Pregame Guesses: #24 UCLA Bruins Travel to Stanford Cardinal
Can the Bruin defense bounce back? Will UCLA's running backs get into the groove at Stanford? Can UCLA force turnovers against a Stanford offense that practiced ball security? And Nicholas Barr-Mira!
Over-the-moon UCLA football fans crashed back to earth late last Saturday night, when the Bruins, after taking the lead with 54 seconds left on the clock, surrendered the game-winning touchdown to the Fresno State Bulldogs and a hobbled, yet gutsy, quarterbacking performance. Now UCLA will try to bounce back with a trip to the Farm and a road match-up versus the Stanford Cardinal.
After starting the season off with a poor showing at home against Kansas State, the Cardinal have reeled off two impressive road wins at Southern Cal and at Vanderbilt, scoring in excess of forty points in both games. Now they are back home to welcome the Bruins, who just barely stayed in the top 25, after the Fresno State loss.
UCLA’s defensive performance was like a broken record—reminding fans of defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro coached Bruins defenses in 2019. We all thought that “bad” Coach Azz was gone after a promising 2020 season, and an even better two games in 2021.
But, not after last week. No, it appears to be the same old story, making this week’s musical selection an easy choice. Here’s “The Song Remains the Same,” live version by Led Zeppelin”:
Jimmy Page . . . what a master. The double-necked Gibson guitar is pretty bad-ass too.
Anyhoooo . . . if the Bruin defense shows out well in Palo Alto, rendering this musical selection moot, I will gladly eat crow with an apologetic tune next week. We will see . . .
On to the guesses, starting with, you guessed it, the UCLA defense.
The UCLA defense was poor last week, and all of our misgivings about Coach Azzinaro bubbled to the surface after such thoughts left our collective consciousness for the 2020 season plus two games in 2021. The UCLA defense gave up 569 yards, with 455 of those yards coming through the air. Sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee is not Bulldog QB Jake Haener. Few are: Haener leads the nation in passing yards.
Will the UCLA defense be able to bounce back on the road against a balanced Stanford offense, which averages 128 rushing yards per game, 215 passing yards per game, and 3.67 touchdowns per game? PREGAME GUESS NUMBER ONE: Predict the number of rushing yards, passing yards, and touchdowns that the Stanford offense will record versus the reeling UCLA defense.
The biggest surprise from last week—yes, even bigger than the defensive performance—was the complete absence of a UCLA rushing attack outside of Dorain Thomspon Robinson. After combining for a devastating one-two punch in wildly successful games against Hawai’i and LSU, Bruins running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown combined for 42 yards on just 15 carries.
Of course, the lack of carries is a direct result of having to play from behind. But the yards per carry—less than 3 yards per carry—is deeply concerning. In the first two games, the UCLA offensive line dominated the defensive fronts of both Hawai’i and, somewhat surprisingly, LSU from the big, bad SEC. They were pushed around by the Fresno State defensive line and it was shocking. Stanford under Head Coach David Shaw is known for being physical at the point of attack. How will UCLA’s running backs fare versus Stanford? PREGAME GUESS NUMBER TWO: Predict the number of carries and rushing yards of Zach Charbonnet, and the number of carries and rushing yards of Brittain Brown ( NOTE: I know that this is very similar to the PGG from week one, and I usually try to keep PGGs fresh. but it is appropriate to revisit this in light of the circumstances—I see UCLA’s ability to rush the ball as the most critical factor in this game).
Turnovers played a large part in UCLA’s ability to get back into the game against Fresno State. Without those takeaways, the game probably would not have been that close and it is reasonable to conclude that the Bruins would not be ranked after the loss. That being said, UCLA turned the ball over too against the Bulldogs. Both teams lost two fumbles, but UCLA also had an interception, winning the turnover battle. They might need to do it again versus Stanford. Can they?
It doesn’t look promising. Stanford has not lost a fumble all season. Further, the Cardinal have two interceptions—both by backup quarterback, Jack West, in garbage time. McKee has not thrown a pick. So, the Stanford starters have not turned the ball over all season and will play a UCLA defense that relies on turnovers. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER THREE: How many fumbles will UCLA recover? How many interceptions will UCLA record?
It’s a road game, so I will not do an attendance bonus guess. But we will still do a bonus guess, focusing on an oft-ignored facet of the Bruin football team: the kicker!
Sophomore Nicholas Barr-Mira is 3 for 3 on field goals this season and has made 14 of 15 extra points. BONUS GUESS: Predict the number of extra points made by Barr-Mira as well as the number of field goals made (of course, unless you believe Barr-Mira will miss an extra point, you are also indirectly predicting the number of points the UCLA offense will score, so go ahead and list that too).
That’s it for this week. Sound off in the comments below.