UCLA hopes to end bedeviling losing streak vs No. 7 Stanford
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) UCLA has lost eight consecutive matchups with No. 7 Stanford, and every Bruin knows it.
Some UCLA players attempt to portray Saturday night's game as just another evening at the Rose Bowl. Coach Jim Mora ascribes no special importance to the streak that annoys his fans more than perhaps anything else about his largely successful program.
Running back Nate Starks is perhaps a bit more honest about the pressure bearing down on the Bruins (2-1).
''Every time this week comes up, everybody is on edge,'' Starks said. ''Coaches on edge. Players on edge. Everybody wants to get this done. ... We haven't beat them. I haven't beat them since I've been here. I know Coach Mora hasn't. We want to show that we can play with guys like that. We're always the underdog in this game. We want to show we can play and beat these guys.''
The Bruins really could use a breakthrough victory to establish themselves as a serious contender for the Pac-12 title in their conference opener. No opponent would be better to beat than the powerhouse Cardinal (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who have their longest winning streak in a rivalry series that has happened every year since the 1920s, except during World War II.
''We'll always want to be kings of Cali, especially since we have a lot of guys from different parts of California,'' Stanford star Christian McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey was spectacular against the Bruins last season, racking up a school-record 243 yards rushing and 369 all-purpose yards in Stanford's 56-35 victory. The Bruins' defensive line is bigger and tougher this season with Eddie Vanderdoes and Eli Ankou up front, but only part of McCaffrey's game involves going between the tackles.
UCLA has focused its game-planning on the versatile back, even while recognizing the relative futility of the endeavor.
''He can't be all of our focus, but he has to be our main focus,'' Mora said. ''In my opinion, it's not even arguable that he's the top player in college football. I think that he was last year, and I think this year he has been as well.''
Here are more things to know about the schools' 88th meeting:
SLOWING ROSEN: Stanford's defense has its own daunting chore in stopping UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, who could use a breakout performance against an elite opponent to cement his rise to the top ranks of his position. Rosen feels he has been inconsistent this year, throwing four interceptions along with his four touchdown passes, but he has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 917 yards in three games. Stanford coach David Shaw relishes the defense's challenge. ''You can't trust the quarterback's eyes,'' Shaw said. ''He can look one way, and then shift and throw the other way. You have to be conscious of your zone and who is in your zone. He can throw late and deep. You can never relax when you're playing defense against a quarterback like him.''
PASSING TIME: Stanford has thrown just 33 total passes in its two games this season, less than Rosen threw in each of the Bruins' first three games. The Cardinal are being cautious with new quarterback Ryan Burns, who threw for two TDs in those brief opportunities. UCLA will attempt to get pressure on the new starter - when it can keep the ball out of McCaffrey's hands.
CHANGING THE GAME: UCLA moved to a pro-style offense under new coordinator Kennedy Polamalu during the past offseason, emphasizing the running game and overall tough-nosed football. The change was inspired in part by Stanford's traditional approach to the game, with the Bruins hoping to match it. UCLA has produced more than 350 yards of offense in each of its first three games this season, yet labored to finish off victories over UNLV and BYU. UCLA still racked up 506 yards of offense against Stanford last season in its loss.
WELCOME HOME: Stanford is making its seventh trip to the Rose Bowl in six years, thanks to its string of Pac-12 titles. The Cardinal played in the venerated arena's New Year's Day bowl game in three of the past four seasons, winning twice - including last January's demolition of Iowa.
RANKING POINTS: UCLA has won an impressive seven of its last eight games against ranked opponents. That loss, of course, was against Stanford last season.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org