October 18, 2008

UCLA to host Stanford

Second-year Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh has changed his team's mentality. They are no longer the creampuffs that the Bruins have had their way with the last couple trips to the Rose Bowl. Harbaugh has taken his over achieving team and has molded them into a solid football team that gets better week in and week out.

Stanford (4-3, Pac 10 3-1) will bring a whole different attitude to the Rose Bowl, a venue, the Cardinal hasn't scored at since 2002. UCLA (2-4, Pac 10 1-2) blanked Stanford 21-0 in 2004 and 31-0 in 2006. The Bruins have won the last four contests the two California rivals have played.

According to the odds makers that is going to change as Stanford is favored to win. The Cardinal is coming off a thrilling 24-23 win over Arizona giving the Wildcats their only conference loss while the Bruins are coming off a hard fought, but disappointing loss to Oregon 31-24.

For the Bruins to win they have to start a lot faster than they did against Oregon a week ago when they spotted the Ducks 14 first half points. The Bruins came out with a lot of energy in the second half against the Ducks and not only scored their first points on the road since December of last year, but scored 24 offensive points.

The Bruins hope that the second half of the Oregon is the beginning of something good for them and hope come out firing on all cylinders, but a tough minded and disciplined Stanford team waits.

Another key for a Bruin victory will be getting back to fundamental tackling, they will need to wrap up against Stanford if they are going to stop their prolific power running game that averages 184.1 yards a game.

The Cardinal have two outstanding running backs that the Bruins will have to contain in local product Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble who came to Stanford from Louisiana.

The Cardinal beat the Bruins in a hard fought recruiting battle for Gerhart, who also plays on the Stanford baseball team. He currently leads the Cardinal in rushing with 641 yards (5.8 ypc) and scored seven rushing touchdowns.

Kimble has rushed for 419 yards (6.3 ypc) with a long of 83 yards. Both backs can tote the mail to the house from anywhere on the field and both rushed for over 100 yards against Arizona last week so they are coming to the Rose Bowl on a crest.

Gerhart was Pac 10 offensive player of the week for his performance against Arizona.

Cardinal quarterback Tavita Pritchard is expected to be back behind center after sitting out the second half of the Arizona game with a mild concussion, but before that he did a pretty good impression of his uncle, former Washington State great, Jack Thompson, "The Throwin Samoan" by hitting on 13-of-17 passes for 113 yards and one touchdown.

On the season, Pritchard is 92-of-153 for 986 yards and seven touchdowns. He has shown a tendency to throw interceptions as he has eight on the season. A couple picks would do an inexperienced UCLA defensive backfield a world of good.

If Pritchard can't go, then the Cardinal will call on either junior Jason Forcier, brother Bruin backup Chris Forcier, or junior Alex Loukas.

Stanford's best receiving threat, junior and local product, Richard Sherman from Compton (Calif.) Dominguez will not play due to a knee injury, but the slack has been picked up by Ryan Whalen who has team leading 27 receptions for 291 yards and one touchdown.

At the other wide receiver spot is Doug Baldwin, who has shown a penchant for being a playmaker for the Cardinal. On the season, Baldwin has 16 receptions for 238 yards and three touchdowns with a long of 61 yards.

The Bruins also have to be aware of senior tight end Austin Gunder, who has 13 catches for 101 yards while averaging almost eight yards a reception.

For the Bruins to win, they can't miss tackles. That one little fundamental allowed Oregon to make big plays that would have been stopped if not for missed tackles.

It would also be helpful if the Bruins help the defense by not making them defend short fields. That has been a big problem much of the season and something that has to rectified if the Bruins want to finish the season strong.

Offensively it would help if Kevin Craft would take a couple shots downfield. He has missed guys open deep by going short on more than one opportunity, but those growing pains with a new offense and new personnel.

The Bruins win this game if they get Stanford out of their comfort zone and force them to rely on their passing game.

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