After struggling to get by San Jose State and falling to Texas in successive weeks, UCLA responded with an important conference road win at Oregon State last weekend. The Bruins continued to boast a strong running attack in that contest, and made strides in its run defense, which could set the tone for this team's identity as it enters the meat of its Pac-12 season.
Stanford has won 11 consecutive games dating back to last season, and has ranked in the Top-10 poll for 10 straight weeks, which is the longest such streak in school history. Following expected wins over San Jose State and Duke, the Cardinal made a Pac-12 statement against Arizona two weeks ago in Tucson, winning 37-10. The intensity will only increase as Pac-12 play progresses, according to Stanford head coach David Shaw.
"UCLA is a natural rival for us," said Shaw. "We've got a long tradition of playing against UCLA, we've had a lot of nip and tuck games in the past, a lot of back and forth see-saw battles, and we're anticipating getting their best game, and hopefully we'll give them our best game."
UCLA lead the all-time series against Stanford, 45-33-3, with the Cardinal winning last season 35-0 in the conference opener for both teams.
The Bruins are led by running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman, who have propelled UCLA to 28th nationally in rushing offense (214). Franklin leads the team with 75.8 yards per game and a 5.7 yard per carry average, with two touchdowns. Coleman averages 74.8 yards and has scored four touchdowns through four games this season, and has recorded two 100-yard rushing games this season, including 100 last weekend in the win over Oregon State.
"They've run the ball well against everybody that they've played," said Shaw. "That pistol running game is very difficult to corral."
UCLA is averaging 411.2 yards of total offense per game, with the passing game responsible for 197.2 yards. The Bruins have established their identity as a strong running team, but Richard Brehaut was reinstalled last week as the full-time starting quarterback against Oregon State, throwing for 146 yards and a touchdown, with another score coming on the ground. Nelson Rosario leads the team with 15 catches and 277 yards, with no other Bruin receiver catching more than nine passes.
Defensively, UCLA held the Beavers to 375 yards of total offense and 19 points, putting together its best performance of the season. The unit has struggled against the run early in the season, allowing 183.2 yards per game, although showing marked improvement in holding Oregon State to just 88 yards on the ground. Overall the Bruins are giving up 412.2 yards of total offense and 30.8 points per game. Corner Aaron Hester had a quality against Oregon State, leading the team with 11 tackles. The overall leader in tackles is Patrick Larimore, who has recorded 27 stops. The secondary hasn't necessarily been torched this season against quality competition (including Houston's Case Keenum), but draws a tough assignment this week in Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
It all starts with Luck for the Cardinal offense, and the Heisman Trophy candidate has picked up where he left off from last season. Luck has completed 57-of-85 passes for 786 yards and eight touchdowns, and has been picked off just one time. Stanford is averaging 285.3 yards passing per game, and 481.3 yards of total offense. Chris Owusu is Luck's primary target, catching 16 balls for 227 yards and one touchdown through three games. The run game stood out against Arizona, as running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for 153 yards and the unit put up 242 yards total. Taylor leads the team in rushing with 96.3 yards per game, and has posted two touchdowns this season. Stanford is a perfect 16-of-16 in the red zone, and ranks ninth in scoring offense with 46 points per game.
Stanford's defense has made its name shutting down the run so far this season, leading the nation in rushing defense with 36 yards allowed. Stanford also leads the country with 10.3 tackles for loss per game, and are fourth in sacks with 4.3 per outing. The unit has allowed just two offensive touchdowns and has shut out opponents in eight of 12 quarters, Stanford's third down defense has also been tremendous, as the Cardinal are allowing just a 23.8 percent conversion rate. The Cardinal are allowing 301.7 yards of total offense and just nine points per game thus far.