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UCLA vs. Stanford: Examining the keys to Saturday’s matchup

Stanford in recent seasons has gone from doormat to bell ringer in the Pacific 12 Conference. The Cardinal comes into Saturday’s game at Palo Alto ranked sixth in the nation. UCLA, meanwhile, has been left on the outside looking in. But both teams are 1-0 in the Pac-12. Staff writer Chris Foster examines the game’s issues and matchups:

Farm report

There’s more to worry about with Stanford than star quarterback Andrew Luck.

The Cardinal had 242 yards rushing in a 37-10 victory over Arizona in its last game, and Coach David Shaw noted, “Our offensive line is getting better every week.”

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Stanford had two weeks to prepare for UCLA.

UCLA linebacker Patrick Larimore remembers the 35-0 drubbing the Cardinal gave the Bruins a year ago, but sees a more level playing field this season.

“Last year our front seven as a whole was inexperienced,” Larimore said. “It was only my second game as a starter. I know it was the same for a number of the guys. Now we have some guys who have played.”

Plus, Larimore said, “Having played Texas already is an advantage. They were very physical.”

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To air is human

Stanford’s battering running game can lead to other opportunities.

“They pound you and pound you, and just when you think you’re up there to snuff it out, they throw it over your head,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “They have a great fleet of tight ends.”

Stanford tight ends Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo have combined for 19 receptions and seven have gone for touchdowns.

With a little Luck

Luck, a Heisman Trophy front-runner, has passed for 786 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.

Last season, Luck completed only 11 of 24 passes against UCLA, but two went for touchdowns. He also hurt the Bruins by running for 63 yards, with 51 coming on scrambles.

Stanford has allowed only two sacks this season.

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Meanwhile, UCLA’s secondary qualifies for a group rate in the training room. Cornerback Sheldon Price (knee), safety Dalton Hilliard (shoulder) and safety Alex Mascarenas (concussion) are unlikely to play. Safety Tony Dye (stingers) is questionable.

What’s the rush?

Stanford has the nation’s top-ranked defense against the run, giving up 36 yards per game. That was built on the bones of San Jose State, Duke and pass-happy Arizona.

So is the Cardinal that formidable? We’ll see.

Neuheisel said UCLA is a “power team.” The Bruins ran the ball 49 times and passed 12 against Oregon State. UCLA is tied for 28th nationally in rushing, averaging 214 yards per game.

One comparison: San Jose State ran for 202 yards against UCLA and 27 against Stanford.

The other quarterback

Shaw is concerned about UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut’s running.

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“I wouldn’t call him a running quarterback, but you still have to account for him,” Shaw said. “If you don’t, he’s athletic enough to pick up first downs.”

It is unlikely that UCLA can get away with throwing only 12 passes this week, which brings us to Neuheisel’s concerns about Brehaut.

Neuheisel said Brehaut had “come a long way” and was “poised” against Oregon State. Neuheisel also said, “There are things we discover all the time that are in his head that aren’t exactly correct. We’ve got to get those weeded out.”

chris.foster@latimes.com


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