UCLA football (2-1) will play Stanford (2-0) on Saturday night. Last year, the Cardinal dominated the game 56-35, their eighth straight win over the Bruins since 2008.
UCLA opened as 1 point favorites, but the current point spread for this game – according to Westgate, SportsBetting.ag and BETONLINE.ag – is 3 points, in favor of Stanford.
In the space below, the Daily Bruin’s beat writers for UCLA football – Matt Cummings, TuAnh Dam and Derrek Li – provide their predictions of how the game will shake out between these Pac-12 rivals.
Matt Cummings’ prediction
Stanford 24, UCLA 20
I’ve spent the week gradually talking myself into the possibility that the Bruins win this game, but in the end, I have a very hard time betting against Christian McCaffrey and the Cardinal.
The health of senior defensive end Takkarist McKinley is of the utmost importance. If he’s at full speed, the UCLA defensive line matches up fairly well with a Stanford offensive line that is a bit less talented than in years past and could force McCaffrey to deal with limited running room. With his impeccable patience and vision, though, the Stanford back is still dangerous, and it will take an extreme amount of discipline from the Bruins’ linebackers and defensive backs to keep him contained. They might be capable, but it would only take a couple slip-ups on their part for McCaffrey to put his stamp on the game.
On the other side of the ball, the struggles of the UCLA running game against BYU worry me. The Bruins need an effective rushing attack both to control the clock and to put sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen in position to succeed. If the smart, physical Stanford defense is in position to sell out against the pass, UCLA is in for a long night. The Bruins will probably find more ground success than they did against the Cougars last week, but Rosen will still have to play his best game of the season for them to come away with a win.
Also, don’t overlook the possible impact of special teams. With McCaffrey as a returner and the experienced Conrad Ukropina as the kicker, Stanford has a strong unit. Meanwhile, UCLA has a freshman kicker and has had little return success thus far this season.
TuAnh Dam’s prediction
Stanford 27, UCLA 24
Stanford has pretty much beaten UCLA every which way the last eight years. Odds are that should continue Saturday even with a stronger, bigger Bruin defense. It’s hard to be considered an underdog when you have McCaffrey in the backfield, arguably the best player in the country.
But the Cardinal will also have a lot of new faces on the field when they line up at the Rose Bowl, including senior quarterback Ryan Burns who replaces four-year starter Kevin Hogan.
Burns doesn’t have the same experience as Hogan and might get rattled at his first game at the Rose Bowl. The Bruin defense will have to take advantage of his inexperience. It helps to have McKinley, redshirt junior defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes and senior linebacker Jayon Brown on the field to pressure the quarterback.
If they jump out to the early lead, the Bruins have a slim chance to hold on before McCaffrey has his explosive plays.
But UCLA’s own offense isn’t quite where they want to be yet. They’ve had patches of inconsistent play, and that just won’t cut it against Stanford for the ninth time in a row.
Derrek Li’s prediction
Stanford 34, UCLA 27
UCLA’s defense did look quite dominant in the win last week against BYU. But that was BYU. This is Stanford and Christian McCaffrey.
The Bruins should fare better this season with the return of Vanderdoes, who was out in the 56-35 thrashing UCLA suffered last year. However, the question isn’t if the defense will break, but when. Heisman Trophy candidate McCaffrey is not going to be stopped, and the Bruins will have to be disciplined to make sure the Cardinal won’t hurt them with other weapons.
Offensively, things need to start gelling, and fast. The run game was an almost non-factor last week with the absence of sophomore running back Soso Jamabo and a simply overwhelmed offensive line. While the receiving corps recorded zero drops, Rosen openly admitted to not being able to see the entire field. That’s not something you’d want to hear from your star quarterback a week before facing a Stanford defense that has only allowed 23 combined points in its first two games.
At the end of the day, Bruin fans will be grumbling something that should sound quite familiar now that it’s been eight years since their last win over the Cardinal – maybe next year.