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UCLA Football Preview: Can Stanford’s Defense Stop Josh Kelley?

After last weekend’s historic highlight reel of a game, fans should see another strong outing for the UCLA offense.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Stanford
Stanford defensive end Dylan Jackson
Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

This week will be about breaking another curse that has been haunting the UCLA Bruins for a while and, to be honest, I think it’s going to happen. The Stanford Cardinal are currently on their longest win streak against UCLA at ten wins, but, after what Bruin fans saw last week against Southern Cal and how Stanford hasn’t exactly produced as advertised this year, I think UCLA will finally put a check mark in the “W” column.

We all know that the UCLA defense is going to have to minimize Bryce Love, but Joshua Kelley has turned out to be one of the best Bruin running backs in a long time and Wilton Speight looks to be in solid command of the Bruin offense. Here is the Stanford defense that will be attempting to stop UCLA on Saturday.

Defensive Line

When you say “Stanford Defensive Line” to me, I think Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips. Those guys were like a wrecking crew and made a huge impact on the Stanford defense. Conversely, the Cardinal has had to replace them with guys that don’t have a ton of experience.

Up front, the Cardinal has Dylan Jackson and Jovan Swann on the ends, and Michael Williams at tackle. Swann is the only one that made an impact and had significant playing time coming into 2018. So, it’s understandable that this team would have issues up front. For example, in their loss against Notre Dame, they allowed running back Dexter Williams and receiver Miles Boykin to put up about 300 yards between the two of them while quarterback Ian Book tacked on another 278. I know UCLA isn’t the Irish. So, let’s look at a team more like the Bruins—Arizona State. Between Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry, the duo was able to put up almost 500 yards of offense. Even though the Sun Devils lost by a touchdown, it’s easy to see that the defensive line is penetrable for a talented running back like Kelley.

Williams has recorded the most tackles at 35 total and has also added four quarterback hurries, and Swann leads this unit with seven tackles for loss and the team with 4.5 sacks.

Linebackers

If I had to pick a unit that would give UCLA the most trouble, I’d say it would be these guys. Redshirt senior inside linebacker Bobby Okereke is leading the team with 71 total tackles, 5.5 of which were for a loss. He has also forced a fumble which he was able to recover himself. His senior counterpart Sean Barton is right behind him with 68 tackles and he also has one interception. On the outside, Jordan Fox and Gabe Reid will get the start. Fox is the one who will most likely be breathing down Speight’s neck as he leads the team with six quarterback hurries this year.

Other household names that will be in the rotation are seniors Joey Alfieri and Mustafa Branch. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Alfieri will probably be able to return to action this weekend in Pasadena, but fellow starter Casey Toohill is still out.

Secondary

Here is where it gets really good for UCLA. It’s been a while since we could say that when the Bruins play the Cardinal. Stanford ranks 105th nationally in passing yards allowed, giving up an average of 263.3 yards per game. That said, the one to watch for in this unit is sophomore Paulson Adebo, who ranks third on the team in tackles with 53, but has a staggering 16 passes defended. If anyone is going to be all over the Bruin receivers, it’s going to be this guy. Redshirt senior Alijah Holder is right behind him with 47 tackles and eight passes defended.

Frank Buncom and Malik Antoine should be starting at the two safety spots. Both of these guys are solid. Antoine was actually a corner in high school but moved over to safety this year and has taken to the position pretty well, even though the Cardinal have given up a lot of passing yards.

Analysis

Barring a total implosion of UCLA’s offense, this game is totally winnable and should put a nice period at the end of the 2018 sentence. While the Bruins won’t be bowl eligible, hopefully, they’ll get rid of some old ghosts and be on a nice wave that they can ride into 2019. If they are able to win on Saturday, it should also help with recruiting.


Go Bruins!