UCLA vs. Stanford matchups: Bruins look to turn up pressure on QB Davis Mills
Breaking down how UCLA (3-3) and Stanford (3-2) match up heading into the game Saturday at the Rose Bowl at 4 p.m. PT (TV: ESPN; Radio: 570)
Stanford quarterback Davis Mills vs. the UCLA defense. Stanford very well might have played USC in the Pac-12 championship game had Mills not been held out of the Cardinal’s opener against Oregon because of inconclusive test results for COVID-19 that placed Mills and three teammates in quarantine. Follow-up tests were all negative, allowing the players to rejoin the team. Mills has completed 64.9% of his passes this season and has thrown 204 consecutive passes without an interception, the third-longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He’ll face a Bruins defense that leads the Pac-12 with 21 sacks and ranks second with six interceptions.
UCLA (450.3 ypg/33.5 ppg): This could be the last game in a Bruins uniform for junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who could opt for the NFL draft over another college season. He needs 231 yards passing to move past Troy Aikman (5,298 yards) and into seventh place on the school’s all-time passing list.
Stanford (392.2 ypg/25.6 ppg): Running back Austin Jones has rushed for a combined 264 yards in his last two games, including 126 yards last weekend against Oregon State. The Cardinal’s three-game winning streak has been sparked in part by converting 56.1% of their third downs versus only 31% in their two losses.
UCLA has gone from bad during Chip Kelly’s first two seasons to borderline electrifying, despite COVID-19 challenges. Is more improvement coming?
UCLA (384.8 ypg/27.8 ppg): Nickelback Qwuantrezz Knight said the Bruins were focused on forcing turnovers. “This week in practice we’ve definitely been harping on ‘Let’s take strips at the ball, let’s snatch the ball out of the air,’ ” Knight said. UCLA is plus-15 in takeaways in its victories since coach Chip Kelly’s arrival and minus-26 in its losses.
Stanford (429.8 ypg/28.6 ppg): The Cardinal’s rushing defense is giving up 208.2 yards per game, which figures to be a problem against UCLA’s one-two rushing punch of Demetric Felton Jr. and Brittain Brown. The Bruins are averaging 220.5 yards rushing and figure to lean heavily on their ground game until Stanford shows it can stop it.
Two special teams blunders led to UCLA’s defeat in the rivalry game against USC. A fake Luke Akers punt resulted in a fumble, and the Bruins also gave up a 56-yard kickoff return in the final minute to set up the Trojans’ deciding score.
UCLA, after consulting players and school and Pac-12 officials, says it will decline any bowl bid and finish the season Saturday against Stanford.
Kelly compared Stanford to the Traveling Wilburys, a short-lived supergroup originating in the late 1980s, because the Cardinal will have spent 19 consecutive days on the road as a result of health restrictions that forbid the team from practicing or playing in Santa Clara County. Stanford had spent the last two weeks in the Pacific Northwest before relocating to Santa Barbara for practice this week. “They’ve probably been put in the worst situation in our league,” Kelly said.
Kelly said receiver Jaylen Erwin and running backs Kazmeir Allen and Martell Irby remained unavailable this week for unspecified reasons, but cornerback Obi Eboh is expected to return after missing the USC game for unknown reasons. That would allow Eboh, a graduate transfer from Stanford, to face his alma mater.
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