Five things to watch: UCLA at Stanford


The UCLA offense has made its mark by running the ball. Stanford's defense has made its mark by stopping the run. Something will have to give when the Bruins, ranked No. 28 in the nation with 214 yards rushing per game, match blows with the Cardinal, which is giving up only 36 yards rushing per game to rank No. 1 in the nation. If the Bruins intend on pounding it, they are going to have to soften up the Stanford defense early with the passing game. Some long passes or swing passes in the flat could help spread the Cardinal and create wider running lanes for what has proven to be a potent 1-2 punch of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman.


Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the real deal and containing him will be the ultimate challenge for UCLA's defense. The Bruins didn't do a very good job against the last elite quarterback they faced as Houston's Case Keenum picked them apart with his arm and his legs. Luck, the projected top pick in the 2012 NFL draft, is averaging 262 yards passing and has eight touchdowns in three games. He also hurt UCLA with his legs last year when he ran for 63 yards. There is no easy scheme to stop him so the Bruins will simply have to try and limit his production with good coverage in the secondary and timely pressure up front to keep him off balance and prevent him from getting too comfortable.


UCLA's secondary was going to have its hands full no matter what, but the fact that the Bruins are coming into this game with a depleted secondary makes the challenge of stopping Luck even greater. Sheldon Price, the team's top cover corner, will almost certainly miss the game with a knee injury. Safeties Dalton Hilliard (shoulder) and Alex Mascarenas (concussion) are also unlikely to play. Stanford is No. 9 in the nation in scoring at 46 points a game and in order to prevent the Cardinal from reaching that total again, the Bruins will need big time games from players such as cornerbacks Aaron Hester and Andrew Abbott and safeties Dietrich Riley, Tevin McDonald and Tony Dye.


UCLA's offensive line is going to have to find a way to prevent Stanford from penetrating the Bruins backfield. It won't be easy as the Cardinal leads the nation with 10.33 tackles for loss per game and is second with 4.33 sacks per game. The Bruins have been good at preventing sacks, giving up only three so far, but they haven't face d team with more than five sacks this season. Stanford has 13. Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, the team's top defensive player, is out for the season so that should help, but defensive lineman Ben Gardner and linebacker Chase Thomas are also averaging more than one tackle for a loss per game.


Stanford has a game-breaking speed merchant at wide receiver in Chris Owusu, but the most dangerous offensive weapon in the passing game might be the three-headed monster at tight end. Zack Ertz (6-6, 249), Coby Fleener (6-6, 244) and Levine Toilolo (6-8, 263) all present size matchups for defenders and they have combined for 19 receptions for 365 yards and seven touchdowns through the first three games. Ertz, has a touchdown catch in all three games this season and Fleener, the team's second leading receiver behind Owusu, is averaging 22.7 yards per catch and also has three touchdowns. UCLA's linebackers and safeties will have their hands full against those guys.