UCLA hasn’t beaten Stanford since 2008, but as far as the team is concerned at the moment, it’s the three losses since head coach Jim Mora came aboard that stands out the most.
Two years ago, the Bruins suffered two-straight losses in two weeks at the hands of the Cardinal. Last year’s matchup on the farm was a slug-fest that left several Bruins injured and frustrated. And while it might be a down year by Stanford’s terms, the same key challenges remain: The pro-style offense and the smash-mouth defense.
Stanford’s offense has scored the least amount of points in the Pac-12 this season and quarterback Kevin Hogan hasn’t been as efficient as expected, but it’s the first time this season UCLA has faced a true pro-style offense and it’s a system the defense has struggled with in the recent past.
"It’s pretty darn different," Mora said. "The things they do with their offensive line and using that offensive line and using extra offensive linemen at their tight end spots, and their dedication to running the ball and trying to pound it at you is different than just about anybody that we’ve seen. It’s going to demand a little bit of a different game-plan mindset from us."
The defense is the best in the Pac-12 and the sixth-best in the country, allowing only 289.7 yards per game.
"They’re solid, they’re physical, they tackle with their shoulders square, they’re disciplined, they understand their scheme," Mora said. "It’s hard to get yards against them because they’re opportunistic, they take the ball away. We’re going to have to be very precise against them in order to get yards."
What makes the Cardinal so tough is their physicality and their discipline. Stanford doesn’t give up a lot of penalty yards and doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.
One of the most physical teams in the country, it’s their way of wearing out and grinding down their opposition that has been problematic for UCLA in the past. The Bruins have to match it while also maintaining their own identity.
Everyone knows what could lie beyond Stanford should UCLA come out on top, but the emphasis is still on the task at hand.
"It’s no secret, they beat us three times in a row," Mora said. "But we’ve got a lot to play for and I don’t think that revenge is a factor. It’s more going out (Friday) and executing, playing our best football and giving ourselves a chance to continue playing this year. That’s what the focus is and I think they understand that."
Hundley’s last stand
It’s been the worst-kept secret in Los Angeles, but Brett Hundley all but made it official that this is his last season at UCLA on the Jim Rome Show Monday.
"There’s a really good chance that was my last game against USC," he told Rome. "The conversation keep coming up. I’ve got my degree. I’ve done everything I wanted to do here. I’ve left something really, truly great, and I feel good. That’s probably my last one against USC."
When Hundley made his announcement to forgo the draft for the 2014 season, he had no qualms about making it known that this season would be his last in college. UCLA’s all-time offensive leader, he’ll leave behind a strong legacy that one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country will look to build on. Hundley is expected to hand over the keys to offense to St. John Bosco quarterback Josh Rosen.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks has quietly put together one of the best seasons of any defensive player in football. The senior is named to all of the top defensive player award lists and his 11.6 tackles per game is first in the Pac-12 and fifth in country.
He’s fast approaching the all-time record for tackles at UCLA, but he’s not anxious to talk about it. He’s anxious to tackle Stanford.
"I tell everyone not to mention it," he said. "I’ll enjoy it later. I don’t like to look at my stats or anything like that, I like to just play hard and play with my heart. And then at the end of the season, I’ll look back and see what I did."