"Pressure is imagined, it's not a real thing," David Shaw told ESPN's Sam Ponder after a thrilling 22-13 Stanford victory over the UCLA Bruins.
If the Cardinal were feeling pressure at all during this game, it would've had to come after putting themselves in a 10-3 hole at halftime. It wasn't looking good.
With just under two minutes to go and UCLA clinging to a slim 13-9 lead, quarterback Ryan Burns drove the Cardinal 70 yards in ten plays capped off by an amazing eight-yard touchdown catch by JJ Arcega-Whiteside to secure the Stanford victory.
Now that the Cardinal are 3-0 and trucking towards a top-ten tangle with the Washington Huskies in Seattle, let's look back at each position group and their performances on Saturday in Pasadena.
Burns performed well, not great, in his first start away from the comfort of Palo Alto. The execution of the two minute drill at the end of the game was nothing short of flawless as the Northern Virginia native channeled his inner Kevin Hogan, engineered that final fateful drive as Hogan would've done in the last few years. Burns finished his day with 137 yards passing, but telegraphed an interception straight into the hands of linebacker Kenny Young.
Running backs: B
The UCLA defense was having none of McCaffrey. David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren tried moving the elusive star around in different formations, but WildCaff couldn't break the century mark rushing until the middle of the fourth quarter and had his streak of consecutive games with 200-plus all-purpose yards snapped at eight. However, Bryce Love showed that he's learned to be a more physical runner while maintaining his blazing top-end speed, and had a nice 30-yard gain on a reverse late in the third quarter. Also, McCaffrey moved into fourth place at Stanford in career all-purpose yards.
Wide receivers: A
A seven-catch, 81-yard day for Trent Irwin and Arcega-Whiteside's majestic snag in the end zone are why the wideouts get a top-tier grade. Irwin seemed to emerge as a go-to-target for Burns after Francis Owusu was rocked by UCLA's Tahaan Goodman on an obvious targeting call (not called), and with the Bruins' secondary keying in on the speedy Michael Rector (held to one catch for 3 yards). The only foreseeable blemish? Usually sure-handed tight end Dalton Schultz uncharacteristically dropped two catchable passes.
Offensive line: C+
These guys struggled mightily containing the UCLA front seven. Facing a defensive unit that was supposedly in the bottom third stopping the run (97th in the nation), it was evident that the Bruins defensive line was winning the line of scrimmage. A.T. Hall and Casey Tucker had a rough go of it trying to stop Deon Hollins, Jayon Brown, Eddie Vanderdoes and Tak McKinley from wreaking havoc in the backfield. Hall especially struggled, giving up two second-quarter sacks. Because of this, the line piled up penalties and killed momentum on multiple potential scoring drives. Nevertheless, the group's resilience on the final drive wove a different narrative, paving the way for WildCaff's four-yard run on a big conversion on third and three, and kept Burns clean enough to finish his night with a bang.
Overall Offense: B-
Burns was brilliant in the final 70 yards, McCaffrey did just enough to keep Cardinal in the game despite being "limited" to 138 yards on the ground and the duo of Irwin and Arcega-Whiteside came up clutch. All in all, it was a tough, grind-it-out offensive game.
Defensive line: A
Team #partyinthebackfield was at it again on Saturday night in Pasadena. Harrison Phillips came up big in his return to the field with a fourth down sack of Rosen to give the Cardinal the ball back to begin the fourth quarter. Solomon Thomas was a pest for Rosen all the way until the final whistle, coming up with the insurance points as the horn sounded on a 42-yard fumble return touchdown.
Linebackers : C+
A usually stout linebacking corps was average at best. UCLA exploited the middle of the field a whole lot as tight end Nate Iese found holes between the numbers all night. Peter Kalambayi and company also let the trio of Soso Jamabo, Bolu Olorunfumi and Nate Starks carve up the defense for the majority of the first three and a half quarters. However, the unit shaped up as the night went on, and Joey Alfieri stripped Rosen of the ball on the game's final snap for Thomas to rumble 42 yards for six to seal the deal.
It's pretty tough to lose your top two cornerbacks to injury against a guy like Josh Rosen. It was rough goings after both Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks left the field for the remainder of the game, but both Terrence Alexander and Alameen Murphy turned in valiant efforts in coverage, and got a little help from a few badly overthrown balls from Rosen. Justin Reid then played centerfield on a deep ball with four seconds remaining intended for Kenneth Walker that could've turned into a Bruins' game-winning field goal.
Overall Defense: B
To ask your defense to survive a 248-yard passing day from one of college football's top young quarterbacks is a tall task. Adding to that the inability of linebackers to cover receivers in the middle of the field and the loss of your two top defensive backs due to injury, to say you escaped with a nine-point road win is a major moral victory.
Special teams: A
The booming legs of Conrad Ukropina and Jake Bailey continue to be the most valuable weapons on the team. Bailey blasted a 46-yard punt which Trent Irwin downed at the UCLA 1, and Ukropina came up with nine of Stanford's 22 points on two 37-yard makes and a 44-yarder straight down the middle. UCLA kicked away from McCaffrey (1 kickoff return) in the return game, a decision the Bruins were better off for during the game.
It's almost like David Shaw is psychic. Like he knew that he would get one last chance at the lead after choosing to punt on fourth and one on the Cardinal's second-to-last offensive drive, even with the patented "ogre" package in his back pocket readily available. Lance Anderson's defense held UCLA to six points in their final eight drives and forced the Bruins to give away the ball twice. Bloomgren's offense kept an even keel with their game plan and stayed the course for the Card's ninth consecutive victory over the Bruins.