Poised for Pasadena
When it comes to playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Stanford hasn't found a lot of success in recent years. The Cardinal has dropped six consecutive games in Pasadena where the Bruins are an impressive 31-13 over the past seven seasons.
But this isn't your dad's brawny Bruins and this surely isn't the same Stanford squad that allowed a game-winning touchdown with 10 seconds on the clock in 2008.
We know that wasn't the best memory to recall, but it's something that had to be addressed in order to rid the Cardinal of this baby blue curse. Or perhaps it's just a road hex.
"We've got to pack our defense to win on the road," head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It's a tough conference to play on the road and sometimes it's harder to play offensive football on the road."
Even though the Cardinal averaged 35.4 points per game last season away from home, they went just 2-3 and haven't been able to label themselves "road warriors" in quite some time. Stanford is a miserable 13-32 on the road since 2001.
Saturday's game against UCLA will be the first of a handful of contests that will go a long way in determining the success of the program this year. Along with UCLA, Stanford will take on Notre Dame and Oregon in famously hostile environments.
"We'll know where we stand after the first six weeks of the season," Harbaugh said. "We did a lot of preparing for it and wanted to come out of training camp with the best foundation we possibly could. I think these next games will tell a lot more about our football team."
The Bruins suffered their first loss on the road to Kansas State last week, 33-21. Multiple missed tackles by the linebackers allowed running back Daniel Thomas to roll up 235 yards on 28 carries and William Powell to add 72 yards on six attempts. Still, UCLA was never really out of the game and pulled within one point late in the fourth quarter. As expected, Harbaugh thinks the better team lost.
"There is no question after watching the game I think the better team was UCLA. But Daniel Thomas is a heck of a football player," he said.
Gone from last year's vaunted defense is All-American Brian Price, who clogged up the middle, as well as linebackers Reggie Carter and Kyle Bosworth. The Bruins' starting defense last week featured just four players who started more than one game in 2009.
But Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore are Pac-10 standouts still donning the light blue and gold and can have a game-changing impact on any given play. Ayers is a linebacker that can put his hand on the ground as a pass rusher or sit back in coverage. Harbaugh contends that Moore and Tony Dye create the best safety tandem in the conference.
"They have a bunch of athletes. They have a bunch of new guys that are athletic and two really good football players in Ayers and Moore," Andrew Luck said. "We definitely have our work cut out for us."
Rick Neuheisel said that he expects to see the traditional power-running attack from Stanford on Saturday. And why wouldn't they after K-State put up those kinds of numbers. With four sets of fresh legs pounding the rock, the Cardinal should be able to wear the UCLA defense down. While it's not the same situation as Toby Gerhart carrying the load, Stepfan Taylor says he doesn't mind the committee approach.
"With all these tailbacks, it's making us compete and we can step our ‘A' game up and bring it to the field every day," he said.
Much like last season, it appears as if the Bruins are going to struggle offensively. They did put up 193 yards rushing last week but Kevin Prince was just 9-of-26 for 120 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Prince is the Pac-10's version of Tim Tebow, except not nearly as good. He is a mobile quarterback that isn't afraid to drop his helmet and take on a defender. Prince has only been practicing about two weeks now and the word "rusty" was used to describe his performance after the K-State loss.
Prince has been asked to run the "pistol" offense this season, made popular by Chris Ault at Nevada, and Stanford has been preparing for it all week.
"Norm Chow does a great job in making variations of their plays," Chase Thomas said. "It's definitely challenging preparing for their offense. That pistol is confusing because it can go both ways and run multiple formations."
It would be wise for the Bruins to keep a steady dose of running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman going throughout the game. Thomas said the Stanford defense predominately played in a 4-2-5 alignment to key in on the run last weekend and expects the same Saturday.
"For the most part we were playing a 4-2-5 because Sacramento State runs that single-back formation," he said. "UCLA has a bunch of single-back stuff so I wouldn't be surprised if we ran the same type of scheme."
It doesn't sound like Chris Owusu, Shayne Skov or Jeremy Stewart will be available for Saturday's contest. We just hope they don't start falling into the Erik Lorig "we'll see" category each and every week.
Owusu's extraordinary kick-return skills might not be missed much Saturday, however, because you can't talk about UCLA without talking about its two all-star kickers. Punter and kickoff specialist Jeff Locke put four of five kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks last week. Returning Lou Groza Award winner Kai Forbath was 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and has now connected on 40 consecutive field goals inside the 50-yard line.
We almost forgot to mention, the Cardinal snuck into the Associated Press Poll after that dominating performance over Sacramento State, positioned at No. 25. Stanford opened as an 8-point favorite for Saturday's contest but that spread has dropped to a current number of 6.
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