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Spaulding Roundup: Challenges & Opportunity In Palo Alto

Over at College Sports Hotline (a San Jose Mercury News blog) Jon Wilner (Brian Dohn's predecessor at the Daily News) provides his scouting report to beat Jim Harbaugh's Stanford:

To beat Stanford, you must 1) kick away from Chris Owusu, 2) limit turnovers and 3) contain Toby Gerhart.

No. 1 is easy; it’s just a matter of how bullheaded opposing coaches want to be.

No. 2 isn’t easy, because Stanford is smart and physical and has some ball hawkers.

No. 3 isn’t easy either, although the key to containing Gerhart is limiting his long runs more than his total yardage. (You can’t let him bust 30-yarders because the impact it has on field position.)

In theory, being successful with 2 and 3 would force Stanford to drive the ball long distances and do it 5-6 yards at a time, which would, in turn, force Andrew Luck to make some difficult throws.

(Luck has done a fine job managing games and limiting mistakes, but he hasn’t been in very many tough situations thanks to Stanford’s running game and the porous defenses he’s faced.)

How can UCLA accomplish all three? Well let's start with number 1. Here is what Rick Neuheisel had to say about his team's coverage plan this weekend:

Neuheisel is concerned about Stanford's Chris Owusu, who played at Westlake Village Oaks Christian and has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns this season.

"We're going to need great coverage and good hang time on kicks," Neuheisel said. "Or we can do some other things, like not kick to him."

We also need to add better tackling and staying within coverage lanes into that mix. Bruins simply cannot afford to give Stanford short field on Saturday afternoon.

Moving on to number 2, it is going to be very interesting to see how the coaches work with Craft to manage the game this weekend. We don't need to go over the details of how Craft was decent but unspectacular last time out against Kansas State. The main concern I have with Craft (even though I generally agree with how coaches worked the QB situation against KSU) is that he hasn't shown the ability to throw downfield.

If you watch the game against Kansas State, you will see Craft badly misfired in all of his long ball attempts (except when Austin was wide open with no one within 15 yards of him). What I notice about Craft is he doesn't have the ability to throw the balls in a way which would be impossible for the DBs to get to it. He always seems to throw them towards inside making it easy for the DBs to pounce on it. So what will the coaches do with Craft on Saturday?

Well for one thing I hope we are not calling for those long bombs. Hopefully our offensive line will be able to answer the Stanford challenge (as they will most definitely be loading up the box) by imposing their will, opening up running lanes and give Craft some protection. Craft is pretty Ok when you roll him out, get him on the run, and make him throw short to medium range passes. So I hope coaches have schemed up a steady dose of Presley, Paulsen, Harkey and Moya this weekend, and also working in some flanker screens taking advantage of some of the speed we have in our offense this season. However, if Craft is not getting it done in his first 3 or 4 series, I sure hope the coaches are willing to give Brehaut a chance in a series or two and see what he can do.

As for containing Gerhart, here is Jon Gold from the Daily News:

Their running back is maybe as good as there is in the country," UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel said. "He's a different kind of running back. He's not going to try to make you miss as many times as some as some of the elusive guys do.

"He's as powerful and tough to bring down as any back I've seen in college football for some time."
What makes the Gerhart gameplan so tough to defend is not just a matter of his quality, but his quantity.

Stanford makes good use of the burly back, as quarterback Andrew Luck feeds him often. Gerhart has 91 carries in four games, 13 more than Oregon State tailback Jacquizz Rodgers and 22 more than Cal's Jahvid Best.

"They know what they had in him, and they feed him," Neuheisel said. "He gets his chances. There are a number of players who are very hard to defense, but they don't get the ball 30 times a game."

If UCLA is to contain Gerhart, the first step is tackling him. It will not be an easy task.

We have already talked about how our defenders will need to swarm towards Toby and perfect the art of gang tackling. However, ATV and co. are also bracing for possible wrinkles Stanford might thrown in against the Bruin defense:

"They like to pound it, pound it, pound it and throw it," Verner said. "But they're definitely going to have some wrinkles or surprises for us to see where our discipline is. We have to be aware and prepared for everything."

Verner recalled two trick plays the Cardinal used against the Bruins last season. One was a flea-flicker and the other had the tight end falling down then getting up to catch a pass.

"The flea-flicker didn't work, but it did," Verner said. "That's one of the only PI (pass interference) calls I got last year. I was trying to make a play and they said I yanked him.

"The throw back (to the tight end) didn't work as effectively. I had to guard the tight end for some reason on that play. I ended up making the tackle, but he ended up making the first down."

In other words, ATV and co. will have to mentally alert for every play against these guys. I wrote this past weekend about how ATV has been coaching up the youngsters. He will have to look out for Sheldon Price, who appears to be holding on to his starting position at the other CB spot. CRN noted yesterday that the coaches are sticking with Sheldon becauyse of "a comfort factor" and "his size."

That's kind of interesting to me because I thought Sheldon was giving up too much cushion against the KSU receivers and Courtney was rather solid against Tennessee. Perhaps this is a way for the coaches to send Courtney (and everyoen else) a subtle message about how no is entitled to a starting position just because they have seniority, and that they will have to given everything they can to earn back the spot. Hopefully Courtney is up the challenge. We are going to need everyone in their top form this weekend in Palo Alto.

Too often in recent history, we have seen UCLA melt under this kind of situation or get off to a horrendous start. I don't think it will be the end of the world if UCLA doesn't win this weekend. However, it would be great if they can come out and play with the same emotion and fearless tenacity they displayed at Neyland Stadium. Playing that way in a consistent basis is what is necessary for this program to take that next step. It will be interesting to see how they handle that opportunity this weekend. It will definitely not be the last opportunity for this program (because given this year is shaping up so far, they are doing ok). Still if they can somehow pull out a victory or can play a solid, clean, hard fought game, it will set them up in good position when they come back to the Rose Bowl.