In two days, UCLA will take on the Stanford Cardinal in a game that Bruin fans have come to dread over the years. Saturday’s game is going to be tough, close, and full of grit until the 60th minute is ticked off the clock. Let’s take a look at the offense that Tom Bradley is charged with dismantling.
At the beginning of the season, Head Coach David Shaw announced that Ryan Burns had in fact beat out Keller Chryst in the quarterback position. Both had been Kevin Hogan understudies and whomever was chosen was going to have big shoes to fill. Stanford has been pretty stacked at quarterback in the last few years with Kevin Hogan and that other guy...what was his name? Oh yeah, Andrew Luck. When asked what he requires of his quarterbacks, Shaw says, "Driving the car. They’ve got to drive the car. They have to run the offense."
Burns, a pro-style, redshirt junior, has completed 68.8% of his passes this season, and currently has a raw QBR of 81.1 (up from the previous week after playing USC). Defensive back Zach Hoffpauir says, "He's tough. He's fast. He's big. And he's not afraid of contact. When you see a quarterback running like a fullback, that gets the whole sideline juiced." I think a lot of us thought (or were hoping) there would be some rebuilding time after Hogan’s departure, but that has not been the case. Burns has kept the Cardinal’s third-down conversion percentage over 50%, but when you look at his individual stats, they aren’t very impressive on paper. That is due to the fact that Coach Shaw emphasizes overall offensive efficiency, so individual stats may not reflect the success of the whole unit. For example, after last week’s game against USC, Burns ended up 9 of 15 with only 109 yards. That is one-third of the passing yards Josh Rosen had last week, yet, Burns actually looked better. They key here is the complete meshing of the entire offensive unit, something the Bruins need to work on.
Fifth year senior Michael Rector decided to return this year and has had a great season so far. In 14 games in 2015, he had 34 catches for 559 yards and seven touchdowns. This year he has four catches and team-high 73 receiving yards, including 40-yard touchdown vs. Kansas State. Veteran Francis Owusu is the guy that won an Espy last year because of the miracle catch he made on Jaleel Wadood’s back. He ended the season with 14 catches in 13 games and is helping to fill the void left by the departure of Devon Cajuste. Sophomore Trent Irwin will also be one of Burns’s targets. I don’t want to see our secondary end up on someone else’s highlight reel again, so we’re going to have to play it tight without getting flagged for PI.
Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey will be the guy to stop Saturday. If you look up his bio on the Stanford website, it is literally a mile long and could be it’s own article. He has a total of 2,617 career yards so far and he is only one-fourth of the way through his junior season. As a sophomore, he was the only FBS player to lead their team in rushing and receiving yardage and became Stanford’s first Associated Press Player of the Year (the first non-Heisman winner since 2009). It goes without saying that he is explosive, fast, and downright hard to stop. He is also on Stanford’s special teams returning kick offs and punts. Sophomore Bryce Love is not your average running back either, racking up 498 all-purpose yards as a freshman, including a 93-yard touchdown catch versus the University of Central Florida last year. This year, he rushed for 51 yards against USC and will be another man on the field that the front seven will have to stop.
One of the elements of Stanford’s offense that has largely gone ignored is their offensive line. A quarterback can’t throw if he’s constantly on the run or throwing under pressure. Stanford has had top offensive line recruiting classes dating back to the Harbaugh days, and that has been a large part of their success. This year, it is important to note that along with losing two-year starting center Graham Shuler, they lost Josh Garnett, the 2015 winner of the Outland Trophy (awarded to the nation’s best interior lineman), and Kyle Murphy, who made the Green Bay Packers’ roster this season. Junior center Jesse Burkett will be asked to assume a starting role after seeing limited action last season in garbage time. David Bright will start at left guard alongside Casey Tucker, Jr. at left tackle. Tucker formerly played on the right, but played on the left side in high school and has reportedly not had trouble making the flip back. To the right we will see fifth-year senior Johnny Caspers, a team captain that will start for a third straight season at right guard, and A.T. Hall, Jr. will be next to him at right tackle. Caspers will provide leadership and stability at a time where there is a lot of movement in the trench and can guide the line through the transition. The Cardinal is stacked on the line and will be a challenging unit for our defense to overcome. Our front seven will have to be on point for sixty minutes to even have a chance to get to Burns.
As with the defense, Stanford is looking good on offense as well. The don’t seem to have weak points or holes. They can go two deep on the depth chart and some Stanford fans wouldn’t even know a replacement had been made. This is the week where UCLA can either prove the point that they are relevant in the college football conversation, or continue the Stanford win drought. Either way, we will see how things play out on Saturday.