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With the exception of that last drive this game gets no style points. A good old-fashioned slugfest, with the Bruins showing that they have toughened up and are ready to play smashmouth with the Cardinal. Frankly, we were lucky to get the W here. If it were 2014, the game probably would have ended 13-9 with UCLA prevailing. So even if there was a 2014 vibe to this game, Shaw has indeed learned a few things, though it took the urgency of the two last minutes for it to show. The two-minute offense was brilliant, and it begs the question why some of that fire didn’t come out earlier in the game. Stanford can move the ball dynamically if necessary, and Burns is capable of doing so, but somehow Shaw and Bloomgren always go into the telephone booth when the game turns physical and the score is close. Think USC, UW, ND and Utah in 2014. All but one of those went the wrong way for the Cardinal.
For Shaw’s system of football to be consistently successful, the prerequisite is an imposing offensive line that efficiently opens holes for the run-first offense. If the opponent happens to have a monster D-line to make this more difficult, the Stanford offensive production stalls. Or if the O-line is unable to execute properly and has not gelled as a unit, the result is obviously the same. When this happens, Stanford is unable to get a lead, and this tends to cause Shaw and his staff to play more conservatively, even if this may seem counter-intuitive. It also renders the other key ingredient of Shaw’s MO impossible: get a lead and then drain the clock with long, sustained drives on the ground. And once the game gets into a low-scoring affair, it’s as if the team engages in some sort of grim death embrace with the opponent. Lots of punts, lots of 3-and-outs, lots of FGs, lots of drives stalling in the red-zone. Instead of opening things up, Shaw and Bloomgren throw more up-the-gut and wildcat plays at the entrenched defense. The result is a punt, and the onus is on our defense to man-up and get the stop.
But yesterday, the ending was different; and that has to instill some optimism going forward. Shaw did it against Notre Dame last year in the pinch and did it again vs. the Bruins in the final series. That said, the state of our O-line is cause for concern: their performance was very uneven vs. the stout Bruin front seven, and many upcoming opponents will study the film to see how they can stuff our run game. For our streak of success to continue, the O-line needs to come together in a hurry and get to a level of performance equal to last year’s unit (if that is at all possible).
Next up are the Dawgs. The good news here is that the UW may not be as imposing on defense as originally assumed: they gave up 308 rushing yards vs. Arizona and 475 total yards in an overtime victory in the desert. If the Wildcats can gash them for that kind of yardage, we should be up to the task, as well, providing Shaw turns his offensive weapons loose. Our D is also superior to Arizona’s defense, so we should be able to limit the Huskies’ scoring potential. I just hope the injuries to Owusu, Meeks and Holder are not too severe and that they are healthy for the remainder of the season.
My take on UCLA is that they are probably the best team in the south and could very well get the division championship. They have lost two very close games to top ten teams. They barely lost to Texas A & M in OT at the Aggie’s home stadium and lost a heart-breaker last night to us. They don’t play Washington or Oregon during the regular season, so if we can win the north division, we may very well be facing them again in the Pac-12 championship game. Rosen has vowed that we will meet again in 2016. Hopefully, that encounter will be #10 in the current win streak vs. the Bruins; but we have to take care of business in Seattle first.