UCLA knows it will have its hands full with McCaffrey
LOS ANGELES (AP) UCLA will need all 11 players on defense and special teams to contain Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey.
The Bruins have used almost as many players to simulate McCaffrey in practice this week as they prepare to face the Heisman Trophy contender on Saturday.
Wide receiver Darren Andrews listed quarterback Craig Myers and wideouts Damian Alloway, Theo Howard, Stephen Johnson, Christian Pabico and Brad Sochowski as having played McCaffrey on the scout team.
''I'm not on that side so I really can't see, but from what I hear they are doing a good job,'' Andrews said. ''We got a lot of different players playing that position, different players with different attributes that we think McCaffrey has.''
UCLA is more than familiar with the various facets of McCaffrey's game. As a freshman, he had 88 all-purpose yards in a 31-10 upset win for the Cardinal that denied UCLA a spot in the Pac-12 title game, showing tantalizing hints of what was to come. McCaffrey rushed for 243 yards and four touchdowns last season as Stanford extended its winning streak in the series to eight games.
''It's hard to emulate him with anybody,'' coach Jim Mora said. ''No disrespect to any other players in the country but I think he is the best player in football.''
McCaffrey has totaled 200 all-purpose yards in eight consecutive games and rushed for 100 yards in 13 of his last 14 games, demonstrating the versatility and elusiveness that Mora described in detail while lavishing praise on the junior.
''He is really slippery. He doesn't go down easy. He's like a pinball in there sometimes. Even when you wrap, he has an uncanny ability to get arms off of him. And he always falls forward,'' Mora said. ''I think all of this is a product of this great competitiveness that he has inside of him. How can you respect a guy more than you can respect the way he plays football? It's unbelievable.''
While UCLA has struggled to mimic McCaffrey, Mora believes his team is better prepared to handle No. 7 Stanford's physicality after moving to a more pro-style offense and adding intense 9-on-7 run drills during spring practice and training camp. That emphasis finally seemed to pay off last week, as UCLA held BYU to 23 rushing yards.
Factoring in sacks, the 23 net yards rushing allowed was the best performance by UCLA's defense since holding Arizona State to 21 yards in 2008. It was a step forward after allowing 378 yards rushing combined in UCLA's first two games against Texas A&M and UNLV.
''We still have to execute,'' Mora said. ''We still have to get off blocks. We can't get shoved down the field. We have to tackle well in space. We have to get bodies around Christian McCaffrey. We have to take care of this quarterback and cover, but I think we appear, we appear, to be better equipped, so that's a positive.''
That extensive 9-on-7 work could also benefit the UCLA offense against a Stanford run defense that has been an annual fixture at or near the top of the Pac-12 rankings.
''That's how we opened practice,'' running back Nate Starks said. ''Hard-nosed football, downhill running the ball, and that's what it is going to be like all game against Stanford.''