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Opening Our Files: Early Notes On Amazing Jim Harbaugh’s Incredible Stanford Program

Time to put the Kansas State game in our rear view mirror and look ahead to Stanford. bk bruin has already started the process by asking for everyone's help in putting together the "Dirt." Suggest everyone to chime in with tidbits on every aspect of Stanford's football program. These are the kind of threads where we get a sense who is a member of this community as opposed to the trolls who only show up here to b!tich, whine and complain after tough losses.

As for the game, the timing of this matchup in unique. Since starting playing in the "Pac-10" in 1978, UCLA has played only 4 other conference games this early in the season.  We won at Stanford on Sept. 1, 2007 (45-17); lost at Washington State on August 30, 1997 (34-37); lost v. Cal on Sept. 4, 1993 (25-27) and won at Washington on Sept. 9, 1978 (10-7). The last time we opened our home schedule with a Pac-10 game was against Cal. That year got off to a rocky start with UCLA losing 2 out of its first 3 games before we went on to win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl (Read full game notes from the official site here). Can't imagine the kind of hysteria and nonsensical comments we would see from people if the internets were around those days.

Anyway, so thinking about mighty Stanford. If you read the traditional media you will get the sense that Jim Harbaugh is something like the second coming of Vince Lombardi.  If you have been following the hype through recent months, you will know that Sir Harbaugh is one of the greatest coach evah to bless us with his presence in the Pac-10, even though his record after three years in Stanford stands 2 game below 100, and his record after his first 2 years in the farm (9-15) was a little worse than CRN's first 2 years in Westwood (11-14). Even in Stanford's breakthrough season last year Harbaugh finished the season with a record of 8-5 with a once in a generation talent like Toby Gerhart at his disposal. One of those 8 victories included a 24-16 win over UCLA playing with its backup QB Kevin Craft.

So with that in the backdrop it is amusing to see Stanford coming into this game as a 7.5 favorites over UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Guess people think Bruins don't belong in the same field as the Cardinal, even though Jim Harbaugh with one year head start on recruiting front has won a grand total of 3 extra games than Neuheisel in Westwood.

Whatever. This doesn't mean that UCLA should show even a hint of disrespect to the Cardinal. Harbaugh, notwithstanding the usual over the top tradmed hype is a solid coach, who will have his team prepared and well grounded in fundamentals. What it does mean though UCLA should look at this game as a golden opportunity to stem the onslaught of Stanford hype machine (which apparently still cannot fill up their little stadium). I also hope our coaches and players are upset and frustrated at the cynicism that not surprisingly poured out following this past weekend's loss (not just from tradmed but also from casual fans looking to jump on bandwagon) and rally with a focused and improved performance this Saturday.

The observers up in the Bay Area are expecting a Stanford win:

The beauty of playing Sac State is that Stanford won handily without showing much of its playbook. The problem with opening against a FCS foe is that you don't get tested.

UCLA's in the opposite position: The Bruins had to show more of their offense against Kansas State, but they got a much better sense for their flaws.

And there were flaws. The defense got carved up by K State tailback Daniel Thomas, which bodes well for Stanford's running game, and QB Kevin Prince looked like someone who was hurt for most of training camp.

I'd expect the Bruins to be better in both phases this week, but will they be good enough to fend off the Cardinal? Sure feels like we'll see Stanford's first victory in the Rose Bowl since 1996.

Nice to know they are feeling so good about things. As for the Stanford team, unless you have been living in a cave, you should probably know by now the key question around this year's team will be how they are going to compensate for the loss of Toby Gerhart. Good news from them besides having an elite QB in Andrew Luck, they are getting back their key receivers (from Presnap Read's Stanford preview):

Stanford returns both of Luck's favorite targets from a year ago: senior Ryan Whalen led the team in receptions (57), receiving yards (926) and touchdowns (4) last fall; while junior Chris Owusu added 37 receptions for 682 yards - a team-best 18.4 yards per catch. Establishing depth at wide receiver will be key: senior Doug Baldwin is the most experienced hand among the second team, though his numbers took a steep slide in 2009. The Cardinal will look to several unproven receivers, such as Jamal-Rashad Patterson, Drew Terrell and Griff Whalen, in an effort to increase the number of options in the passing game. Depth is not a concern at tight end, even with Jim Dray's departure. Coby Fleener is the best receiving option of the bunch, but Stanford can also turn to former Notre Dame transfer Konrad Reuland, Zach Ertz and Levin Toilolo.

And a pretty set OL:

Four starters return up front, with the lone loss that of right tackle Chris Marinelli. To be fair, he's a big loss: Marinelli earned first-team all-conference and second-team all-American honors as a senior. Stanford has two experienced linemen to choose from in an effort to replace Marinelli. Sixth-year senior James McGillicuddy currently stands atop the depth chart, but the Cardinal could also turn to fifth-year senior Derek Hall. The rest of the line will feature tackle Jonathan Martin and guard Andrew Phillips on the weak side; David DeCastro at right guard; and Chase Beeler at center. Beeler, a senior, is the most accomplished returning starter. Just how good is this group? In addition to pacing the best rushing attack in program history last fall, it allowed only seven sacks on the year - the second-lowest total in the country. There's absolutely no reason to believe the line cannot repeat last season's success again in 2010.

