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UCLA-Stanford: Importance Of Setting The Tone Early In Bay Area's "Marquee Matchup" This Weekend

Jon Wilner in the San Jose Mercury News makes a funny:

The game of the year in the Bay Area is finally here, with the marauders from down south in town for a showdown packed with conference title and postseason implications.

But let's not forget Saturday's other local game, because Cal-USC is important, too.

OK, so maybe UCLA's visit to Stanford Stadium doesn't have quite the star power, or generate as much interest nationally as the tangle in Berkeley, but it carries more than its share of significance.

After all, Stanford, not Cal, sits atop the conference standings.

UCLA, not USC, is undefeated.

Well to be fair Southern Cal-Cal game is sold out (last time we checked tickets are still available for our game, hello Bruins). The Trojan/Bears game will also be on the radar of rest of the nation who probably haven't adjusted their pre-season narrative of Cal/Southern Cal/Oregon duking out for Pac-10 conference titles, because as usual they probably haven't been paying attention beyond 9 pm EST to what keep track of what is going on around the Pac-10 conference.

So our game is going to be under the radar, which is fine with us. I kind of like UCLA flying under the radar as much as possible through this season. Still the veteran Pac-10 observers (ala Jon Wilner) are taking note of this weekend's matchup at the Farm.

Ted Miller on WWL posted this quick look earlier today:

UCLA (3-0, 0-0) at Stanford (3-1, 2-0)

UCLA beat Stanford 23-20 last year... The Bruins lead the all-time series 23-20 45-31-3 (HT maccabita4life)... UCLA will play nine consecutive conference games without a bye... Stanford has won six of its past seven home games... The Bruins have eight interceptions, tied for first in the conference... Stanford running back Toby Gerhart is No. 3 in the nation with 129 yards rushing per game... UCLA kicker Kai Forbath has connected on 22 of his past 23 field goal attempts dating back to last year. His lone miss came from 51 yards... The Bruins have held each of their opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense. They rank 15th in the nation in total defense (251 ypg) and 12th in scoring (12.67 ppg)... Stanford is No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency... UCLA is No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency defense... Stanford is No. 1 in the conference in rushing... UCLA is No. 3 in the conference in run defense...Stanford has yielded only two sacks this year, fewest in the conference... UCLA ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in total offense (301.3 ypg) and eighth in scoring (25 ppg)... Stanford ranks last in the conference in turnover margin (negative-3).

He then listed this matchup at the top of his weekend's top matchups:

UCLA at Stanford. That's strength-on-strength. There will be plenty of pads popping in this one -- Toby Gerhart plus Reggie Carter equals SMACK! Should be great fun.

For our sake let's hope Reggie and co will not wait for a series or two before pouncing on Gerhart and co. We have had three games this season and in every one of those matchups our D had a tough time getting it going in the first drive. Here were the production from our opponents first drives from our three games this year:

  • San Diego State: Aztecs churned out a 12 play 69 yard drive to score a TD.
  • Tennessee: Volns ran of 13 (!) plays for 66 yards before settling for a FG
  • Kansas State: Wildcats were able to run 9 plays for 37 yards, before ATV picked one off at the UCLA 35

Although the trend is heading towards right direction (in favor of us) in these first drives, we still need to do much better.  We can't be making mistakes on these first series like we have done in previous games. Against Tennessee we gave up a first down on 3rd and 12 with a huge 15 yard facemask. Similarly in the first game defense allowed the Aztecs to keep their drive alive by giving up two costly penalties on third downs. I think Stanford is much better than any of these teams and will make us pay even more dearly.

If we fall behind early against these guys, it will mean we will have to depend on Kevin Craft's arm, which is not a good situation. It also has the potential to really drive up the time of posession in Stanford's favor, who will try to ball control by relentlessly pounding us with Gerhart, looking to wear out our defense. So, going back to main point, how the teams come out and set the tone early will be pivotal. I hope our defense (and especially our front 7) is ready from the opening kickoff to handle the incoming Stanford attack. It will be interesting to see if they can set the tone early. I'd love to see our defense come out disciplined, focused and just flying to the ball. Instead of going through a "feeling out" process early on, I wouldn't mind seeing Chuck Bullough call some early run blitzes to smash the Stanford running game upfront.

Would be interested in hearing what you guys think. It seems like at this point there is not a lot of secret in terms of what we can expect this Saturday. It will be a matter of which team is ready to answer a physical challenge. Can't wait to find out the answer.