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Pregame Guesses: UCLA Bruins v. Stanford Cardinal

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Can Head Coach Jim Mora and the Bruins get the monkey off of UCLA's back?

Does UCLA need "absolute perfection" from Josh Rosen to overcome its defense woes?
Does UCLA need "absolute perfection" from Josh Rosen to overcome its defense woes?
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to week four of Bruins Nation’s Pregame Guesses. I want to give a special thanks to Dimitri Dorlis, who handled last week’s PGG while I was without power while recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Thank you Dimitri, I really thought you did a great job and put your own unique spin on PGG!

I wish that I could say as much about the performance of the UCLA Bruin football team (2-1, 0-0 PAC 12). The Bruins were undone by a UCLA defense that acted like a sieve, allowing a whopping 48 points and 560 yards to a Memphis Tiger team that, in its previous game against lowly Louisiana Monroe, scored only 38 points and gained only 416 yards. Of course, the Bruins were certainly shorthanded on defense against Memphis but, IMO, and with no disrespect to ULM, UCLA’s third string (let alone its second string) should be able to outperform Louisiana Monroe, which plays in the Sun Belt Conference and only has six wins in its last 26 games, going back to 2015.

And now UCLA and Head Coach Jim Mora face the proverbial monkey on the back, the Stanford Cardinal. UCLA has not beaten the Stanford since Rick Neuheisel’s first season as Coach of the Bruins, in 2008. For those of you counting, that’s nine straight losses, including a 0-6 record with Mora as Head Coach.

Although the Cardinal might not be as good as in seasons past, many UCLA fans thought the same thing once Jim Harbaugh left the program after the 2010 season. Stanford dismantled the Bruins the next year, 45-19. Others thought UCLA would be the better team after Andrew Luck graduated in 2012, and the Cardinal beat the Bruins 24-10 in 2013. Will things change now that Christian McCaffrey is gone? Hoping to beat Stanford because McCaffrey is gone is not a strategy. Also, in an unusual scheduling quirk, this will be Stanford’s first home game of the season, with road loses to Southern Cal and San Diego State, and a victory over Rice in Australia to kick off the season.

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Let’s be perfectly clear. UCLA lost the game last week because of its defense, not turnovers by Josh Rosen. Rosen leads the nation in passing yards and UCLA is second in passing offense, while UCLA’s total defense is ranked 122 out of 128, and its scoring defense is 121st. The Bruins put up 45 points at Memphis. That should be enough to win. Yes, I know that the pick six (Josh’s first interception of the season) hurt and his second interception took UCLA out of field-goal position late in the fourth quarter when a field goal could have tied the game. These were, no doubt, huge errors that impacted the game and, if he is to succeed in the NFL, Josh cannot be forcing those types of throws. But Rosen’s numbers were otherwise very, very good: 34-56, 463 yards, and 4 TDs. It is a huge burden for Josh to have to compensate for the UCLA defense. Does Josh Rosen need to be perfect to overcome the UCLA defense?

The game against Texas A&M seems to bear this out. As others, including Josh himself have pointed out, multiple factors had to go in UCLA’s favor for it to pull out a historic come-from-behind victory against the Aggies. In fact, what it took to beat A&M, what Rosen was unable to sustain against Memphis, and what it will take for UCLA to beat Stanford is "absolute perfection" from Josh Rosen. Here is Pato Banton’s reggae classic by the same title, "Absolute Perfection":

This song was a hit in the 1980s and received regular play on L.A’s own KROQ, which was very rare at the time for a reggae song. I would even go so far as to opine that "Absolute Perfection" was the song that opened the eyes of many KROQ listener--myself included--to reggae music. Heck, even Bob Marley’s classic "Legend" album rarely got airplay on KROQ, at least not until the end of that decade.

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Yes, even with Stanford falling on the road in the last two weeks against the Trogans and the Aztecs, respectively, it seems to this Bruin fan that UCLA will need "absolute perfection" from its quarterback, Josh Rosen, which leads me to PREGAME GUESS NUMBER ONE: True or false? Josh Rosen will be turnover free against the Cardinal on Saturday night.

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Although UCLA’s rushing defense did better against Memphis (it was the Tigers’ passing attack that did the most damage), UCLA is still only ranked 122nd in rushing defense, allowing an average of 275 yards per game. Stanford’s running back, Bryce Love, is second in the nation in rushing with 524 yards on only 43 carries, a 12.2 yard per carry average. That is an average of 175 yards per game. This seems like a huge advantage for the Cardinal, especially since Love picks up huge chunks at a time (a 62 yard run against Rice, a 75 yard TD run against Southern Cal, a 51 yards TD run against SDSU, and a 53 yard TD run against SDSU). UCLA, conversely, has been gashed by big plays on the ground. Can Defensive Coordinator Tom Bradley prepare the UCLA defense to stop Love’s ground game? PREGAME GUESS NUMBER TWO: Guess the number of rushing yards that Bryce Love will gain against the UCLA defense tomorrow night.

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Another interesting matchup will be UCLA’s passing defense versus Stanford’s senior quarterback, Keller Chryst. UCLA passing defense, which was supposed to be a strength, allowed 398 yards and six (!!!) passing touchdowns to Memphis’ Riley Ferguson last week. On the other hand, Chryst has struggled this season, with a 52.8 completion percentage, four touchdowns (none against SDSU last week) and two interceptions (both against SDSU). He was especially bad last week against the Aztecs, going 9 of 20 for 72 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Something has to give here. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER THREE: Chryst averages 165.6 passing yards per game. UCLA allows 240.3 passing yards per game. I am setting the over/under for Chryst’s passing yards at 200. Will Stanford’s Keller Chryst throw for more or less than 200 yards against UCLA’s defense?

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BONUS GUESS: At 1-2, how many fans will Stanford draw in its home opener against UCLA for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday night? Note: Stanford Stadium has a capacity of 50,000.

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That brings another edition of Pregame Guesses to a close. Make your selections and express your thoughts in the comment section below and, as always, GO BRUINS!!! BEAT THE CARDINAL!