Destiny: #49 notched the record-breaking 49th sack
Stanford slapped UCLA around on Saturday, but now both teams face the unique challenge of playing each other two weeks in a row. This time, the Cardinal are in better position - while the stakes are higher.
It's halftime of Stanford's eight-quarter war for Pac-12 supremacy
against UCLA, and the Farm Boys don't need a Clint Eastwood
The Cardinal have already bruised and dominated the Bruins entering
the five-day intermission that began with a flight back to the Bay
Area. The smell of blood is now in the water. It's time for the
final kill at the home cathedral after saying good-bye to Saturday's
84-degree cloudless weather. This conference journey will end in
sub-60 degree driving rain.
UCLA also played in the Pac-12 Championship Game last season, only
to be butchered by Oregon in an Autzen Stadium ritual
sacrifice. The sloppy-yet-dominant nature of Saturday's 35-17
regular season finale suggests Stanford can dial up a repeat Bruin
bashing, albeit in a starkly opposite manner. The potential end,
though -- a return visit to the Rose Bowl -- will justify the means.
Stanford Earns an Early Pac-12 Title Advantage
UCLA coach Jim Mora already made Friday's first mistake -- on
Saturday. He kept his quarterback Brett Hundley in a virtually
meaningless game (from the Bruins' perspective, they had already
clinched the Pac-12 South) until the bitter end. The freshman was
tossed around like a rag doll by the country's best defensive front
seven. Stanford celebrated seven sacks during this Party in the
Backfield, which was catered by Subway and featured a variety of
Hundley sandwiches -- the most popular being the one with Chase Thomas and Ben Gardner providing the Dutch Crunch on the outside.
Expect UCLA's signal caller to still be bruised before Friday's
title even kicks off, especially since the game's earlier start
translates into one less day of precious recovery. Meanwhile, don't
be surprised if Stepfan Taylor -- Stanford's primary offensive chess
piece -- has extra bounce in his step after David Shaw brilliantly
sat him for a large part of Saturday's second half.
While Taylor rested, the Cardinal front seven teed off on a warm
Southern California night, overtaking the NCAA lead in quarterback
takedowns and opening a commanding five-sack margin over Arizona State. Stanford's 53 sacks on the season have shattered the 1999
Rose Bowl team's school record of 48. Destiny: record-breaking sack 49, by the way, came courtesy of No. 49 himself, Ben Gardner. Derek Mason has constructed a
sack factory; the Industrial Revolution is now underway. Talk about
teamwork: with their staggering depth, the Farm Boys are easily
outpacing the rest of the country despite the fact that leading sack
man Trent Murphy is only ranked 25th in the category.
Stanford's overwhelming physicality easily overcame some sloppiness
in Pasadena, which included Reed Miller's ugly long snap that ended
with punter Daniel Zychlinski leveled and injured. But there was no
question leaving the Rose Bowl Saturday that Stanford was the team
expected to return there on New Year's Day. This was clearly
illustrated by the Cardinal's balanced performance against a worn
down UCLA defense, highlighted by 221 rushing yards and a repeated
ground pounding that eventually caused the Bruins to fold on
Taylor's 49-yard second quarter touchdown.
A Clear Advantage
Mora may have toughened his team through training camp in 110-degree
San Bernardino this August, but it's clear that UCLA still has a way
to go to even itself with Stanford in the trenches. While Taylor
averaged 7.1 per carry in his 147-yard effort, Bruins' Doak Walker
finalist Jonathan Franklin scuffled his way to only 68 yards on 21
carries, a measly 3.1 per attempt -- less than half of his 6.3
average coming in.
But the Baby Blue -- or maybe we should say Navy Blue, as UCLA threw
a uniform color curve ball -- does have perimeter firepower to
threaten Stanford, and it was on display early Saturday.
Interestingly, the Bruins' most dangerous downfield weapons are both
former Notre Dame players. Transfers Shaquelle Evans and Joseph Fauria delivered the big plays on UCLA's first offensive possession,
which resulted in a game-tying touchdown. (Meanwhile, their former
Irish teammates were warming up 20 minutes away in the Los Angeles
Memorial Coliseum, preparing to punch Dame's ticket to the BCS title
game against USC)
Mora's problem: the big play in that early drive, a 71-yard strike
to Evans, happened only after Hundley escaped the rush and bought
time outside the tackles. The Stanford defense would correct its
mistake from that point forward and restrict the dangerous freshman
quarterback to the pocket behind excellent play from A.J. Tarpley
(seven tackles) and David Parry (five stops). The Bruins gained only
18 offensive yards in the pivotal second quarter, while stud tight
end Fauria caught only two passes before garbage time -- some credit
goes to Tarpley again for excellent coverage within Mason's scheme.
UCLA's Best Effort?
Now, it is possible that Mora did play his cards close to the vest
in this game since a potential win presented little (if no) upside
to UCLA -- but the coach vehemently denied that in a heated
spar with LA Times reporter TJ Simers afterward. That would
explain Fauria's limited involvement and conservative first half
play-calling, which relied heavily on punts from inside Stanford
But, Stanford's 2012 defensive resume suggests otherwise. The same
Cardinal team that held juggernaut Oregon 40 points under its season
average limited UCLA to 20 points below its usual output. This
unit's elite, record-breaking status is no longer in question.
There's also every reason to believe that its advantage over the
Bruins will remain steady when the two teams reconvene on Friday
Not much will have changed, after all, except for the venue and a
few new bruises on Brett Hundley's body.
David Lombardi covers Stanford
sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. He can also be heard
on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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