No. 24 UCLA football (2-1) is scheduled to kick off its Week 4 game against Stanford (2-1) on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Bruins' first road game of the year comes a full month after their season kicked off, while the Cardinal haven't played in front of their home crowd in 600 days. Stanford's fans will be cheering on a team that used a quick early-season turnaround to keep its season alive, while UCLA runs the risk of blowing its hot start with a second-straight loss.
Heading into the Week 4 matchup, here are the most pressing questions we want to have answered by the final whistle.
How will the Bruins handle the road?
It's not like UCLA has the same homefield advantage as Penn State or Florida, but a home game is a home game.
The Bruins opened the year with three of them in four weeks – with a bye week mixed in to boot.
Stanford doesn't boast an SEC-level hostile environment, although it obviously won't be as UCLA-friendly as it has been at the Rose Bowl. The bigger factor thus becomes the road trip itself.
While this is a veteran squad, there are still freshmen on the team who haven't taken a plane to a road game before. They haven't stayed in hotels the night before a big game and they haven't had to play a Division I football game without sleeping in their own bed leading up to it.
Even the veterans haven't had to do this since December 2020, not to mention the ever-present COVID-19 protocols and concerns.
Handling road environments is a must for teams hoping to make real noise in the postseason, and this is UCLA's first chance to show they have what it takes on that front.
Can the running game bounce back?
The presumed answer to this question is yes, but the Bruins' ability to do so is going to decide their fate Saturday night.
Stanford's run defense was hardly a stone wall a year ago – Brittain Brown rushed for 218 yards in the 2020 season finale, and that's with UCLA trailing for the first three quarters.
This year, the Cardinal have gotten worse at stopping the run, while the Bruins have gotten better at pounding the rock – until the Fresno State game, of course.
Up to that point, UCLA was rushing for 233.5 yards per game through two contests, both of which came against defensive-minded head coaches too. Zach Charbonnet was a surprise Heisman candidate and Brown was the most successful second fiddle in the country.
With those numbers in mind, it would seem the Bruins are primed to shove the ball down the Cardinal's throat Saturday, with Stanford giving up 210.7 rushing yards so far. But UCLA saw its rushing totals cut in half against Fresno State last weekend, and over half of their 117 yards on the ground came courtesy of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Charbonnet and Brown combined for 51 yards from scrimmage after averaging well over 200 up to that point.
Given, Fresno State boasted a run defense that was giving up just 93.3 yards per game through three weeks and UCLA trailed for most of the night, but it still was not an impressive showing on the Bruins' part.
To get the offense rolling, Charbonnet and Brown will need to recover and show their opening stretch wasn't a fluke.
How badly will McKee embarrass the secondary?
As pessimistic as it sounds, it would be naive to think the UCLA defense is going to activate a no-fly zone after what they've shown the past two-plus seasons.
The sub-par statistics in Weeks 0 and 1 were blamed on their early leads and the types of games they were a part of. The secondary had improved, and the stat sheet would show it as the sample size grew, after all.
Well the sample size got one game bigger last week, and the stats got even worse.
The Bruins went from allowing 286.5 passing yards per game to 342.7 once Fresno State and quarterback Jake Haener were done with them. In their last 22 games, UCLA is giving up 303.5 yards through the air per game, and the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons represent the three worst statistical pass defense years in program history.
Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee hasn't set the world on fire with his numbers, but coach David Shaw has been leaning on the pass game more than ever since bringing him in, and he has three top receivers who stand 6-foot-3 or taller at his disposal.
The 234 and 218 yards he passed for in wins over USC and Vanderbilt could become 300 or more going against an increasingly porous UCLA pass defense that continues to sag off wideouts pre-snap. The way McKee utilizes his height and his receivers' jump ball ability could play right into that weakness on the Bruins' side, and he could be in for a career game if defensive coordinator Jerry Azzinaro and assistant head coach Brian Norwood don't turn things around fast.
How will the Fresno State loss affect UCLA?
The Bruins have played one game as a ranked team over the past four seasons.
They are 0-1 while inside the AP top 25.
Call it a reality check, a return to Earth, a blip on the radar or whatever you think fits best. Regardless, that Fresno State loss at least partially deflated UCLA's hype, and it certainly docked their chances at real national glory in a major way.
The LSU win was huge, even if the Tigers end up being mediocre. To have a bye after that and then lose to a Group of Five opponent is never going to look good, even considering that the Group of Five opponent is probably better than the SEC school from the week before.
The narratives surrounding the team a week ago were daunting. Now, they're muddied and messy, with some people ready to kick the Bruins to the curve and others placing the fate of their season, coaching staff and quarterback on this one game.
We've now seen what UCLA looks like coming off a big win and national praise. Now it's time to see how they react to the disappointment and mockery that comes along with getting upset in the spotlight.