UCLA defensive front ready for dogfight vs. Stanford

LOS ANGELES — Despite a 410-yard effort from UCLA’s Brett Hundley, it wasn’t the quarterback that electrified the Rose Bowl Crowd Saturday night — that honor rested with the defensive front.
Or maybe more accurately scared the crowd. You’d be hard-pressed to find a volunteer to go up against freshman defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes.
The front seven was quite the formidable strength for No. 11 UCLA in its 37-10 win over California. Another true freshman in linebacker Myles Jack had a game-high 12 tackles. Defensive end Keenan Graham demolished Cal quarterback Jared Goff for his fifth sack of the season and Anthony Barr alone cost the Golden Bears 32 yards.
“Anthony had another great game,” said defensive coordinator Lou Spanos. “He did a nice job rushing the passer and he’s so consistent and so dominant and he just plays relentless. He’s just a dynamic player each week.”
This week, No. 9 UCLA will face one of the most physical teams on the West Coast and the physicality hasn’t matched up to UCLA’s style in recent seasons. But the power football that No. 13 Stanford plays is a style that excites the Bruin’s defensive front.
“We’ve been facing a lot of speed, a lot of deception but we get to play hard-nosed football this week,” said linebacker Erik Kendricks. “We’ve got to be able to hit them in the nose when it counts.”
Stanford is a team that relies on tiring their opponent. Games are dogfights with the strongest left standing. Known for some of their freakish athletes in the last few seasons, the Bruins feel they have the ability to contain the Cardinal offense with freaks of their own like Barr and Jack.
Graham currently leads the Pac-12 with his five sacks and no one else in the conference comes close to Barr’s nine tackles for loss or the 60 yards he’s cost opponents.
“We have a lot of guys who can play so we rotate and stay fresh,” Graham said. “Each game that goes on we try to establish ourselves as one of the best defenses in the nation. I feel like we really did a good job of taking that step (Saturday).”
Nowhere to run
A paltry 78 yards were all the Bruins were able to come away with on the ground Saturday night. Coming into the game, Cal’s defense was the third-worst in the FBS, making that number seem even smaller.
By all accounts, the Golden Bears defense stacked the box and with UCLA’s leading rusher Jordon James injured, it didn’t help the Bruins’ case.
“I feel like having J.J. out there would have been definitely good for the running back core but I know he’s working hard to get back,” said running back Damien Thigpen, who rushed for just 10 yards against Cal in his first game back from ACL surgery. “The run game didn’t really get to start the way that we wanted it to.”
Last season, the Cardinal had the best run defense in the nation. Right now, it’s currently second in the Pac-12. But with James’ ankle injury not considered serious and Saturday’s game considered a fluke, Thigpen assured there is nothing wrong with the Bruins’ running game.
“I don’t think anyone can really stop our running game,” Thigpen said. “If we get away from it, that’s fine but I don’t think they can really stop us. If anything, we stop ourselves picking up penalties and making mistakes.”
Marsh’s status pending
Defensive end Cassius Marsh had been dueling with a Cal offensive tackle all night Saturday, and what started out as typical competitive jawing took a turn. Marsh was called offsides in the second quarter and after resetting 10 yards down the field, Marsh rival continued the jawing. Marsh jumped offsides again and leapt at his offender. A scuffle ensued and Marsh was ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The ejection could land him a suspension from the Pac-12.
“They were baiting him and he took the bait,” said coach Jim Mora. “I did not see it but from what I understand there was a punch thrown. The Pac-12 has a review system so we’ll see what they say.”