UCLA football preps for season-defining clash with Stanford

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

We chat with Ryan Kartje of the OC Register to learn more about where the Bruins stand before their biggest test of the season.

1. What were the biggest positives to take away from UCLA's win over Cal? What impressed you the most in victory?

The defense was stout, as it has been for most of the season. The front seven, led by All-American sack artist Anthony Barr, is starting to look like the kind of intimidating unit that you need to stop Pac-12 offenses, and against Cal, that front definitely got in freshman quarterback Jared Goff's head. If they can do that against other Pac-12 quarterbacks -- no easy task when their next two quarterbacks are Kevin Hogan and Marcus Mariota -- then UCLA's defense could elevate itself to a title-contending level. This team is definitely tougher than past Bruins teams, and against Cal, they showed that.

2. What were the biggest negatives to take away from the win? Where did the Bruins show the most vulnerability?

With two freshmen on the right side of the line and starting running back Jordon James out with an ankle injury, UCLA's run game left a lot to be desired. That's not necessarily replacement back Paul Perkins' fault, but if UCLA can't run the ball, with or without James, then the offense could be in trouble. Quarterback Brett Hundley had a great game, stats-wise -- he threw for 410 yards -- but in reality, it was one of his more inconsistent efforts of the season. He missed receivers left and right and probably could've had 500 or 600 yards if he would've been on his game against Cal's depleted secondary. If Hundley starts forcing the issue against Stanford or Oregon, it would really hurt UCLA's offense. We should know this Saturday when they play in Palo Alto whether Hundley is really ready to push UCLA into the national title conversation.

3. Midterm time: Grade your players! How is each unit performing based on your level of expectation coming into the season?

Quarterback: B+. Hundley has had a solid start to the year, but it hasn't been perfect by any means. If UCLA really wants to win the Pac-12, and potentially compete for a national title, too, he'll have to be as close to perfect as possible.

Running back: B. Jordon James was a pleasant surprise early on, but questions are definitely being raised about the unit.

Wide receivers/tight ends: A-. Things are only looking brighter here with Devin Fuller starting to shine and freshman Thomas Duarte having his first big game. Many more should be on the way.

Offensive line: B-. Another spot where things looked good early but are questionable now. Torian White's season-ending injury was a huge blow, and now UCLA is starting two freshmen on one side of the line.

Defensive line: A-. Little known senior end Keenan Graham is shockingly one of the nation's sack leaders. Freshman Eddie Vanderdoes is a stud. And the depth is better than they could've ever hoped.

Linebackers: A. There might not be a better group of four linebackers in the country. Anthony Barr is a monster. And Myles Jack, the Bruins' standout true freshman, is a monster-in-training.

Secondary: B+. Some expected the defensive backfield to be the team's most glaring weakness. That hasn't been the case at all, and after a six-interception game against Utah, the secondary has been riding high.

4. Midterm time: Grade your coaches! How are the position coaches all performing based on your level of expectation coming into the season?

I'll give you my thoughts on a few who have stood out:

Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich might be one of the nation's most sought-after assistant coaches after this season. He's been a huge player in the development of Anthony Barr, who was a running back before last season. And he's molding another future All-American in Myles Jack. The future looks very bright for UCLA at linebacker, and that's because of Ulbrich. He deserves an A.

I think defensive coordinator Lou Spanos definitely deserves some credit for how he's adjusted his schemes, especially after halftime. UCLA hasn't given up a single point in the third quarter all season.

Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is definitely one of UCLA's better coaches, but he might have the toughest task this season with two true freshmen, Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch, starting on one side of the line. Before Torian White's injury, things seemed to be clicking. Now, opponents seem to have found a strategy for attacking UCLA's line. How the unit adjusts in the second half should tell us a lot about Klemm's resiliency.

5. UCLA heads to Palo Alto with plenty on the line. What are the keys to victory for the Bruins against the Cardinal?

First and foremost, UCLA is going to have to put together its most poised, mistake-free effort of the season. Mistakes against Stanford, even minor ones, can be disastrous, so keeping penalties and turnovers at a minimum is of the utmost importance. I don't just mean on offense, either. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan has been and can be contained, as long as you don't let him catch you making mistakes. That means the whole defense will need to stay sound in its technique for a full four quarters.

Saturday's game will also be a huge test of the young offensive line, which has struggled through some growing pains in the last few weeks since White's injury. The pressure is on for Redmond and Benenoch, who will likely be the focus of Stanford's front seven. Behind them, Hundley will need to be his usual poised self. If he's on his game and UCLA can generate at least a passable effort on the ground, then the Bruins could sneak out of Palo Alto with a win.

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