The 20th ranked UCLA Bruins bring their smash mouth style of football to the Farm on Thursday night in what surely will be a ferocious battle of wills with the 15th ranked Stanford Cardinal.
Stanford comes into the matchup riding a 4-game win streak, and averaged over 42 points per game in those contests. The Cardinal have found their offensive stride with the leadership of Senior QB Kevin Hogan and the run game paced by the "Three Headed Monster" (Christian McCaffrey, Barry J Sanders, and Bryce Love).
UCLA was a popular pick to win the PAC 12 title in September, however the losses of key athletes on both sides of the ball have taken their toll on the Bruins, and come into the contest on the heels of a devastating home loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Here is a list of matchups to watch for on Thursday night:
UCLA RB Paul Perkins and Stanford LB Blake Martinez:
The UCLA offense will be successful or fail based primarily off of their run game ability. UCLA RB Paul Perkins is a surefire pick in the upcoming 2016 or 2017 NFL draft with his ability to make big plays in the clutch and get the yards needed to keep the ball in the hands of the Bruins offense. Perkins has been characterized as a bruiser that does not shy away from contact. This season, Perkins has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and scored 7 touchdowns for the Bruins; but what the stats do not show is his ability to protect his young quarterback as a blocker, and his great hands out of the backfield. This week, Perkins will be matched up with Stanford LB Blake Martinez in what most certainly will be a gladiator style event.
Several scouts have labeled Martinez "The Tackling Machine" as it always seems the Senior Linebacker is always in the mix to make the big tackle whenever needed. Martinez has been phenomenal so far this season in matching up with the opponents top RBs and seems to post a double-digit tackle stat line every week. Martinez is the leader of the defense, and will be relied upon to keep the Bruins vaunted rush attack in check the whole game.
The Three-Headed Monster and the Bruins Defensive Front 7:
To say that Christian McCaffrey, Barry J Sanders, and Bryce Love are dominating their competition is an understatement. This triumvirate of Running Backs has rivaled the run games of Stanford Star Tailbacks of years past by racking up over 209 yards on the ground every game. This group seems to get stronger every week, and is starting to put fear into the hearts of any Defensive Coordinator as each of these young Running Backs can break off a huge run in the blink of an eye. The Bruins are struggling up front right now after the loss of star Linebacker Myles Jack, and will need all hands on deck this week if they are to have any chance of stopping this trio.
UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora and Stanford Head Coach David Shaw: Battle of Styles
This matchup is a battle of two teams heading in different directions. The Bruins are coming off of one of their worst defeats in several years with the loss to the Sun Devils that many College Football pundits say exposed several weaknesses of UCLA's attack. Bruins Head Coach Jim Mora has had to deal with have suffered with the losses of key players that were either injured or suspended, and had to deal with the constant chatter of him leaving the Bruins program and heading back to the NFL. Coach Mora has surfed the waters of this devastating situation very carefully to start the season, however now he is fully aware that his team will be in the deep oceans with this portion of their schedule against several power squads. Coach Mora will have to get his team to develop a new identity quickly, and be ready to navigate the rough seas of the PAC 12 for the rest of this season.
Stanford Head Coach David Shaw has turned what looked to be a disaster to start the 2015 campaign into another season that has many believing that the Cardinal has a chance at the PAC 12 North title. Shaw has put faith into his Senior QB Kevin Hogan to lead his team into battle and again looks like the master tactician on the offensive side of the ball. Coach Shaw has relied upon a stellar run game, and the ability of his defense to make the big play when necessary.
Both coaches know that the game will be won on the front lines, and will heavily be centered along ball control and clock management. This matchup is sure to set off fireworks, and put the competitiveness of the PAC 12 on a pedestal for the nation to witness.