The Bruins’ defense has been a work in progress all season, a project that’s trended upward. UCLA has been fairly stout against the run (fourth in Pac-12), but the secondary has been a point of concern all season long. Last week was somewhat of a redemption outing for the pass defense, although the game-opening interception was gift-wrapped by Matt Barkley.
Most encouraging is that USC receivers — thought to be a nightmare matchup for the Bruins — didn’t end up with particularly eye-popping numbers. Marqise Lee grabbed nine catches for 158 yards and a score, but next-best was Robert Woods with five for 68. Stanford doesn’t have the type of gamebreakers that particularly trouble UCLA cornerbacks, but it counters with 6-foot-6 tight end Zach Ertz — who has almost twice as many catches (58) as anyone else on his team.
Stepfan Taylor is a very effective runner, but also isn’t known as a big-play back. The Cardinal’s leading rusher only averages just 4.74 yards per carry, good for 19th among all Pac-12 players. Five times this season, UCLA has surrendered over 150 yards on the ground. Four of those times, the opposing team had two backs who averaged over 5.00 per carry.
Quarterback Kevin Hogan, surprisingly, has already become his team’s second-leading rusher with a paltry 185 yards — 134 on 26 carries in his past three games. This speaks both to the Cardinal’s reliance on Taylor as well as its offensive line. Hogan hardly has the athleticism of Brett Hundley, who has run 34 times for 15 yards in his past three games. Hundley, though, has lost 80 yards on 10 sacks. Hogan has taken just five for a loss of 23 yards. It’s up to UCLA’s front seven to make those numbers tick up.
On an additional note, Jim Mora isn’t overly concerned with penalties. The Bruins rank dead last in the country in penalties and penalty yards per game, and some of the more prominent flags have come on pass interference calls.
“This is a 20-year study I did on penalties: The correlation between penalties and winning games is nonexistent,” Mora said Thursday. “And that is a fact. Over the last 20 years in football. Penalties, in general, don’t matter.
A cursory glance at national penalties statistics indicates a weak correlation: the 20 worst offenders include teams such as No. 5 Oregon, No. 8 LSU, No. 16 Oregon State and No. 25 Utah State; the five most well-behaved teams are Air Force, Kansas, Navy, No. 7 Kansas State and Army.