A win by UCLA puts the Bruins in the Pac-12 Conference championship game next Friday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. A loss will send the winner of Friday's Arizona State-Arizona game as the South Division representative. UCLA has not defeated Stanford since 2008. Staff writer Chris Foster examines the game's matchups and story lines:
Timing is everything
Stanford has upped the tempo of its offense in recent weeks, but the Cardinal can still keep the ball out of your hands.
UCLA likes to work quickly. The Bruins this season have scored 11 touchdowns on drives of three or fewer plays, including seven on the first play after taking possession.
Quick strikes would be nice, but taking time to score could also be important.
"When you play a team like Stanford, it's hard going," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "There is such a premium on possessions. You play a team like this, you have to be productive on third down. You've got to stay on the field because you may not get a whole lot of shots out there."
Stanford held the ball for 37 minutes in a 24-10 victory over the Bruins last season. Whether the Cardinal has the running game to duplicate that is questionable.
Toby Gerhart begat Stepfan Taylor, who begat Tyler Gaffney. The line of running backs ends there.
The Cardinal has had a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2007. This season, Remound Wright is the team leader with 488 yards, Kelsey Young has 305 and Barry Sanders Jr. has 300.
Stanford averaged 207.1 yards rushing per game last season; 150.5 yards this season.
"It's like any time you try to replace a great one, and Gaffney was a great, great player," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. "They still have the same scheme. They still try to pound you. Any time you lose one of the all-time greats, it's hard."
A less productive running game has been hard on quarterback Kevin Hogan, though his statistics haven't dropped. He had 2,630 yards passing with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 games last season. He has 2,369 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 11 games this season.
Stanford Coach David Shaw this week became the latest Pac-12 coach to gush about UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
"I see the natural maturation of a great athlete becoming a really, really good quarterback," Shaw said. "You see how composed he is in the pocket. You see how he escapes the pocket. You see him protect the ball much better than earlier in his career. You see him stepping up in the pocket and making some big-time, NFL-caliber throws.
"He's starting to become what everybody thought he was going to become when he was a senior in high school."
Still, the Cardinal has handled Hundley the last two seasons. The junior quarterback has thrown two touchdowns and had four passes intercepted in losing three games to Stanford.
What the Cardinal still does exceptionally well is play defense.
Stanford ranks sixth in the nation in total defense, giving up 289.7 yards per game, and is seventh in scoring defense, allowing 16.5 points per game.
The Cardinal is also 10th nationally in sacks, averaging 3.2 per game.
The Cardinal has been tough on UCLA's usually high-powered offense. The Bruins have averaged 35.5 points per game the last three seasons, but only 17.0 in three games against Stanford.
Can the Bruins run the ball against the brawn of Stanford's defensive front?
The Cardinal allows 112.8 yards rushing per game, 14th nationally. UCLA has the Pac-12's leading rusher in Paul Perkins, who averages 115.0 yards per game.
Perkins has not been held below 78 yards rushing this season.
"He breaks tackles …" Shaw said. "And as soon as you don't account for the quarterback, he rips off a 25-yarder."