UCLA Football Preview: Can the UCLA Defense Stop A Clicking Stanford Offense?
Stanford's quarterback has no interceptions and freshman receivers are making circus catches. Can the Bruin defense put a stop to the momentum?
The UCLA Bruins will host the Stanford Cardinal in a final game #7 this Saturday at the Rose Bowl at 4:00 pm PT. Bruin fans are still licking their wounds from a close loss to the Southern Cal Trojans last weekend, which can largely be attributed to poor game management on the part of head coach Chip Kelly.
Stanford lost their first two games of the season and, after their Week Three contest with Washington State was cancelled, they won three in a row against UC Berkeley, #23 Washington, and Oregon State. The interesting part is that their wins look like UCLA’s losses: all by less than a touchdown. Additionally, all of Stanford’s wins were on the road.
Here is a breakdown of the Stanford Roadshow Offense.
Redshirt junior Davis Mills will be making his fifth start of the season after going 22 of 30 and throwing three touchdowns last weekend against Oregon State. He missed Week One against Oregon due to a questionable COVID test, which very well could have affected the outcome of the game.
The crazy thing about Mills is that he hasn’t thrown a single interception so far this year. His completion percentage has been a bit up and down, but has stayed well over 60% and 70% since their first win at UC Berkeley. He is a pro-style quarterback. So, you won’t see him running a whole lot, but his accuracy and touch sets him apart from other quarterbacks in the league. In his last game, he was able to hit nine different Cardinal receivers.
Stanford head coach David Shaw even drew up a flea flicker last weekend that not only got the Cardinal the first down on a third-and-long, but put Stanford on the one-yard line where all Mills had to do was punch it in for the six points. It was one of his two rushing touchdowns last weekend. They came out of the locker room to start the third quarter down by five points, but between Mills’ skill and Shaw’s game management, Stanford was able to get the win.
One of the hallmarks of the Stanford offense over the years has been a larger than life offensive line. This is, of course, a must if you’re going to start a pro-style quarterback and protect the pocket. The difference this year is the relative youth of this line with no seniors and three redshirt junior starters. All of the backups are underclassmen.
Redshirt junior center Drew Dalman will get the start and he will be flanked on the left by sophomores Barrett Miller and Walter Rouse. On the right, redshirt freshman Branson Bragg will be at guard and redshirt junior Foster Sarell will be at tackle. Sophomore Jake Hornibrook can play tackle in either side. So, he may could provide some rotational relief.
There is no underestimating the role this line has played in Mills’ success this year. So, the UCLA defensive line is going to have their work cut out for them this weekend. The pass rush was weak against Southern Cal on top of the Bruin defensive backs playing soft and social distancing from the Trojan receivers. If they do the same thing this weekend, Mills is going to have all day to throw to his long list of receivers.
Sophomores rule the day in the Stanford receiving corps, starting with Simi Fehoko. Junior Michael Wilson and senior Connor Wedington will miss the rest of the season with injuries, leaving Fehoko as the next man up. He has become Mills’ top target, with 21 receptions for 344 yards. Surprisingly, he hasn’t logged a touchdown yet, but he is good on the deep ball and hard to take down in space. According to Shaw, Fehoko runs a 4.3. So, not only is he a big guy at 6’4”, but he is also incredibly fast. He was the receiver that burned two Oregon State defenders to grab Mills’ flea flicker. Last weekend, Fehoko was the first Stanford receiver to hit triple digits in a single game.
Brycen Tremayne and Elijah Higgins will also be in on the action with Higgins acting as a key blocker for the run game. Freshman backups include Bryce Farrell, Colby Bowman, and John Humphreys, with Humphreys hauling in a circus catch last weekend that set up Stanford in the fourth quarter for the win.
Sophomores Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat make up the bulk of the Cardinal run game. Jones has tallied 466 yards on 103 rushing attempts. Peat has 26 attempts for 188 yards of his own, but Jones is clearly the go-to man for the run game. He has had three 100+ yards games this season and, after it looked like UCLA had trouble stopping Southern Cal’s run game which was fairly non-existent until last weekend, the Bruins could struggle with Jones.
This game looks like a toss up so far. It is as winnable as any other game UCLA has played this year with neither team really dominating on paper. If anything is going to make a difference, it is going to be which UCLA team shows up on Saturday. Will it be the complete team that beat the Arizona schools or the team with the soft defense that lost to Southern Cal? Additionally, if game management is going to be a problem again, the players cannot be expected to succeed if the coaches continue to make poor in-game decisions.