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UCLA Football Stanford Preview: Will David Shaw Outcoach Jim Mora Again?

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We take a look at Stanford's coaches and their special teams, which could prove to be a key to the game, as our Bruins travel north to Stanford Stadium on Thursday night.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jim Harbaugh is considered on the best football coaches in the game and his legacy started by taking over a 1-11 Stanford team in 2006 and slowly building a powerhouse. In 2010 Stanford exploded onto the national scene winning 12 games culminating with an impressive 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Frank Beamer’s Hokies. Then he bolted for the NFL and left Stanford program to his offensive coordinator David Shaw.

Coaching

Shaw kept Harbaugh’s philosophy in tact and has won lots of games with the Cardinals amassing a 46-13 overall record including 4-1 in 2015. After three seasons with at least 11 wins, the Cardinals’ level dropped in 2014 with an overall record of 8-5, though they brutally demolished the Bruins 31-10 at the Rose Bowl (which in turn handed the Pac-12 South Championship to the Arizona Wildcats instead of the Bruins). One can argue that Shaw is an extremely conservative game manager, which in some games it can be infuriating to watch, though no one can argue with his results as he is currently the 4th all-time winningest coach at Stanford.

Stanford likes to promote from within with their offensive and defensive coordinators having a combined 14 years of experience on The Farm. Lance Anderson is the "Willie Shaw Director of Defense" while Mike Bloomgrem is the "Andrew Luck Director of Offense"--colorful titles, indeed. The defense is solid as usual, ranking 28 by holding opponents to 327.6 yards and 19 points

per game (compared to UCLA: No. 61, 382.2, 22). While the offense is no slouch ranking No. 33 while producing 452.6 yards and 35 points per game (compared to UCLA: No. 30, 454.4, 34.8). The special teams units are coached by Pete Alamar who has been with the Cardinals for four years.

Special Teams

The place kicking duties are handled by senior kicker Conrad Ukropina who is 7 out of 8 on field goals, and has made all 22 of his PATs. On kickoffs, the Cardinal look to freshman Jake Bailey who has 9 out of 34 touchbacks on the season, which is not that great landing at 73rd nationally (compared to UCLA’s Fairbairn who is 5th nationally). Junior Alex Robinson handles the punting duties (though Jake Bailey has punted 3 times) with 15 punts for an average of 43 yards (good for 73rd nationally as well).

On the receiving end, sophomore RB Christian McCaffrey leads kick returns with 15 with an average of 358 yards through five games, or 25.57 yards per return. Senior RB Remound Wright was called into action on two kick returns gaining 44 yards. On punt returns, the Cardinals look to McCaffrey again with 8 returns gaining 22 yards for an average of 2.75 yards per return. Nationally, Stanford is woeful at punt returns ranking 118 (compared to UCLA at 25) and above average on kick returns ranking 37 (compared to UCLA at 22).

Overall, the Cardinal special teams are playing at an average to below average level with the lone bright spot being their placekicker (7/8 on FGs). If tomorrow’s game turns out to be low scoring we could have the advantage here since UCLA’s Devin Fuller has done a really nice job so far on punt and kick returns, as have others. Also, Ka’imi Fairbairn has been outstanding on kickoffs (5th nationally) and showed more range making at 50+ yarder against ASU (a bright spot from that horrible game). The inconsistent punting from UCLA (ranking 115 nationally) seems to not be a factor for concern in this game as Stanford is equally inept at punt returns (118 nationally). Of course, with the defense decimated by injuries holding the Stanford offense at bay is a big "if."

Go Bruins!