The history between the Bruins and Cardinal is well-documented, and there's another chapter set to be written this weekend.
No. 24 UCLA football (2-1) will play Stanford (2-1) at Stanford Stadium on Saturday. The Bruins may have snapped the Cardinal's 11-game head-to-head winning streak in 2019, but they failed to notch back-to-back wins in the series by coughing up a fourth-quarter lead and losing in double overtime in 2020.
Stanford opened the season with a deflating, near-blowout loss to Kansas State, while UCLA wrapped up that weekend undefeated with a win over a ranked SEC opponent. The Cardinal have turned the tables a bit since then though, upsetting USC and beating an SEC team on the road in Vanderbilt while the Bruins lost at home to Fresno State.
All Bruins is making its picks for who will win, what the score will be and how the game will play out, courtesy of Managing Editor Sam Connon, contributing writer Benjamin Royer and guest predictor Carlos from No Truck Stops: A Pac-12 Podcast.
Sam Connon, Managing Editor
Prediction: UCLA 37, Stanford 33
History would suggest the Bruins are about to have their hearts broken in Palo Alto.
History also would have suggested the Bruins were going to lose to Hawaii since they hadn't won a season opener under Chip Kelly, as well as the LSU game since they hadn't won a nonconference game with him as head coach.
UCLA has slowly started to buck the trends that defined the early, unsuccessful days of the Kelly era. He led his team to a win over Stanford in 2019 despite the Cardinal entering the matchup winning 11 in a row in the rivalry. Just because things have gone wrong in the past doesn't necessarily mean they will this year – as cliche and coach-talky as it is, this is a new team and a new season.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, for all his naysayers, is averaging less than a turnovers per game and leads the Pac-12 in passing touchdowns, pass yards per attempt and passer rating. He's beaten Stanford on the road before, and he can do it again.
Running back Brittain Brown rushed for 218 yards against the Cardinal last year, and now he has Zach Charbonnet alongside him in the backfield to combine for 172.7 scrimmage yards per game and 7.7 yards per touch. Stanford, meanwhile, is giving up 210.7 rushing yards per game alone.
Between that backfield duo and Thompson-Robinson, UCLA is going to rack up the points yet again. The question mark, per usual, is the defense.
At this point, it's overly optimistic to expect the Bruins defense to be good. They just have to be good enough for the offense to outscore their opponent, and as efficient as Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee has been this year, I don't see him throwing the ball 50 times and leading multiple go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter like certain other recent opponents have.
One or two turnovers or wild bounces will determine this game, as has been the case in UCLA-Stanford matchups of year's past. But this time, the Bruins will be the ones who come out on top.
Benjamin Royer, contributing writer
Prediction: Stanford 34, UCLA 23
In McKee, the Bruins face another quarterback that is coming off of impressive performances. Against both USC and Vanderbilt, McKee was able to lead the Cardinal to wins against Power 5 opponents. McKee defeated the Trojans when they were ranked, and now the newfound starter will accomplish the same against the Bruins.
McKee’s 71.4% completion percentage with 570 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions shows that he is all business after taking over the starting role from Jack West. He’ll continue that success Saturday afternoon, just like Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener did a week ago.
It’s hard to doubt Thompson-Robinson as the Bruins’ quarterback heading into week four, but his performances cannot be the only reason to stay in the game. Playing away from home, the third-year starter will need to pick up his game to sustain his success so far. He will struggle, but it will not be noticeable compared to the shortcomings of the secondary once again.
The 455 passing yards given up by the UCLA defense against Fresno State had to be hard to bear if you are defensive coordinator Jerry Azinnaro. The shortcomings, compared to the earlier outings against Hawai’i and LSU, were easily noticeable. Slow coverage, lazy tackling and overall lack of intention on the field took the focus after the loss. This is not necessarily a slight to the players, but a slight to the coaching staff and their preparation of last week.
The first half this week will come with glimmers of hope from the Bruins’ secondary, but after halftime in a difficult environment such as Stanford, the wheels will fall off the bus, allowing the Cardinal to take complete control of the game.
2019 brought the Bruins their first win in Palo Alto since 2007. Thompson-Robinson led the team to victory then and it is certainly possible here again. Possible, but not certain, because Stanford will ride the momentum it had created with its previous two wins and head into the AP poll the same week UCLA falls out.
Athletic director Martin Jarmond will have to sit down and legitimately ask himself for the first time in his tenure if Chip Kelly is really the right man for the job.
Carlos, Host of No Truck Stops
Prediction: Stanford 38, UCLA 24
How one picks this game will depend heavily on whether one pays closer attention to history or recent performance.
Historically, Stanford has UCLA’s number. UCLA has lost this game 12 of the past 13 meetings, dating back to 2009.
And Stanford’s wins against UCLA are regularly convincing. Since David Shaw took over in Palo Alto, the average score of the Stanford-UCLA game has been 33-21.
Recent performance might be kinder to UCLA’s chances against the Cardinal in 2021 – UCLA is No. 20 nationally in Bill Connelly’s SP+ rating, an advanced metric of overall performance, while Stanford is No. 70. In UCLA’s first two games, the Bruins’ rushing attack dominated, accumulating 467 yards. Against Fresno State, Thompson-Robinson produced over 350 total yards. Stanford’s defense will be the weakest unit on the field on Saturday, as the Cardinal are No. 86 in defensive SP+ thanks to lashings from the running backs at Kansas State, USC and Vanderbilt.
Unfortunately for UCLA, what Stanford does well on offense may exploit the Bruins’ most glaring weaknesses that emerged against Fresno State. McKee may not be as savvy as Haener, but he is more talented. McKee also has much better skill position talent that can exploit the Bruins’ shaky secondary – Elijah Higgins and Brycen Tremayne have already produced highlight catches that will give UCLA fans bad memories of Francis Owusu and JJ Arcega-Whiteside.
I can’t ignore history and I can’t ignore matchups. UCLA might be the better team, but history and positional advantages give Stanford the edge.
Follow Connon on Twitter at @SamConnon
Follow Royer on Twitter at @thebenroyer
Follow Carlos on Twitter at @equitybruin
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