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Locking In On Stanford Cardinal: UCLA's Biggest Pac-10 Game Since 2001

So we all had fun watching football games from all over the country and within the conference yesterday. I get that lot of people are now really eager and want to think about the big picture in terms of how the season is going to end for UCLA as the conference seems to be well "wide open":

The Pac-10 race is wide open: There will be no weeks off in the Pac-10 this year. Even Washington State has shown enough to toss off the patsy label. Oregon might be the latest flavor of the week, but is anyone really counting out USC? Or Cal? And what about Arizona State's effort at Georgia? The Sun Devils proved their first two games weren't a mirage. Of course, a competitive conference means a black-and-blue conference, and the nine-game round robin schedule means the likelihood of a team emerging unscathed is nearly zero. In fact, it's a good bet now that the eventual champion will win a tie-breaker among two-loss teams.

That was from Ted Miller, the veteran Pac-10 observer writing on his WWL blog. While some here want to take pleasure in other team's tough weekend, I think as a UCLA fan we should be well advised given our team's history, we don't look ahead and just lock into our next game (ok, we can make exception for the Trojies, who were getting booed by the lovely Trojan family).

I believe the Stanford game this weekend is the biggest conference road game UCLA is going to be playing in since the Stanford road game in 2001. I am not going to go over again on how no one here thought much of Dorrell's "10 win" aberration from 2005. We all knew that season was a total aberration where we were getting bailed out in one game after another by 2 Live Drew. We all knew in the back of our mind we were never really in real contention of the Pac-10 conference race and it got confirmed when Dorrell's incompetency was exposed in Arizona and then slaughtered in the Coloseum. We never had a chance were living off miracles.

Well for the first time since 2001, Bruins can have a shot at it. However, they will get that shot IF AND ONLY IF they can execute against a tough, superbly coached Stanford Cardinal this upcoming Saturday in Palo Alto. Last week it was Washington, that was the toast of the Pac-10. This week it will be the Oregon Ducks and Toby Gerhart and his Stanford bunch Bruins will be taking on in Palo Alto.

Given how the Cardinal thoroughly dominated the Huskies in the trenches last night, making Gerhart look like the best RB in the conference, while turning Locker into something ordinary, I'd say the Bruins will be underdogs against a fired up bunch which will also be chomping for revenge. The last thing UCLA or any of its fans will want to do is look past this team. And we will make sure that no one does that here on Bruins Nation. If you want to talk how UCLA is going to do against any other opponent besides Stanford this coming week, you will have to look to somewhere else because here we will be locking in on the Cardinal the same way we lock onto opponents during March Madness. At this point this is our game of the year, and nothing else is really going to matter. More after the jump.

As mentioned above Stanford Cardinal is going to be one of the two celebrated Pac-10 teams (other one being Oregon) this coming week:

Stanford is on the cusp of breaking through: The Cardinal bullied Washington with 321 yards rushing, and the defense played much better, holding the Huskies to 290 total yards and just one offensive TD. Think there's some regret about how the second half went at Wake Forest? Nonetheless, Stanford sits atop the Pac-10 with a 2-0 record in conference play. Another win or perhaps two and the Cardinal enters the Top 25.

I haven't seen the line for our game yet. I am going to assume they are going to be 4-7 point favorites. Also, I am going to get guess they are going to treat our game as their biggest one in their recent program history. The way it's shaping up now this game is going to be the more pivotal one for early conference positioning, than the one that will take place across the bay.

So the Bruins are going to be taking on a group that will be hungry for revenge and who also like the Tennessee volunteers will feel deep down that they gave the game away to us via the prevent defense last season. I was looking through the stats of last year's game and it was disconcerting to note that the Trees averaged almost 6 yards rushing against our front 7. Well one year later Gerhart seems to be more polished and stronger. He also seems to have a QB in Anrew Luck, who seems to be a better game manager than either Tavita Pritchard or Alex Loukas. Luck is doing heck of a job minimizing his mistakes and picking his opportunities for striking with play action passes.

If the Bruins want to pull out a win next weekend, we will need to be sharp and polished on defense. That means our guys will have to stay within their assignments, minimize mistakes, and do much better job with tackling than what was on display against Kansas State. Not to mention we will need much better play from the special teams coverge and continued improvement on the OL.

I will say again UCLA is not in a position to take Stanford lightly. If I were UCLA coaches and players, I would be extremely careful about saying anything that would give the Cardinal an extra edge. I will just offer up the trash Bob Toledo offered up before taking our Number 4 ranked Bruins up to Palo Alto in 2001:

Chris Lewis [then QB for Stanford], aided by an effective Stanford running game, picked the Bruins apart. And understand, this Bruins defense was considered by many to be the finest in the country. Led by new defensive coordinator Phil Snow, the Bruins' defense had been shopping for a nickname. "The Snowstorm" had been suggested.

Yesterday: dandruff.

Before the game, UCLA coach Bob Toledo said Stanford would draw only about 50,000 fans (64,495 showed up) for the game and he likened that to "a Safeway parking lot."

You have to love it when college football coaches talk trash. Toledo must have been chagrined when his baby blue SUV got totaled by a runaway shopping cart in the hands of a second-stringer.

Well the outcome wasn't fun and many would say that was the game that officially accelerated UCLA football's cratering into total abyss this past decade.

So on that note, let's get ready for a fun game week. Let's dive into our next game. Let's talk about our opponent with respect but no fear. Let's talk about matchups and strategies Neuehisel, Chow and Bullough will be looking at to get a W. Let's lock in and talk this game to death.

Oh and don't forget if you haven't made plans yet, get on them right now. Find a way to get to Palo Alto on Saturday if you live in or around California. As I said up top this is the biggest Pac-10 game UCLA has played since 2001.