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UCLA Football Oppo Preview: What's Stanford's Deal?

The usually consistent Stanford program has stumbled this year. What happened?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Through David Shaw's first three seasons at Stanford, the Cardinal ran off a 34-7 record, won a Rose Bowl and a couple of Pac-12 Conference Championships.  Although Jim Harbaugh was the coach that turned around Stanford's moribund program, Shaw appeared to transition from Harbaugh's offensive coordinator to his successor seamlessly.  Then this season happened.  At 6-5, Stanford fell out of contention for the Pac-12 North race early, and they come to the Rose Bowl this Friday having lost 3 out of the last 5 games.

What's Stanford's deal?  The Cardinal still play very stout defense; they give up only 290 yards per game of total offense, good for 6th in the nation; they have 35 sacks thus far, good for 10th in the nation; and they allow only 16.5 ppg, good for 6th in the nation.  However, Stanford seems to have lost their identity somewhat on offense.  Stanford puts up 382 yards of total offense per game, but the ground game has taken a big hit.  From 2008-2013, Stanford generally averaged 40 rushing attempts for 200+ yards per game.  This year, Stanford is down to 35 carries for 150 ypg.  Stanford's passing game has picked up some of the lost production, and the decrease in running game production has not rendered Stanford's offense moot by any means, but it's a sign that the program is starting to get off track from what brought it back to national prominence.

Turning to the kicking game, the up and down Jordan Williamson was granted an extra year of eligibility, and returns as both the FG man and the kick-off man.  Williamson is only 13 of 19 on field goals for the year, any many Cardinal fans have to be wondering why a coach that relies so much on field goals continues to utilize a kicker that has only been above average one season in his career. Williamson does have a 60% touchback percentage on kickoffs, so I guess there's that.  His kicking partner, fellow senior punter Ben Rhyne is seeing his second full season of action.  Rhyne is averaging nearly 40 yards per punt So, don't expect any gifts from the Cardinal kicking or punting game this Saturday. It should be noted that Stanford is very good in return coverage, allowing only 17.7 yards per kickoff return and 7.2 yards per punt return, so don't expect much space in our return game.

Stanford, on the other hand, has one of the best return games in the conference.  The Cardinal will rely predominately on their star WR Ty Montgomery, who has 5 career return scores.  Montgomery is averaging nearly 20 yards per punt return with 2 touchdowns this season, and his average is just over 25 yards per kick return.  He's very explosive, and can turn around games in an instant.

The Bruins have a quick turn around from an emotional game against Southern Cal, but Stanford is a program that should inspire our team to play it's best.  Coach Mora has yet to beat Stanford, but now they're the only team standing in the way of a rematch against Oregon.  A few weeks ago, I labeled myself as delusional for thinking we still had a shot to make the Conference Championship game.  Take that, rational self.