Stanford earned a berth in the Pac-12 championship game by beating UCLA 35-17 on Nov. 24 in Pasadena, but to get to the Rose Bowl, the Cardinal will have to beat the Bruins again six days later in that conference title game.
Two things will be different the next time the teams meet Nov. 30 in the rare back-to-back meetings of the same two teams.
First of all, the conference title game will be at Stanford, which earned the home field because, at 10-2 overall and 8-1 in the Pac-12, it has a better conference record than the Bruins (8-3, 6-3). Stanford is unbeaten at home, so playing the game at Stanford Stadium figures to be an advantage for the Cardinal, even though it beat ranked foes – Oregon and UCLA – in consecutive games on the road to finish its regular schedule.
The other difference is the power of incentive. Stanford had much more motivation to win the game at UCLA because the Cardinal needed a victory to qualify for the conference title game. UCLA had little to get fired up about, because it had already clinched a berth in the conference title game by beating archrival USC the previous week.
In fact, you could make a pretty good case that the Bruins increased their chances to going to the Rose Bowl game by losing to Stanford. Had the Bruins won, they would have had to play the Pac-12 title game at Oregon, and they probably have a better shot at winning the Pac-12 title game at Stanford than at Oregon.
In any case, UCLA will have to be more effective offensively in the title game than it was on Nov. 24, because the Cardinal defense kept UCLA’s high-powered offense under control much like it did against Oregon the week before.
For the second week in a row, Stanford slammed the door on a slippery, big-play back who was ranked among the nation’s top five rushers.
On Nov. 17, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner gained just 66 yards on 21 carries, an average of just 3.1 yards per carry.
A week later, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin had almost identical numbers, rushing for 65 yards on 21 carries, again for 3.1 yards an attempt.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was sacked seven times and intercepted once, and Stanford prevented him from ever getting into the kind of rhythm he had the previous week against USC.
Meanwhile, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards on 20 carries, and the Cardinal was able to rest him for most of the season half after taking a 25-point lead. His one-yard touchdown run that gave Stanford a 35-10 lead with 7:41 left in the third quarter was his final play of the game, though he was not injured.
However, the reason Stanford is playing for the Pac-12 championship is the improved play at quarterback. The Cardinal’s season changed dramatically when redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan replaced Josh Nunes on the final play of the first quarter in the Nov. 3 game against Colorado.
Since that moment, Stanford has had a reliable offense to go along with its outstanding defense.
Hogan had another solid game against UCLA, completing 15 of 22 passes for 160 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. His one touchdown pass came on the Cardinal’s opening drive, and Stanford never trailed.
Stanford put the game out of reach in the third quarter thanks to two UCLA turnovers. The first was a Jordan Richards’ interception that led to a 42-yard touchdown drive. And the next was a fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff that Usua Amanam returned 10 yards for a touchdown.
Suddenly it was 35-10, and the rematch in Stanford was set.
WHAT’S AHEAD: Stanford plays UCLA on Friday, Nov. 30, at 5p.m. Pacific time, on FOX TV, at Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game. The winner earns a berth in the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl against the winner of the Dec. 1 Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and Nebraska. UCLA lost to Stanford 35-17 on Nov. 24 in the teams’ final regular-season game.
–Stanford has assured itself of its third straight season of at least 10 wins, the first time Stanford has had three straight 10-win seasons.
–One of the pivotal moves in the Nov. 24 win over UCLA was a decision by the Stanford coaches to challenge a call. The score was 7-7 in the second quarter when UCLA’s Shaq Evans caught a six-yard pass on third-and-two play to give the Bruins a first down at the Cardinal 34-yard line. The review officials were not going to stop play to take another look at the play, but David Shaw challenged the call. Replays showed the pass hit the ground before Evans caught it, causing the play to be ruled an incompletion. So instead of a first down at the 34, UCLA had a fourth down at the 40 and punted.
–Stanford forced two turnovers against UCLA, the 22nd consecutive game in which Stanford has forced at least one turnover, the fourth longest such active streak in the country.
