UCLA Football Preview: Stanford Defense Rebuilding in 2020
After a dismal performance in 2019 and two losses to start this season, the Cardinal defense has been on a steady climb in the latter part of the 2020 season.
In UCLA’s final conference game this year, the Bruins will take on the Stanford Cardinal this Saturday at 4:00 pm PT. Like UCLA, Stanford has chosen to decline the chance to play in a bowl game this season.
The Cardinal defense was a bit of a disaster in 2019, giving up over 400 yards and 40 points in four of their games. To add insult to injury, defensive ends Mike Williams and Jovan Swann entered the transfer portal in the offseason and cornerback Paulson Adebo opted out for 2020 to prepare for the NFL draft.
Stanford was looking for a better season this year and, while the offense may be able to balance out whatever shortcomings the defense may bring to the table, giving up 40 points a game puts an offense too far into the hole. After a slow start with two losses and one cancelled game, Stanford has turned it around and is now on a three-game winning streak.
As a whole, Stanford is starting a young defensive line with a few older guys that did not have a whole lot of experience coming into this season. Headlining this group is junior defensive end and team captain Thomas Booker. Redshirt junior Thomas Schaffer will also be at defensive end while redshirt junior Dalyn Wade-Perry will be in the middle at tackle to start. Schaeffer leads the team with three sacks and four tackles for loss.
Booker is the crux of this unit, posting 50 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and a forced fumble in 2019, and he’s the team’s top returner in sacks. If anyone up front is going to affect the pass rush, it will definitely be Booker.
On the inside, Stanford’s top tackler is redshirt senior Curtis Robinson who will look to add to his 38 tackles, including three for a loss. He started every game last season and is the defense’s most seasoned player. Right behind Robinson is redshirt freshman Levani Damuni, who has 30 tackles of his own and is one of only two players to log an interception this year. He had the best game of his career last weekend against Oregon State, notching ten tackles. Senior Gabe Reid will also be in the mix along with junior Jake Lynch. Sophomore Spencer Jorgensen is not slated to start and has only played three games this year.
On the outside, redshirt senior Jordan Fox may not see the field Saturday. He was out last week with and injury. Redshirt junior Thunder Keck, redshirt freshman Stephen Herron, and redshirt sophomore Andres Fox are all expected to start. With Fox out, sophomore Aeneas DiCosmo is expected to move from inside linebacker to outside linebacker.
After losing Adebo, the cornerback position became a weakness, but sophomores Kyu Blu Kelly and Zahran Manley have stepped into the role. They have each played in four games alongside redshirt freshman Salim Turner-Muhammad and have seen marked improvements since the beginning of the season. Kelly had the most experience of any returning cornerback coming into this season.
Junior safety Kendall Williamson and redshirt senior Malik Antoine have both had solid seasons, posting 24 tackles each with Antoine snagging Stanford’s other interception. Sophomore Jonathan McGill and redshirt junior Noah Williams will also be in the rotation. Both have the potential to disrupt the downfield passing game. They have three pass breakups between them this year.
2020 has definitely been a rebuilding year for the Cardinal defense, but they are on the rise and moving in a positive direction. They were not completely lacking in experience and had just enough to get the season going and give the newer guys a chance to get some playing time and continue to improve.
Stanford has not blown anyone out this year. So, there is no doubt UCLA can hang with these guys. If UCLA can balance the passing game to include the talents of Greg Dulcich and Kyle Phillips and keep the running game going with Demetric Felton and Brittain Brown, the Bruins may do enough come out on top.