The Bruins have proven themselves on offense again and again this season, so it’s not like Brett Hundley and company are going to turn in a goose egg. That said, Stanford’s defense — especially the front seven — looks like a different animal. When asked about the Cardinal defense this week, one of the first words out of Jim Mora’s mouth was, “Wow.”
The most impressive unit UCLA has faced thus far — at least statistically — is Oregon State, which delivered the Bruins their first loss. The Beavers allow just 18.6 points per game, which puts them at 21st in the nation; Stanford allows 16.9 per game, good for a 10th-place tie.
Some more numbers. Among Pac-12 teams, here are the Cardinal’s rankings in scoring defense, rushing defense, sacks and tackles for loss: first, first, second, first. Rushing defense is main one that sticks out; with Damien Thigpen injured (ACL), UCLA doesn’t have a game-breaking threat when it needs to rest Johnathan Franklin — something Mora has usually done to keep his star fresh for fourth quarters.
Stanford is somewhat vulnerable against the pass (257.1 yd/game, 7th in Pac-12), which is where UCLA needs to strike. But that too, is partially a function of how much teams avoid the run against the Cardinal; Stanford doesn’t intercept the ball often, but have given up just 11 TDs (tied with Oregon State) and 6.1 yards per attempt — good for first and third in the conference. Against the OSU defense, which bears some statistic similarities, UCLA rolled up 444 yards but went just 2 of 15 on third downs. Expect the Bruins to be better there this week, but how much better is unclear. Hundley has been big in such situations in recent weeks.
UCLA’s young offensive line can’t afford mistakes this week. Franklin carried the ball a season-high 29 times against USC for 171 yards. He’ll need to do something similar but against a stouter offense to help take pressure off Hundley.
EDGE: Stanford, slightly