A team that is 2-1 has rarely needed a rebound the way UCLA needs one this week. The euphoric high over the LSU win was unsustainable. It was countered by the shock of an avoidable last second loss to Fresno State. Now we get the conference opener with UCLA vs. Stanford as the Bruins get a reset.
On The Road
UCLA is getting its first road game of the season. Head coach Chip Kelly joked Wednesday that in preparation, “We drove around campus 16 times in a bus.”
The Cardinal are getting a real rarity for them lately…a home game. Because of Santa Clara County Covid regulations last year, Stanford spent the last four weeks of the season on the road, in every sense of the word. They camped out in Washington and Oregon in between games, instead of returning home for practices.
They opened this season with a road loss at Kansas State, followed by wins at USC and at Vanderbilt. For those doing the math, that is seven straight road games. It has been 660 days since Stanford last played in front of a home crowd. “I don’t know if our guys are going to know what to do on Friday afternoon,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said this week. “We’re usually going to the airport.”
Of course, on that list of seven straight road games is the season finale last year when Stanford had a come-from-behind win over UCLA in double overtime at the Rose Bowl.
Stanford’s New Star
The season highlight this year is a commanding 42-28 win over USC at the Coliseum. The game was not nearly as close as the score would indicate. The Cardinal had a 35-13 lead at the end of three quarters. That was the coming out party for quarterback Tanner McKee. The sophomore from Centennial High in Corona, CA started his first game. All he did to the Trojans was go 16 of 23 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
McKee said while the success may appear recent, it has been the result of weeks and months of hard work. “It doesn’t just show up on your front porch when Fall begins or games start,” he said Tuesday.
UCLA defensive back Stephan Blaylock said the Bruins defense will have to be physical Saturday. “There’s a lot of physical guys up there. It’s a smart team,” Blaylock said. “So, we’ve got to be physical and play our game and be confident in ourselves.”
A Match-Up Of Like Minds
Shaw said games against Kelly coached teams are like a tennis match with a lot of back and forth with some tweaks and adjustments made. Kelly agreed with the analogy Wednesday. “He’s right. I’ve always enjoyed competing against David,” Kelly said. “He’s one of my favorite coaches and one of my favorite people.” Kelly said Stanford will be one of the most well prepared teams UCLA faces all season because of Shaw.
Part of what was lacking in UCLA’s loss to Fresno State was a viable running game. UCLA likely needs that ground game in order to be in the game Saturday. Kelly was asked if there is a way to get the running game closer to what it was the first two games when Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet rolled up 397 yards and six touchdowns. “It depends on what Stanford does defensively,” Kelly said. “We always try to be a balanced attack but again, how the game expresses itself, we only have control over one side of that. They have control over the other.”
Missing The Run
When it comes to the lack of a running game last weekend, Brown said, “I think we didn’t have a lot of chances with the ball. You know we had a game plan, and if we had the ball a little bit more, then we probably would have gotten more into our run game,” he said. “It just didn’t turn out that way. I guess that’s why we’re sitting here talking about the run game.” He also said execution of what the plan was, was an issue. “Basically, we’ve just got to reevaluate ourselves. Just execute better when our number is called.”
Shaw had said he expects the in-game adjustments to happen quickly. “That’s the thing with Chip, is realizing he’s got a very comprehensive scheme. That unlike some coordinators, you start beating them and they don’t know how to change and adjust. That’s not Chip. Chip is going to be constantly probing. Now, if you’re not stopping something, he is going to do it until the cows come home.”
DTR Presents Challenges
Without the running game Saturday, Kelly relied more on senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson who had a big second half. He had 237 yards passing and three touchdowns in the air in the last two quarters. He was also UCLA’s leading rusher, in their limited ground game, with 67 yards.
Shaw said that creates an extra challenge in game prep. “He has the one thing that I hate a Chip Kelly team to ever have, and that’s an athletic quarterback. That makes you not only account for all the gaps in the run game. Now you have to account for the quarterback away for all those gaps.”
Shaw referred to the match-up as Kelly being a master tactician with a strong running game, an athletic quarterback, and a tight end, Greg Dulcich, whom he referred to as one of the best in America, at UCLA’s disposal.
Last Year Is Last Year
There is still last year’s game that we referenced at the top. Stanford was up 20-3 at halftime at the Rose Bowl. Quarterback Chase Griffin led a furious comeback by the Bruins that resulted in a 34-20 lead late in the game. But Stanford’s Davis Mills delivered two touchdown passes to Simi Fehoko in the last 2:34 of the game to send it into overtime.
The two teams traded touchdowns in the first, and the second overtime. But UCLA’s two-point conversion in the second overtime failed and the Bruins were handed a second consecutive crushing defeat, having lost to USC the week before.
Although revenge is not a factor, players have admitted this week to remembering what it felt like after the game. Kelly dismissed it as having anything to do with this Saturday. “We’re not in the avenge world,” he said. “Success isn’t a continuum, nor is failure. To continue to dwell or talk about things in the past is a waste of time.”