Know Your Opponent: UCLA at Stanford

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October 3, 2015; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) hands the football off to running back Christian McCaffrey (5) against the Arizona Wildcats during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Stanford Offense

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  • After a miserable start to the season in an opening loss to Northwestern, the Cardinal offense has grown into a well-oiled machine over the next four games. With an offense that sports multiple formations and styles, Stanford beats its opponents through precision and toughness. The Cardinal might line up with two tight ends and a full back on one play and then switch to four wide receivers on the next. Then they might follow that up with a series of zone-read style plays to mix it up.

    October 3, 2015; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) runs the football against the Arizona Wildcats during the first quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Quarterback Kevin Hogan is as comfortable under center as he is in shotgun, and although he has been knocked for being inconsistent during his career, Hogan has appeared in two Rose Bowls (winning one) and always seems to be at his best against the Bruins. His numbers against UCLA aren’t gaudy (194 passing yards/game, 74% completions, 5 touchdowns, 1 interception and 35 rushing yards/game in four wins), but Hogan and the Cardinal have been deadly efficient against the Bruins over the years.

    Sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey is the Stanford workhorse for 2015. Although he is not the physical beast that the Cardinal has featured over the years (like Toby Gerhart or Tyler Gaffney) McCaffrey is terrifically athletic and can fill any roll the offense calls for. McCaffrey, who leads the Power 5 in all-pupose yardage (229 yards/game) runs power and zone, catches screens and passes down the field, and he also returns punts and kicks. When McCaffrey takes a break or the Cardinal gets deep in the red zone, reserve running backs Barry Sanders and Remound Wright are more than capable of finishing drives, as the pair have combined for 10 touchdown runs in the last 3 games.

    October 3, 2015; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal wide receiver Michael Rector (3) scores a touchdown against the Arizona Wildcats during the third quarter at Stanford Stadium. Stanford defeated Arizona 55-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Once Stanford gets churning on the ground, they start to take advantage of explosive pass plays down the field. Hogan has multiple targets (besides the backs already listed) that he can chuck the ball downfield towards and expect to complete a big play. Stanford has six players that have at least one reception of 30+ yards and eight with at least one 20+ yard reception.

    The most likely targets are the same play-makers that have given the Bruins problems in previous years. Michael Rector leads the Cardinal in receptions in 2015 (12 receptions/233 yards/3 TD) and 250 pound tight end Austin Hooper is not far behind (12 receptions/185 yards/2 TDs). Devon Cajuste (13 receptions/151 yards/1 TD) is also a target that always seems to make big plays against the Bruins.

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    After being ravaged by injuries, the bye week couldn’t come soon enough for the Bruins. Already down three starters for the season (Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and Fabian Moreau), the wounded Bruins hope to have Jayon Brown and Marcus Rios back in the mix on Thursday night (they are expected to play). Brown is the Bruins most athletic linebacker and Rios is their best remaining cornerback. Getting them back in the mix allows the Bruins to at least have most of the defenders playing in their natural positions.

    The wounded Bruin defense will need to play with extreme discipline if they want to slow down the Cardinal juggernaut. The rapid changes of formation and pace will require the Bruin front seven to be physical enough to take on blocking fullbacks and tight ends so that the secondary can maintain coverage downfield.

    If the UCLA is regularly forced to commit extra bodies to stop the run game, Hogan and will slice and dice them down the field as in games past.

    . . . The case could be made that Stanford has been Jim Mora’s Pac-12 nemesis in chief. . .

    Additionally, the Bruins had better be ready to defend Hogan and McCaffery on option and wildcat plays. After struggling with option plays against Arizona and then giving up some huge chunks on quarterback runs to Arizona State, you can bet Stanford will make the Bruins prove they have come up with an answer.

    Lastly, the deliberate and time consuming pace used by Stanford can be suffocating (they sucked the life out of USC in the 2nd half of their game on three scoring drives that consumed 19 minutes of game time), but the slower pace may allow the Bruins to better match personnel with the Cardinal and substitute fresh bodies easier. This is a much bigger deal for UCLA now that Myles Jack (a true jack of all trades) is no longer available.

    "Did you Know: In wins against UCF, USC, Oregon State and Arizona, Stanford scored more than 30 points in four consecutive games for the first time since Andrew Luck was on campus."

    Next: The Stanford Defense