In past seasons, a game coming off of a bye week would lead to ecstatic claims like, "UCLA was undefeated last weekend!" Well, guess what, even though we're a full three weeks into the season, we can actually still say "UCLA is undefeated this season!" At the same time though, the Bruins have yet to win a game in conference play. While a 3-0 start is outstanding, a tough slate of games lays ahead for the Bruins and UCLA can ill afford to rest upon their laurels. That tough slate begins this weekend with a trip to Palo Alto to take on a surging Stanford team, so what are the three keys to the Bruins' tilt with the Cardinal this Saturday?
1) Defensive Line Depth- Shutting down the Stanford running game is out of the question. You don't shut down Toby Gerhart and Co. You can slow them down, but that's all you're looking for. Even if you slow the run game down though, Stanford is going to have the ball for a solid amount of time and they're going to play a physical style that wears down your defensive front. You also take into that it's a 12:30 start time and the boys will be playing in the heat.
All those factors are going to force UCLA to rotate their defensive lineman regularly and count upon the two's to perform. David Carter, Jess Ward, Damien Holmes and the rest of the backups will get their share of snaps and if they don't come to play, by the time the one's get back on the field, the Stanford offense will have found a rhythm. With a power offense like Stanford's you cannot take snaps off and give the offense anything. That means that in a game where the depth will be called upon, the depth will have to respond.
2) Don't Lose Special Teams- Usually, the goal is to win special teams, but you're usually not going up against a team with special teams as good as Stanford's. Chris Owusu has three kickoffs returned for touchdowns already this season, meanwhile Richard Sherman has a punt return of his own, while averaging 20 yards a return. As you can see, the Cardinal are dangerous in the return game and when you add in the Bruins' lack of excellence in coverage, special teams could win Stanford the game.
The key for UCLA will be to play special teams to a draw. That may be by kicking away from the Stanford returners or some other tactic. The key will be to try and give themselves a chance to win the game elsewhere. The one place the Bruins have a special teams advantage is with their kicker, where Kai Forbath has emerged as one of the nation's top kickers, but Stanford's kicker can get the job done too. He has two misses this year, but both from over 40 yards and he is perfect on extra points, while also having a season long field of 54 yards.
3) Keep Pressure Off The Edge At Bay- The Cardinal aren't overly big at defensive tackle, but they are very good at defensive end. Tom Keiser is the guy to keep an eye on. The sophomore end already had four sacks and seven tackles for a loss so to say he's a playmaker is an understatement. Toss in Erik Lorig and Chase Thomas and you have yourself a dangerous trio of pass rushers off the end.
While much improved, the offensive line will need help to keep the Stanford ends from putting Kevin Craft on his back all game. Logan Paulsen has done a great job blocking, but will need to chip the ends even when he is going out for passes. Jonathan Franklin and the rest of the UCLA running backs will be asked to stay in a pass protect more often than usual too. We spent all of last season watching Craft be knocked to the turf snap after snap. If it happens again on Saturday, which is a definitely possibility because of the Cardinal's pass rushers, we'll also see results similar to those last season and because Stanford is a much improved squad, we won't be able to eek out a win with that type of play this year.