A rivalry that spanned 86 contests and 90 years took on game 87 October 15th, 2015. The beauty and calm of 75 degrees and sunny in Southern California failed to illustrate the bloodletting scheduled later that night- the Stanford Cardinal vs. the UCLA Bruins.
The already-chosen UCLA quarterback, Josh Rosen, rolled into the matchup averaging 248.8 passing yards per outing and hitting over 50 percent of his passes in four of five games as a freshman.
His competition was surprising everyone but Cardinal nation, following a bad loss to Northwestern the Christian McCaffrey/Kevin Hogan duo was lighting up college football. Stanford’s offense averaged 42.3 points per game in the four games after the loss, leading up to the PAC-12 clash.
As the sun set over Los Angeles, the pair of offensive titans squared up. The duo did not disappoint, rolling out 24 combined points in the first quarter and going into the half posting 52. Stanford found the board early, thanks to an Alijah Holder chalk-rope-walking pick-six. McCaffrey followed with a 96-yard kick-return, all signs pointing to a matchup dominated by the Cardinal. Despite Rosen stockpiling yards to the tune of 326, it was quite clear who the better team was: McCaffrey and company. Hogan needed to do very little, passing for 131 yards in the wake of McCaffrey’s 369 total yards (averaging 13.2 yards per touch). The Cardinal shaked and baked all over the Bruins in a 56-35 rout. McCaffrey danced between defenders while the Cardinal defense whittled the Bruins options down to Rosen’s heroics.
A circus touchdown catch from Francis Owusu perfectly encapsulated how the night was going for both teams.
But why was Stanford able to cooly and calmly dismantle the Bruins, even with a phenomenal quarterback at UCLA’s helm, taking on a far less intimidating Hogan? And why am I talking about a mid-fall route from three years ago (other than for the good feels)?
The Cardinal will be in a similar spot this season when they play the Bruins on November 24.
Again, a young player will have to face the Cardinal defense, while trying to counter the pounding of another Heisman level running back. Head coach Chip Kelly will have a full season to try and find a starter between the Devon Modster, Matt Lynch and Dorian Thompson-Robinson trio, a group that cap out in experience at red-shirt sophomore. No, none of these candidates are Rosen-level quarterbacks (at least not yet) but what they do have is an elite level coach in Kelly.
Anyone who thought this game would be a cakewalk for Stanford because of Chosen Rosen’s absence has not seen Kelly coach college ball. Yet there is still little doubt in Stanford securing a win to end the season.
Looking back, Stanford head coach David Shaw has traditionally been able to give great quarterbacks problems, especially in their first runs at the Cardinal.
The first time veteran signal caller Matt Barkley led the USC Trojans up against the Cardinal, Stanford grabbed victory in triple overtime and handing USC their second and final loss of the year for 2011. In 2012, Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota played Stanford for the first time with similar results, getting held to his worst passer rating (107.3) in the Ducks only loss of the season.
Even the success Rosen produced through the air was tarnished by two interceptions and an offense forced into one-dimensional success.
Over his head coaching career, Shaw has proven a consistent ability to confuse and disorient great quarterback in first introductions. Against some of the best in the conference, Shaw has thrown just the right coverages and blitzes in the way of elite college signal callers, resulting in the recipe for Stanford success.
Looking towards a closeout game against UCLA and the quarterback guru that is Kelly, Stanford faithful can rest easy knowing this: no matter what quarterback Kelly grooms throughout 2018, Shaw will have the defense to stump him.