They met just six days ago to close out the regular season, but the Stanford Cardinal and UCLA Bruins will go back at it tonight in Palo Alto for all the marbles. Last time, the Cardinal secured the Pac 12 North division title and home-field advantage for the Pac 12 Championship game. This time, the two teams square off for the Pac 12 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl on January 1.
For Stanford, they come home to The Farm where they have been so good under David Shaw. The Cardinal are a perfect 6-0 at home this season and have won eight straight home games. Overall, they’ve won 19 of their last 20 home games, with their only loss coming last season against the Oregon Ducks. Stanford is currently riding a six-game winning streak and looking to clinch their first Rose Bowl berth since 2000.
The Bruins, on the other hand, have to travel north less than a week after getting manhandled by Stanford. This season, UCLA has been a surprise success under first-year head coach Jim Mora, but will need to turn things around in a hurry. The Bruins hope to turn their success this season, where they rattled off five straight wins for the program’s longest winning streak in seven years, into their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1999.
In round one last Saturday, Stanford imposed their will on UCLA in Pasadena. Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns while freshman Kevin Hogan threw for 160 yards and a touchdown as the Cardinal cruised to their fourth-straight win over the Bruins 35-17.
For UCLA, they will need to find a way to contain or disrupt the Stanford offense, which they were completely unable to do in the first matchup. Anthony Barr, who was used more in coverage last week, has to be unleashed and allowed to do what he does best; rush the passer and cause havoc in the backfield.
Most importantly for the Bruins, however, is finding a way to slow down the defensive pressure of Stanford. Last Saturday, the Cardinal completely shut down the Bruins offense, limiting Doak Walker Award finalist Jonathan Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries while harassing quarterback Brett Hundley relentlessly, sacking him seven times on the day.
Stanford will look to use the exact same formula to win this game as it used to dominate the first matchup. David Shaw will establish the run with Taylor and allow Hogan to utilize play-action pass for easy completions. The defense will try to out-muscle UCLA once again at the point of attack and not let the Bruins offense get anything going.
For these two teams, the season comes down to this moment. The winner will take the Pac 12′s automatic bid to the BCS and represent the conference in Pasadena for the Rose Bowl.
Will it be the quiet juggernaut of Stanford, which has been building up momentum under the radar since their overtime loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish? Or will it be the upstarts out of Westwood in UCLA, who are looking to build off clearing the hurdle of beating the USC Trojans by asserting their dominance over the entire conference?
Only time will tell in this rematch, but one thing is for certain, round two is the one that matters.