No. 9 UCLA (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) at No. 13 Stanford (5-1, 3-1)
Location: Stanford Stadium, Oct. 19, 12:30 p.m.
TV: ABC/ESPN2 (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake)
Radio: 570 AM (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)
Last meeting: The Bruins need no reminders. UCLA’s 27-24 loss at Stanford in last year’s Pac-12 Championship game was sealed when Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 52-yard field goal attempt fell short in the rain — keeping the team from its first Rose Bowl berth since 1999.
Key storylines: Most of UCLA’s roster clearly remember the back-to-back losses to the Cardinal last November, whether they admit using it as motivation or not. Winning on Saturday won’t completely make up for missing out on the Jan. 1 game, but it’ll end a five-game losing streak and just feel really, really good.
The Bruins can also prove to the whole country that they’re a legitimate BCS bowl contender. For just the second time this season, they’ll play a game that starts before 10 p.m. ET, and get to do it against a team with a recently-built reputation as a national power. Beat the defending conference champs will help push UCLA onto the big stage, the way Stanford did a few years ago under Jim Harbaugh.
The Cardinal will try to quell any talk of a slip from elite status. They showed cracks last weekend in a 27-21 loss in Salt Lake City, with Utah’s offense successfully spreading out Stanford’s banged-up defensive line. A unit that was supposed to be one of the Cardinal’s strongest is still without defensive end Henry Anderson (knee), and All-Pac-12 second teamer Ben Gardner is playing through a painful arm injury. Expect UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to pack a few extra swing passes into his playbook.
Key players: Take it away, David Shaw. Asked about UCLA’s defensive front seven this week, the Stanford coach was effusive, especially in lauding outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
“I’ve been saying all along, I thought Marcus Mariota was the best player in the nation,” Shaw said. “It’s a tie for me now. That guy that wears No. 11 (for the Bruins) is the best player that I’ve seen in probably a couple of years. He’s special.
“You get excited when he doesn’t rush, but then he does a great job in pass coverage. You can’t throw the ball over him, around him.”
During a later press conference with local media, he compared Barr to Tennessee Titans star Jevon Kearse, a first-round draft pick in 1999 and a three-time Pro Bowler. The senior’s sacks are down a bit this year at four on the season, but that’s against increased double teams. He also leads the conference with an eyepopping 10.0 tackles for loss.
UCLA will need a strong performance from Barr (though freshman Myles Jack should be primed for another big game too). Stanford’s offensive line has allowed just seven sacks on the season, tied for the second-fewest in the conference; the Cardinal have been among the three best teams in this stat every year since 2007.
Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy is likely the conference’s best defender after Barr, and has five sacks to tie UCLA defensive end Keenan Graham for the Pac-12 lead. Murphy, Gardner and linebacker Shayne Skov all came back for a fifth year in the Bay Area to try for a national title;
Receiver Ty Montgomery may be the most exciting player in the league. The junior runs crisp routes, but is most thrilling when he gets a chance to freestyle. He has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, one coming in each of his last two games. The total ties him for the national lead, and he’s alone at No. 1 with 12 all-purpose plays of at least 30 yards.
UCLA has covered kickoffs well this season, but Cal’s Khalfani Muhammad would have had a touchdown return had he broken punter Sean Covington’s tackle last week.
Did you know?: David Shaw has never, ever had an alcoholic drink. “He saw a lot of examples of people not being in control, and he likes to be in control of himself,” his wife Kori told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I don’t think he sees the point of drinking.” Honestly, this is not surprising at all.