Week 13 – Stanford at UCLA

Posted Nov 21, 2012

Week 13 Fearless Prediction & Game Preview – Stanford at UCLA

Stanford (9-2) at UCLA (9-2) Nov. 24, 6:35, Fox

Here’s The Deal: USC and Oregon were supposed to be this year’s Pac-12 heavyweights in the South and North Divisions, respectively. UCLA and Stanford turned conventional wisdom on its ear last Saturday.

In a sign of the changing times in the Pac-12, and its considerable depth, the Bruins defeated the Trojans to padlock the South, and the Cardinal shocked the Ducks to grab control of the North. The fallout was swift, far-reaching and somewhat elementary in terms of the divisional races; if Stanford can refocus in time to defeat UCLA this Saturday, it’ll set up a rematch between the two programs six days later for an automatic berth in the Rose Bowl. If the Cardinal loses in Pasadena, it can still win the North if Oregon falls to Oregon State earlier in the day.

The victory over Oregon represented a breakthrough moment for Stanford that transcended the immediacy of 2012. Beating the heavily-favored Ducks—in Eugene—sent a clear and indisputable message that the Cardinal is going to be a serious player in the Pac-12 long after Andrew Luck’s departure. And that head coach David Shaw is one of the rising young head coaches at this level. He can explode out of everyone’s shadow, including that of predecessor Jim Harbaugh, if he can guide the program to its first Rose Bowl since 1999.

One year. Heck, less than a year is all it took for Jim Mora to transform UCLA and guide it past rival USC on the field and on the front page of local papers. The Bruins are returning to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but unlike a year ago, they have earned this trip. The first win over Troy since 2006 was an exclamation point to a second half that has seen the team win five games in a row. UCLA’s motivation this Saturday evening, besides the obvious? Home field advantage in next Friday night’s title bout, which is up for grabs depending what the Ducks do in Corvallis.

Why Stanford Might Win: The Cardinal now own the blueprint on how to stop fast-paced, high-scoring offenses.

Stanford held Oregon 40 points below its season average, containing the explosiveness of Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. UCLA can be scary on offense as well, with QB Brett Hundley, RB Johnathan Franklin and TE Joseph Fauria, but the Cardinal is ready. The defense will showcase too much size, experience and overall talent in the front seven for a Bruins O-line that ranks 110th nationally in sacks allowed. Who is going to step up and slow down DE Ben Gardner and linebackers Trent Murphy, Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov? Stanford is relentless at the point of attack and faster to the edge than most expect, which will cause problems for the vaunted Bruins backfield.

Why UCLA Might Win: Don’t look now, but the Bruins are beginning to make waves on defense.

Yeah, the Bruins are driven by Franklin, Hundley and the rest of the offense, but the unit is starting to get help from its teammates on the other side of the ball. UCLA will give up yards through the air, but how much will inexperienced Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan be able to capitalize? His wide receivers are average, and his passing skills are still developing. The Bruins aren’t the Cardinal, but they are improving exponentially in the front seven. Ends Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh have emerged as steady forces off the edge. But it’s been the play of the linebackers, namely Anthony Barr on the outside and Eric Kendricks from the inside, that have really caused pain for opposing quarterbacks. Just ask Matt Barkley.

What To Watch Out For: Franklin has been magnificent all season, playing his way into a high NFL Draft pick, but can he navigate the Stanford defense?

As efficient and accurate as Hundley has been through the air, the Bruins are at their best when the running game is clicking. However, few have run the ball with any success this year versus the Cardinal, which is No. 2 in the country in run defense, and allows 2.3 yards per carry. If UCLA is unable to get off its blocks, Franklin will be absorbing contact at or near the line of scrimmage. Stanford has tremendous size and savvy in the front seven, which is essentially a collection of different-sized ends, all capable of shedding blocks and making stops for negative yards.

What Will Happen: Who can better handle prosperity following a monumental upset just one week earlier?

Getting back up after last week is going to be an interesting challenge for both coaching staffs. The schools are relatively equal, UCLA possessing the better offensive balance, while Stanford boasts the tougher D. It’s a toss-up game, indicative of a possible prequel to next week’s Pac-12 championship.

The wild card this weekend will be the Bruins defense, which has been coming on strong for coordinator Lou Spanos. Sure, Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor is a load and a workhorse, but Spanos will defend him by stacking the box and forcing Hogan to beat his kids through the air. It’ll work. Hogan is improving, and has two terrific tight ends, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, but it won’t be enough to outscore UCLA in a game that’ll be played close to the vest throughout.

CFN Prediction: UCLA 26 … Stanford 24
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Stanford -2 O/U: 52.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Beware of Mr. Baker, 1 – Life of Pi): 4