Football: Bruins bashed

Sept. 14, 2010, 3:03 a.m.
Football: Bruins bashed
The Stanford defense performed well at UCLA on Saturday, completely shutting out the Bruin offense. Junior linebacker Max Bergen (right, No. 57), playing for the injured Shayne Skov, had three solo tackles for the game. (LUIS SINCO/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

In a manner befitting a contender for the Pac-10 title, the No. 19 Stanford football team pummeled UCLA (0-2, 0-1 Pac-10) on Saturday night, scoring at will in a 35-0 blowout.

While the Cardinal (2-0, 1-0) headed to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. with expectations of victory, few expected it to dominate the Bruins in such a thorough manner.

The first quarter saw the game get off to a slow start, with three-and-outs from both offenses. On Stanford’s second drive of the game, redshirt sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck took over, overwhelming the UCLA defense with a combination of strong passes and 10-yard scrambles. He hit senior receiver Ryan Whalen with a 16-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive, putting Stanford up 7-0.

After another UCLA three-and-out, Stanford took the ball and marched down the field, getting all the way inside the 10-yard line before incompletions on second and third down forced the Card to settle for a Nate Whitaker field goal. The Cardinal offensive line lived up to its billing as one of the best units in the country, opening big holes for Stanford’s running backs and giving Luck plenty of time to make throws.

After halftime, the two teams came back onto the field with Stanford holding on to a 13-0 lead. UCLA took the ball to start the half and appeared ready to make the game a close contest; its running backs started to find holes in the Cardinal front seven, and quarterback Kevin Prince made some key completions to push the Bruin offense forward. However, the drive eventually stalled, and a field goal attempt by Lou Groza Award winner Kai Forbath sailed wide right.

Stanford took over after the Forbath miss and again began an efficient drive, dominating the UCLA defense and putting the momentum on the Stanford side for good. Luck scrambled several times, including for a first down on third-and-10 early in the possession, and the Cardinal running back rotation shredded the Bruin front seven. The clock-eating possession ate up nine minutes and 30 seconds, and ended with senior fullback Owen Marecic bulldozing his way into the end zone for a touchdown. The subsequent two-point conversion gave Stanford a 21-0 lead, and the Card never looked back.

Stanford’s offense built on its performance last week against Sacramento State, establishing itself as a force in the Pac-10. Luck had a strong game, leading the offense with 11-24 passing and 151 yards through the air, including two touchdown passes. He also carried the ball seven times for 63 yards.

Luck was also able to limit the impact of Rahim Moore, UCLA’s All-America safety and projected NFL draft pick. Moore made seven tackles but only deflected one pass. Luck also stayed error-free, throwing no interceptions.

After the game, Luck still saw room for improvement.

“I did not play my best game by any means,” he said. “I think UCLA had a good defense. But a win is a win, so we’re happy.”

Sophomore Stepfan Taylor led the Stanford rushing attack with 20 carries for 81 yards. While head coach Jim Harbaugh has been employing a “running back by committee” approach to replace the production of graduated senior Toby Gerhart, Taylor has emerged as the offense’s feature back. The other three backs in use by the Card—sophomore Tyler Gaffney and freshmen Usua Amanam and Anthony Wilkerson—combined for 49 yards on 14 carries.

Stanford’s offense is also poised to get even better, as two of its biggest playmakers, junior wide receiver Chris Owusu and senior running back Jeremy Stewart, are currently out due to injury. Stewart sustained an ankle injury last week against Sacramento State, while Owusu was listed as questionable with an undisclosed injury. Both are slated to make returns in the coming weeks, giving Luck even more weapons with which to shred opposing defenses.

The Cardinal defense also answered many of the questions swirling around it. Last season, the defense was a weak point, and it was given an overhaul in the offseason (complete with new coordinator Vic Fangio).

In its first test against Pac-10 competition, the unit performed admirably, limiting UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel’s vaunted “Pistol” offense to just 81 passing yards and 233 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Prince was often hurried and frustrated by the front seven, while the secondary kept a tight hold on his receivers. Stanford defenders also picked up two interceptions and forced five fumbles, two of which were recovered.

The star of the defense was junior defensive back Michael Thomas. Aside from having five tackles, Thomas forced two fumbles, including the highlight of the game when Thomas ripped the ball from Prince’s hands in the third quarter, running it back 21 yards for a touchdown. The play came on UCLA’s first snap after the Cardinal’s 20-play, 9:30 drive in the third quarter, and effectively erased any remaining hope for a UCLA victory. After that play, Prince was replaced by his backup, Richard Brehaut, for the remainder of the game.

Overall, both the front seven and the secondary had excellent games. The team notched three sacks, while the team’s leading tackler was junior cornerback Johnson Bademosi with six.

Unfortunately for Stanford, sophomore linebacker Shayne Skov did not return to the field for this game. Like Owusu, Skov was listed as questionable with an undisclosed injury, and is also expected to return in the coming weeks. His replacement, junior Max Bergen, performed well for the second straight week, making three solo tackles.

Stanford’s next game is at home against Wake Forest on Saturday. The Card will be a heavy favorite, but the Demon Deacons do enter the game with a 2-0 record, including a 54-48 win over ACC rival Duke this weekend. At 53.5 points per game, they also have the third-best scoring offense in the country heading into Week 3, which will provide another solid test for the new-look Cardinal defense.

However, the Wake Forest defense is highly suspect, giving up 30.5 points per game up to this point in the season. Stanford’s offense should be able to put up big numbers against the Deacons, especially if Owusu and Stewart are back on the field.

Last season, the two teams met in the second week of the season on Wake Forest’s campus in Winston-Salem, N.C. Despite an early Stanford lead, the Deacons came back to win the game on a touchdown with two seconds remaining. It was the first meeting ever between the two schools, and a much-improved Stanford squad will be looking to exact some revenge this weekend.

The Cardinal will kick off against Wake Forest on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. The game will be held at Stanford Stadium and will be televised on ESPN2.

Kabir Sawhney is currently a desk editor for the News section. He served as the Managing Editor of Sports last volume.

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