The Stanford Cardinal suffered one of the biggest upsets of the season last week against the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City and appeared to be reeling a bit. They were struggling to move the football effectively and rushed for a season-low against the Utes, while their defense was giving up huge chunks of yardage to up-tempo spread offenses. That seemed to bode ill for their chances against a red-hot UCLA Bruins squad but the Cardinal rallied in Palo Alto, returned to form and won a physical game with vintage Stanford style.
Stanford has built themselves up into a national power with a very simple formula; run the ball effectively and play tough defense. That formula was getting out of whack in recent weeks with the team relying more heavily on the passing game and getting burned defensively for big plays. It was not a good fit on this Stanford team and they narrowly escaped the Washington Huskies the week before stumbling against Utah.
On Saturday, David Shaw got his team playing like Stanford once again. They ran the ball 50 times on the day for 192 yards led by Tyler Gaffney and his 36 carries for 171 yards and two scores on the ground. That production on the ground opened things up for the play-action pass, where Kevin Hogan is at his best, and the sophomore quarterback enjoyed a big day through the air (by Stanford measure) completing 18 of 25 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Cardinal were swarming UCLA, which came into the game as one of the hottest offensive clubs in the Pac 12. They kept the Bruins’ offense in check the entire game, holding Brett Hundley under 200 yards passing and stone-walling the UCLA running game to just 2.7 yards per carry on the day. Jordan Richards stepped in front of a pair of Hundley passes for huge turnovers that allowed Stanford to maintain momentum.
The Stanford formula of running the football to set up the pass and playing shut down defense works wonders. Just look at the success of the Cardinal over the recent years. The team got away from that formula in recent weeks and the team struggled because of it. This week, they got back to what makes Stanford great and showed they’re still an elite member of the Pac 12 and one of the best teams in college football.