Welcome back to Bruins Nation’s opponent preview series for the 2019 UCLA Bruins football season! We are taking a look at an upcoming opponent this year, examining their strengths and weaknesses, and making a bold prediction regarding the outcome.
It’s time to take a look at UCLA’s 7th opponent: the Stanford Cardinal.
For the past few years, I’ve been writing these preseason previews of each opponent and, every year, the Stanford one causes me the most consternation. Part of it has to do with the world’s most annoying losing streak, which is starting to get ridiculous. But the other part is that every time I do these previews, I say “Boy, Stanford didn’t look so hot last year” and without fail a bunch of Stanford fans will jump into our mentions and yell “SCOREBOARD! SCOREBOARD!” because, apparently, Stanford fans believe their football team began with Jim Harbaugh and don’t understand that, even with the current 11 game win streak (which, again, yikes!), UCLA still leads the all-time series. It just wears me down that a supposed academic juggernaut like Stanford can produce the level of fandom I have come to expect from Southern Cal.
All of which is to say that, once again, boy, Stanford didn’t look so hot last year.
I mean, the Cardinal were fine. They went on the road and beat Oregon in overtime and finished the season with nine wins. But they also went 0-4 against the four best teams on their schedule, got into a shootout with a bad UCLA team, and the less said about the Sun Bowl, the better. It’s essentially a continuation of the slow slide that Stanford has been on in recent years, where they get just a little worse each time and no one really notices because it’s Stanford and we’re all still impressed with the afterglow of those Rose Bowls. You get the feeling like the bottom is going to come out at any moment, but there’s just too much institutional momentum at the moment.
The good news for the Cardinal is that they bring back K.J. Costello at quarterback. The QB position has been something of a problem for the Cardinal since Andrew Luck left, with a host of players putting on inconsistent performances for years. Costello had one of the more consistent years in recent memory, throwing for 3540 yards, 29 touchdowns, and a passer rating of 155.0. It certainly helped that he had a former Heisman candidate in Bryce Love in the backfield, a host of consistent pass-catching options, including JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Trenton Irwin, and an experienced offensive line blocking.
All of that is gone this year. The only major returning piece from last year is left tackle Walker Little, who is admittedly an incredibly-good returning piece, but that’s a lot of production to lose and have to replace.
Cameron Scarlett should be taking over lead back duties now that Love is gone. He was fine last year, though, the Cardinal will definitely miss Love’s explosiveness. Tight end Colby Parkinson, who had one of the best YPC of anyone on the team with 16.7, also returns, which at least gives Costello one passing option he has relied on in the past. Osiris St. Brown put up decent numbers in limited action last year and has the pedigree to become a consistent target on the outside. That’s about it, though. Everywhere else is going to be filled with players who have limited experience at best. Even the offensive line, which has a smattering of non-Little starts, is going in with question marks, something almost unheard of in the past decade of Stanford football.
Stanford’s defense was young last year. That led to a situation where the Stanford defense was not the typical beacon of punishment it has been in recent years, but it also means there is a ton of room to grow and get better.
One guy who doesn’t need much more to get better is cornerback Paulson Adebo. Adebo is the best returning cornerback in the Pac-12 and had 23 passes defended last year, which put him second in the nation. He also chipped in 3.5 tackles for loss and three run stuffs, a sign that he wasn’t afraid to get into the trenches and battle when needed. With Adebo in the fold, the Cardinal will have one of the better secondaries in the conference.
The defensive line also returns a ton of talent. Stanford runs their line similarly to UCLA, in that the defensive line’s primary goal is to occupy blocks so that the linebackers can make plays. So they didn’t have much in the way of gaudy havoc numbers, but they didn’t need to in order to be successful. Of the seven guys who recorded tackles up front for the Cardinal last year, six of them were freshmen and sophomores last year. So, this should be an improved unit.
The problems for the Cardinal defense will be right up the middle with the inside linebackers and safeties. Note that I specified inside linebacker; the outside linebacker spot is loaded with talent, including a returning Casey Toohill. But the inside linebacker spot will see new faces by necessity, as will the safety slots where only Malik Antoine returns. If the Cardinal defense falters, it will be in part because the middle of the defense is so inexperienced.
Once again, I spent a lot of time talking myself into UCLA winning this game. But fool me eleven times, shame on you. Fool me twelve times....
Stanford wins 38-34.