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UCLA Football Preview: Bruins Need to Run the Ball to Beat Stanford
UCLA needs to do a better job running the ball if they want to beat the Cardinal.
Since we’re running a little late this week, we’re going to do something we haven’t done before. We’re going to preview this afternoon’s game against Stanford all in one article. Let’s dive right in and look at the Stanford coaching staff.
The highest levels of the Stanford coaching staff have remained consistent for since 2018. In addition to David Shaw still being at the helm, Tavita Pritchard continues as the team’s offensive coordinator…errr…“Andrew Luck Director of Offense” while Lance Anderson remains the Cardinal’s defensive coordinator, I mean, the “Willie Shaw Director of Defense.”
So, expect to see more of what we’ve seen from Stanford under David Shaw.
Sophomore Joshua Karty has taken over the kicking duties. Karty played in the Cardinal’s game against Oregon last year, but didn’t try a field goal or extra point. So far this year, he’s made two of three field goal attempts and he’s perfect on PATs. His lone miss came from lnger than 40 yards against Southern Cal.
Junior Ryan Sanborn is Stanford’s punter. After a tough season last year which saw his punting average slip, Sanborn has bounced back and improved his average by almost four yards this year. His season long is 59 yards and came against Southern Cal.
Both of Stanford’s return men have the potential to be dangerous. Sophomore runnign back Casey Filkins has been the only guy returning punts this season for the Cardinal. He has returned five including one which went for 48 yards. Junior running back Nathaniel Peat is Stanford’s kickoff return guy. Like Filkins, Peat has had five returns so far this year. The difference is that, while Peat’s longest is shorter than Filkins at 39 yards, Peat is averaging almost twice as many yards per return with 30.
David Shaw will start sophomore Tanner McKee. McKee is originally from Southern California. He played his high school ball at Centennial High in Corona. McKee looks to be a dropback passer. He has rushed just 12 times for 15 yards. So, don’t expect to see him do much running. In three games, McKee has thrown for 570 yards while completing 50 of his 70 pass attempts.
As a result, the UCLA defense needs to go back to the scheme they used against Hawai’i and LSU. They need to put pressure on McKee. If the Bruins play the same kind of soft defense they did against Fresno State, the team will fall to 2-2.
Stanford is one of the unusual programs which still employ a two-back set. Peat will start at tailback while fifth-year senior Houston Heimuli will start at fullback. Despite that, Heimuli has never carried the ball once in his time at Stanford, but they do throw to him about twice per season. One of those targets could come today as the Cardinal will be looking to stop the Bruin pass rush.
Peat, on the other hand, has carried 14 times in Stanford’s first three games. He’s averaging 56.3 yards per carry. While he leads the team in rushing, junior Austin Jones has almost twice as many carries as Peat, but Jones hasn’t been able to gain as many yards as Peat. Jones is averaging less than 40 yards per game on the ground for the Cardinal.
Tanner McKee’s favorite target so far has been Brycen Tremayne. So far, Tremayne is averaging 55 yards per game and three of his 13 catches have been for touchdowns.
That said, there is no lack of targets for Stanford’s quarterback.
Junior Elijah Higgins is second on the team with 11 receptions with one touchdown. While sophomore John Humphreys is tied for fourth with Austin Jones with seven receptions, he is second in receiving yards per game with an average of 39.67. Jones is averaging 31 yards per game.
Sophomore running back E.J. Smith has made nine catches for 41 yards while sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek has pulled in six grabs for 82 yards total.
The Stanford offensive line may be a weak link for the Cardinal. That’s because Stanford does not have a single senior starting on the line. That said, they do start four juniors and a sophomore. Only starting right tackle Myles Hinton isn’t a junior.
To be sure, you can’t just dismiss a Stanford offensive line because they always seem to have a great line. The best you can hope for is that they aren’t as experienced and that may be the case here.
Hinton, despite being the son of former NFL pro bowler Chris Hinton, only has three collegiate starts. Right guard Branson Bragg only has ten collegiate starts. At center, Drake Nugent also has just three collegiate starts.
On the other hand, the left side of the line features the most experienced Stanford linemen. Barrett Miller has started 17 games at guard for the Cardinal while Walter Rouse has made 20 starts.
So, the Bruins would be wise to attack from the left side of the defense.
Let’s look at the Cardinal defense.
The Stanford front seven is the opposite of the Cardinal offensive line. In fact, the Cardinal has only one junior starting in their front seven.
On the plus side, it doesn’t look like inside linebacker Caleb Kelly will play. He isn’t listed on the depth chart despite being one of the team’s top tacklers.
It also doesn’t look like Stanford plays a very aggressive defense. As a team, they have only sacked opposing quarterbacks four times all season so far.
Interestingly, it looks like the Stanford weakness is against the rushing attack. The Cardinal defense has given up over 600 yards rushing while their offense has gained less than 400.
Meanwhile, the defense has only allowed 518 yards through the air.
Stanford isn’t exactly pass-happy. After all, David Shaw is known for his conservative offense. Yet, despite that, they seem to be focusing more on the passing game than the running game and the Bruins will need to put pressure on Tanner McKee to keep the Cardinal off the scoreboard.
When UCLA has the ball, the Bruins will need to do a better job than last week establishing the running game if they want to beat the Cardinal this afternoon.