UCLA vs. Stanford: Special Teams

Stanford is a solid kickoff coverage team, ranking second in the Pac-12 and 13th in the country (18.2 yards per return). UCLA’s Damien Thigpen was the conference’s second-best kick returner (26.86), but the junior tore his tore his ACL against USC and will be shelved for the season. The Bruins don’t have anyone who can truly fill that spot, and have rotated younger players such as Devin Lucien and Roosevelt Davis during practices.

Placekicking is a bit of wash, with neither team having a kicker who has proven himself from long range. Jordan Williamson hit a game-winner against Oregon last week, but also missed three attempts from beyond 40 yards. The Bruins’ Ka’imi Fairbairn has yet to connect from beyond 35, but has been perfect inside. He gets the slight nod for that, especially since he’s made 68.8 percent of his kicks to Williamson’s 59.1.

Few punters can equal Jeff Locke, but the Cardinal’s Daniel Zychlinski didn’t look far off last week against Oregon. Stanford’s fifth-year senior dropped three punts inside the 10 and limited De’Anthony Thomas to just two return yards. Still, Locke was a second-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist for a reason, and could be the top punting prospect in next spring’s NFL Draft.

UCLA has also been on a punt- and kick-blocking bender lately, stuffing six in the past two games. No other team has more than four on the season. It’d be stunning if the Bruins continue that run, but also tons of fun to watch. This figures to be a close game, so even just one blocked kick would be a crucial swing.


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