They will do the good ole' RB by committee at least for the short term:

Were you expecting something else? Gerhart might be the most irreplaceable player in college football, what with his 1,871-yard, 27-touchdown senior campaign. That output, of course, come on the heels of a 1,136-yard, 15-score 2008 season. Who could Stanford possibly turn to in 2010 to replace the Heisman runner-up? Not one player, that's for sure. Not even two players, in fact. Stanford will go with a three-man - at least - by-committee approach, with three returning backs headlining this intense competition. One is senior Jeremy Stewart, who rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown last fall on 6.3 yards per carry. The key for Stewart is remaining healthy: he's missed significant portions of each of the last two seasons; for his career - while on the field - he's a productive option. He's battling a pair of sophomores, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Taylor rushed for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns last fall, with the former total good for third on the team - second among Stanford's returning players. Gaffney earned less time, landing only 22 carries last fall, but his potential has the Stanford coaching staff excited. Keep an eye on three redshirt and true freshmen: Usua Amanam - the redshirt - Ricky Seale and Anthony Wilkerson. The opportunity is there, of course, for at least one of these unproven youngsters to earn significant time. Will one back duplicate Gerhart's 1,800-yard output? Absolutely not. Can this running back corps put forth enough production for Stanford to match last season's 2,837-yard rushing total as a team? Maybe, though it will be difficult. The hope is that Luck can do more with his arm, offsetting some of the lost yardage. Yet make no mistake: Stanford is not going to struggle to move the ball on the ground. It might just do so at a slightly diminished clip in 2010.

They key question here is going to be around Chuck Bullough? How will Bullough scheme against Harbaugh's offense? Last year Bullough got bulldozed by the Cardinal when Harbaugh basically called him out for his vanilla and base defense approach. By the time Bullough made his adjustments in the second half, Stanford had effectively grabbed momentum of that game and was running downhill. Ryan pointed out his post game analysis how under Bullough our defense has been repeatedly been ripped apart in initial drives. We are going to have the same issues again if Bullough doesn't put in wrinkles in our defensive schemes and come out with an attacking mindset.

On paper there hasn't been any major changes in our defensive depth chart for the Stanford game. However, we sure hope we are going to see noticeable shakeup in the rotation of our defense. Peter Yoon from ESPNLA indicated that CRN expects to go "deeper into defensive rotation" this weekend:

"In that kind of environment (on the road in Manhattan), playing the first game, especially in as a close a game as it turned out to be, it's hard to put guys in for their first snap," he said. "But we've got to find ways to spell guys so they can play 100 miles an hour."

To that end, Neuheisel said some of the younger players would go head-to-head in a 10 or 15-play scrimmage Tuesday in order to see who is ready to play.

Iuta Tepa, Cassius Marsh, Seali'i Epenesa, Keenan Graham, Donovan Carter and Owamagbe Odighizuwa are among the freshman and sophomore defensive linemen who played sparingly or not at all against Kansas State. Freshman linebacker Jordan Zumwalt also did not play.

Guess we will see. The guy that I really want to see in there is Dietrich Riley, who according to CRN was on the edge of getting in v. KSU. Given the glowing reports we had heard about Riley during pre-season camp, I wonder if the coaches would consider inserting Riley as a SS and the moving Tony Dye at CB replacing Sheldon Price (who had a decent game but got overpowered at times during KSU runs). Well, I doubt someone like Bullough will be so bold to make a move like this. However, I certainly hope the coaches are exploring all options to get their most athletic and physical combination out there on defense to match the expected physical intensity from a Harbaugh coached offense.

In terms of offense, it is going to be interesting to see how Kevin Prince and co. handle a defense which was proven to be fairly porous last season.  The Cardinal ranked 110th nationally against the pass last year, giving up 264.7 yards per game.  This year their secondary from my understanding is going to get little less experienced as they will have to do without three-year starter Bo McNally, who was one of the leaders of that defense.  They do get experienced starters back in seniors Richard Sherman (at CB) and junior Delano Howell (at SS) but as mentioned above as a unit these guys didn't light the world on fire. So it will be interesting to see how they perform. We certainly hope that Kevin Prince and his receivers are going to be a collective step forward against this unit on Saturday.

According to Jon Wilner Stanford's defensive strength is at the LB/DL spot. Well at least that is what Harbaugh is hoping:

If all goes according to Harbaugh's plan, the linebackers will form the heart of the defense. Keiser and Chase Thomas have been moved from end to outside linebacker while fullback Owen Marecic is the starter at one of the inside positions. They will join Shayne Skov, one of the top young defensive players in the conference.

Stanford is also in solid shape along the defensive line with veterans Sione Fua, Matt Masifilo and Brian Bulcke, who returns after missing most of the 2009 season with a broken thumb.

I think the matchup between Stanford DL and UCLA's OL could be pretty even. I will try to dig into it a bit more later this week. Given what we saw against KSU, I am optimistic and excited to see what we can do against the Cardinal in our revolver formation. I also hope we go with the revolver formation as our base offense from here on out because I was very encouraged to see how our OL and RBs were operating within that scheme. I think KSU's defense might have been a little more physical and faster than Stanford's DL. So there is a chance we could see a very productive day from our offense on Saturday.

Then again if you just go by the papers Bruins don't really have much of a shot this Saturday. Chris Foster's first lines in the LA Times today starts with classic concern trolling over how UCLA is going to be "dangled over the fire" against "highly regarded Stanford." Oooooooh we are all so scared Chris. Sounds like you wish we canceled our season and disbanded our football program today.