After 10 losses over nine years, the UCLA Bruins cannot underestimate Stanford today. That’s because David Shaw always seems to have his team ready to play. It’s a credit to Shaw’s coaching and it’s maddening to the Cardinal’s opponents. Of course, if the Stanford Cardinal have an achilles heel, it might also be Shaw, who always seemed to be in a battle with Jim Mora to see who could make the biggest coaching error and still win the game.
Well, each time, Shaw came out ahead of Mora.
Will the same be the case against Chip Kelly? It’s possible because some of Kelly’s in-game coaching moves have been questioned throughout the course of this season, but I don’t think that Kelly will necessarily have that same type of contest like Mora always seemed to play with Shaw.
If Shaw’s Stanford teams have been anything, they’ve been consistent. But, this year has been different. While Lance Anderson is in his fifth season as the “Willie Shaw Director of Defense,” this year may have been the most challenging for Anderson as the Cardinal rushing defense hasn’t lived up to the usual standards of Stanford football. That may be because of graduation and having a defensive line with less experience than past Cardinal teams.
While Stanford’s defensive challenges may have more of a personnel issue, Stanford’s offensive challenges may be a combination of personnel and coaching differences. That’s because former “Andrew Luck Director of Offense” Mike Bloomgren left the Cardinal after last season to become the new head coach at Rice. As a result of his departure, David Shaw promoted former Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard to fill Bloomgren’s spot. Pritchard had previously been the “Kevin M. Hogan Quarterbacks Coach.” Pritchard is in his ninth season on the Cardinal coaching staff. Pritchard, of course, played his college football at Stanford. It’s ironic that Pritchard was the starting quarterback on the 2008 Stanford team because that was the last Stanford team to lose to UCLA. Hopefully, his promotion to “Andrew Luck Director of Offense” allows the Bruins to replicate the results from the last time Pritchard was directing Stanford’s offense against UCLA.
Let’s take a look at Stanford’s special teams.
Senior Jake Bailey will handle the punting duties. Bailey is averaging 43.6 yards per punt with a long of 66 yards. Almost 40% of Bailey’s punts have been inside the 20 and a similar percentage of his punts have been fair catches. Bailey also handles kickoff chores.
Junior Jet Toner should handle most of the placekicking duties today. Toner has made all 25 of his PAT attempts and nine of his ten field goal attempts. His only miss this year was his first try of the season against San Diego State from 38 yards. He’s made every one of his other attempts since that first game. His season and career long are 46 yards. He’s hit from that distance twice this season. He did it against UC Davis and again at Notre Dame. So, that would appear to be his upper limit.
The Cardinal’s primary punt returner this season has been Trenton Irwin who has returned 13 punts so far this season for an average of 10.77 yards per return. His long has been 39 yards. So, he can potentially break one if the Bruins aren’t careful.
On kickoff returns, Cameron Scarlett leads the team with 21 returns. He’s averaging 21.33 yards per return with a long of 32. Considering how few kickoffs some teams have been returning, it seems like Stanford has chosen to return more kickoffs than many teams this season. In fact, Stanford has returned a total of 27 kickoffs while opponents have returned just three while 45 of Bailey’s kickoffs have been touchbacks.
So, look for the Cardinal to choose to return more kickoffs than we’ve seen from other teams this season. That means that the Bruins will have to do a good job stopping those returns and it also presents UCLA with more opportunities to try to turn the ball over on kickoffs.
This game may come down to the play of special teams and that could be a reason for Bruin fans to be concerned. After all, UCLA’s special teams play has been poor in the second half of the season.
Let’s hope that it doesn’t come down to that.