–Stepfan Taylor had 142 yards rushing, his 21st career game of 100 yards or more, breaking the school record he had shared with Toby Gerhart.
–Stanford has beaten ranked foes – Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA – in consecutive games, and it’s the first time in history Stanford has beaten ranked opponents three straight weeks.
–UCLA was hit with 135 yards in penalties, and although Stanford wound up being penalized 55 yards, the Cardinal was not assessed its first penalty until it held a 35-10 lead in the third quarter.
–Stanford’s seven sacks against UCLA give them 53 for the season, which is the most in the country and breaks the school record of 48 set in 1999, the last time Stanford went to the Rose Bowl.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan is the primary reason Stanford is in the position it is in. He is 3-0 as a starter, all against ranked opponents, with the last two wins coming on the road. Hogan had played very little in the first seven games, and did not become a starter until the 10th game of the season. The Cardinal had shown little offense until Hogan took over Josh Nunes, but has moved the ball fairly consistently ever since. Hogan has yet to play a bad game. Besides his passing ability, he adds variety and a running threat that did not exist with Nunes.
LOOKING GOOD: The Cardinal linebackers continue to dominate games. A.J. Tarpley gets the least acclaim of the four starting linebackers, but he led the team in tackles against UCLA with 5.5, including 2.0 tackles for losses. Stanford linebackers have accounted for 52.5 tackles for losses this season, including 26.5 sacks. The linebackers anchor Stanford’s excellent front seven. Six different players accounted for the seven sacks against UCLA. The Cardinal leads the nation in sacks with 53 and in tackles for loss with 111.
NEEDS WORK: Turnovers still are a potential problem. The Cardinal turned the ball over seven times combined in the wins over Oregon State and Oregon, and although it committed only one turnover against UCLA, Stanford was lucky it wasn’t several more. Stanford fumbled the ball four times against UCLA, and was lucky enough to recover three of them. Also Kevin Hogan threw an interception that was negated by a UCLA penalty. The Cardinal easily could have had two or three more turnovers against the Bruins. Stanford had good ball security through the first nine games, and the change may be because Stanford is opening up the offense a bit with Hogan’s versatility.
QUOTE: “Didn’t watch the game. Didn’t think it was important. It’s inconsequential. It didn’t matter.” – Stanford coach David Shaw, regarding Oregon’s win over Oregon State, which was completed before Stanford began its game against UCLA on Nov. 24. If Oregon had lost that game, Stanford would have clinched a berth in the Pac-12 title game, but because the Ducks won, Stanford had to beat UCLA to get that title-game berth.
STANFORD PLAYER NOTES:
–RB Stepfan Taylor had 142 rushing yards against UCLA, giving him a career total of 4,134, which is 35 yards shy of the school record set by Darrin Nelson from 1977-1981.
–Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan was 15-for-22 for 160 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. For the season, he has completed 73 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and three interceptions, one of which was tipped. He has 162 yards rushing as well.
–OLB Chase Thomas had two tackles for loss against UCLA, giving him 12 for the season, although that is still just third best on the team behind DE Ben Gardner (14.5) and OLB Trent Murphy (16.5).
–RB Anthony Wilkerson had 48 yards rushing against UCLA, giving him 188 for the season.
–TE Zach Ertz had five receptions against UCLA, giving him 63 for the season. That’s not quite twice as many as the Cardinal’s No. 2 player in receptions, Stepfan Taylor, who has 32 catches. Ertz’s 818 receiving yards are more than twice the yardage of anyone else on the team.
–P Daniel Zychlinski had to leave the game with an injury in the second quarter after taking a hit when he fumbled a low snap from center. It appeared to be a shoulder injury, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to play in the Nov. 30 game against UCLA. Ben Rhyne did the punting for the rest of the game, and he averaged 39 yards on three kicks.
–TB Anthony Wilkerson, who missed the Oregon game because of an undisclosed injury, played against UCLA and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 10-yard run in the second quarter to make it 14-7. He finished with 48 yards rushing.
–NG Terrence Stephens did not play in the game against UCLA because he returned home to take care of a personal matter. It’s not clear whether he will play in the Pac-12 title game.