Two weeks ago, after beating USC, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley told the media, "UCLA runs L.A."
This week, though, there's no doubt who runs this state.
For the seventh consecutive game, Stanford polished off UCLA with power and guile, but this time it knocked the listless Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game and out of the College Football Playoff picture. Since 2009, Stanford is 22-3 against teams from the state of California. Sure, that includes Sacramento State and UC Davis. But it's a fact that haunts the Bruins right now and may haunt them even more in a few weeks.
1. Where was this performance from Stanford all year?
The Cardinal played, without question, its best game of the year on Saturday. Why they waited until now to do so is a complicated answer. First, Stanford's strengths nicely aligned with UCLA's weaknesses. The Cardinal hasn't had a great pass rush all year, but couple that with a soft UCLA o-line, and Stanford sacked Brett Hundley five times. Creating pressure from base sets always helps the defense. The Bruins' defense isn't all that good, and as Stanford's o-line has started to coalesce toward the end of the season, the Cardinal steamrolled its way to 202 yards on the ground - second only to the 204 yards the run game put up against a putrid Cal defense. Perhaps its worth noting here that Bendon Austin started in place of Johnny Caspers at right guard for the first time this season. On top of that, Kevin Hogan was supreme.
2. Kevin Hogan played the best game of his career
I know he beat number one Oregon in Eugene as a redshirt freshman. I know he sliced apart Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game. But Kevin Hogan was great - great with a capital G - on Saturday. Four separate times he stepped up, reset his feet and fired downfield with near-pinpoint accuracy. He flashed like Andrew Luck and he eviscerated UCLA. He was, for some reason, more accurate than I have ever seen him. This was who I thought Kevin Hogan could become a while back, and while he hasn't steadily grown into that player during his time on the Farm, it was nice to see him carve up a defense in what could be his final regular season game in cardinal and white. (Will he leave? I think the chance is 50-50. He'll always be a project QB who may decide to make the leap to the NFL now in the hopes some team will take a chance on developing him.) Why was Hogan so great on Saturday? I think there was a reason for that.
3. The lack of Ty Montgomery helped the offense
Ty Mongtomery is a very good player, but he's dependent on manufactured touches. What's that mean? You have to throw him screens or let him run with the ball out of the wildcat. He doesn't win downfield consistently enough to be a great receiver. Moreover, those manufactured touches are a bit easy to snuff out if you're on defense. See Ty lined up in a bunch set? It's a screen pass to him. See Ty lined up in the backfield? He's getting the ball. All in all, it makes Ty's 10 touches a game less effective than they could be, and it makes the offense less effective than it could be.
With Ty unavailable on Saturday, the Cardinal coaches ran the offense through Christian McCaffrey, a similarly explosive player but one who plays a position that the Stanford offense has been constructed around for years - running back. Again, couple that with an improving offensive line and you have a more sustainable - a more Stanford-like - recipe for success.
That also benefitted the passing game. Austin Hooper's good game is a byproduct of a) the fact that he's a beast among men and b) West Coast system tight ends flourish when you have a strong run game. On top of that, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector may more closely align with the conventional wide receivers needed for a West Coast system. Cajuste's size makes him a traditional X receiver, while Rector's route-running ability make him an ideal flanker, capable of playing outside or inside. I do hope that we can get another look at the offense as it was constructed on Saturday, even if Ty is back in the lineup for the bowl game. Perhaps it just means dialing down the number of times he gets the ball.
4. UCLA's performance was pathetic
This conclusion cannot be avoided. I feel sorry for whichever NFL team selects Brett Hundley. (Spoiler alert: it'll be the Titans.) They were playing in the most important game of their season and they totally flopped. Jim Mora's team was listless after the first quarter. What happened? They were poised and aggressive against Arizona and USC. Perhaps the fact that "they run LA" exhausted their fuel before they needed it.
5. Stanford registered a good end to the regular season, and the immediate future is bright
The Cardinal is now most likely headed to the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, where they should face a middle-tier Big Ten team like Nebraska, Minnesota or Iowa. I'm feeling decent about the way Stanford ended the season given the pains associated with the early part of the year, and with the extra bowl practice I wouldn't be surprised to see this team hammer their opponent from the midwest. It's not yet prudent to speculate what exactly will happen for the Cardinal next season - too many players can still leave and changes may be made to the coaching staff - so let's save that for the offseason.