: Oregon State v. USC).

So you can bet these guys just like every other UCLA opponent has done to date, will focus on completely shutting down the Bruin rushing attack, and dare Chow and co to beat them with Craft’s arm.

That’s where it gets very interesting. The second statistic that stands out from the number above is Stanford’s pass defense. It has given up almost 272 yards per game via air, which currently ranks dead last in the conference. So they are going to put pressure on Craft and co. to beat them with our passing game.

What will help UCLA’s case is if they can get a decent running game going against this tough Stanford defense. Obviously we can forget about replicating the rushing performance from last year when the Bruins rolled up 338 yards on the ground, highlighted by Bells 195 yards (in 19 carries). Bruins have basically a completely different offense in place, which is still working its way in developing an identity. Bell is not the same back as he is still working to get back in the same form he was before he went down with his devastating injury. IMHO it will help us if coaches increase the workload of Derrick Coleman, who so far this season has been lot more productive than Bell. I have no problem with giving Bell carries, but I think the coaches have to increase the workload of Coleman.

As for Craft, we have already discussed enough this week what he needs to do. He needs to work on doing a better job not locking down on his primary options, and make smart decisions when he has the option between running for positive yardage or forcing a throw. I think for the Bruins to win this Saturday, they will need 100+ rushing yards and a hot start from Craft. Craft has to figure out a way to get in rhythm early in the game because even though he plays better in the second half, his cold starts have been putting Bruins in tough situation.

Now moving on to the other side of the ball, here are the numbers between UCLA defense and Stanford offense:

Bruin Defense 08 Rank Per Game Cardinal Offense 08 Rank Per Game
Rushing Defense 8 171.33 Rushing Offense 2 184.14
Pass Defense 7 196.17 Pass Offense 10 149.71
Pass Eff. Defense 7 125.37 Pass Eff. 7 109.28
Total Defense 6 367.50 Total Offense 6 333.86
Scoring Defense 8 30.67 Scoring Offense 6 24.29

So what do we have here?

I guess the first question is whether Pritchard is going to be available on Saturday. It sounds like he is a go:

Pritchard has gone through the customary tests for head injuries the past two days — just as running back Toby Gerhart did after suffering a mild concussion Sept. 27 at Washington — and expects to be cleared today for a full practice.

"I feel great," Pritchard said Tuesday. "I'm right on track. They have their protocol for head injuries. You don't do anything the day after. Yesterday I did a bike workout. I did a lift today. If you stay asymptomatic throughout the whole thing, you get cleared."

Before getting his head slammed to the turf while attempting to throw, Pritchard was having one of his best games, completing 13 of 17 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. He also had an interception.

His experience and improved play could be invaluable for a Stanford team whose easiest path to bowl eligibility would be to win Saturday and then beat woeful Washington State at Stanford Stadium on Nov. 1.

"He makes it looks easy, taking the snaps, getting in and out of the huddle, calling the plays," Harbaugh said of Pritchard. "Our terminology is very wordy, so he's got a great ability to set the formation right, get the right play called, audible at the line of scrimmage — all those things you want your quarterback to do when he's leading his ballclub. He's always been very good at it."

Even so, Loukas performed well enough Saturday to merit playing time against the Bruins, Harbaugh said.

For the Bruin defense to be well prepared, they should get ready for both Pritchard and Loukas. Here are Miller’s notes on how a 2 QB system could work out well for Stanford:

Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard has steadily improved this year and was 13 of 17 for 113 yards and a touchdown before he was knocked out against Arizona with a concussion. He's likely to start against UCLA on Saturday. But Alex Loukas' running ability off the bench confused the Wildcats defense and was the key component of the 11-play, 60-yard, game-winning drive. Loukas completed a 21-yard pass and ran four times for 32 yards, and apparently earned more playing time, according to coach Jim Harbaugh. Loukas not only adds a nice change of pace, but he also forces a defense to use valuable practice time preparing for a running quarterback and some spread-option plays.

Whoever is in there will be helped out by the Stanford rushing attack of Gerhart and Kimble, who currently features the second best ground game in the conference. For the Bruins to win on Saturday, it will be imperative for them to hold the Cardinal below 200 yards rushing and force them to win with their passing game. Again here is Miller:

Sure, UCLA's rushing defense ranks eighth in the Pac-10 (171.3), which would seem to bode well for Stanford's potent ground game. But the Bruins have faced the nation's No. 6 (Oregon) and No. 16 (Fresno State) rushing attacks in recent weeks. Moreover, Stanford's more conventional power running scheme matches strength-on-strength as the Bruins defensive tackle combo of Brian Price and Brigham Harwell is as good as any in the conference. It's almost certain that defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker will try to force Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to throw the ball. The Bruins secondary has been terribly inconsistent this year -- strong safety Bret Lockett  is fighting to hold onto his job this week -- but Pritchard, while improving, has a tendency to force passes into coverage, see eight interceptions vs. seven TDs. The Bruins secondary has only four interceptions this season, but that has been a point of emphasis in practices this week. Stanford beat Arizona despite losing the turnover battle 0-3. It will be harder to do that on the road.

 Well the other point of emphasis should be basic tackling. If we don’t see that from the Bruins early on, it is going to be another rough uphill climb for us at the Rose Bowl this Saturday. Hopefully our coaches have the guys fired up and ready for what should be an all out war against a very well coached, solid football team.