Stanford football took care of business on Saturday night, smothering Johnathan Franklin and the UCLA run game and scoring plenty of points on its way to a 35-17 win over the No. 17 Bruins. With the win, Stanford guaranteed its spot in the Pac-12 Championship game, which the No. 8 Cardinal (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) will host against this very same UCLA team (9-3, 6-3) on Friday night.
UCLA coach Jim Mora didn’t have all that much motivation to win; with No. 5 Oregon dominating Oregon State, UCLA could not host the Pac-12 Championship game anyways and a win over Stanford would have sent the Bruins to Autzen Stadium. But Mora insisted all week that his team would play hard regardless, and the opening quarter reflected that attitude as each team took its first drive for a touchdown.
Stanford coach David Shaw claimed his team didn’t even know if Oregon had won, although the Ducks finished off the Beavers before Stanford kicked off.
“It was inconsequential,” Shaw said. “We had a game to play.”
In any case, a grinding drive from Stanford in the second quarter gave the Cardinal an edge, as running back Anthony Wilkerson went in from 10 yards for a touchdown and a 14-7 lead that the team would never relinquish. After forcing a three-and-out, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor bounced outside and left the Bruins in the dust, taking the ball 49 yards to pay dirt and a 21-7 lead that took the wind out of UCLA’s sails and quieted the mostly partisan crowd of 68,228 in Pasadena.
But both teams certainly were playing hard, forcing several fumbles and huge hits that sent Stanford punter Daniel Zychlinski and wide receiver Drew Terrell to the locker room with injuries on separate plays. Zychlinski could be a notable loss if the fifth-year senior is not able to return for Friday’s rematch with the Bruins.
The absence of nose tackle Terrence Stephens, who was back at Stanford dealing with a “personal matter,” was surprisingly less noticeable. David Parry and Josh Mauro filled in quite well and helped Stanford stuff UCLA star running back Johnathan Franklin repeatedly, holding him to 50 yards under his season average with 72 yards.
And there was indeed a “party in the backfield,” as Stanford’s defense likes to boast, with the Cardinal taking over the national lead in sacks with seven more tonight to make it 53 on the year. Redshirt senior Chase Thomas had one, as did Mauro and linebacker A.J. Tarpley.
Not to be outdone was the Cardinal secondary. Stanford safety Jordan Richards intercepted Hundley, and senior nickelback Usua Amanam recovered a fumble on a kickoff and took it 11 yards into the end zone to make the score 35-10 in the third quarter.
“In all aspects of our game, we weren’t here today,” UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “We’re better than this. We know it. We didn’t show it.”
Guard Jeff Baca praised Stanford’s talent on both sides of the ball. “I don’t know if they are the best team,” he said, “but they are pretty good.”
The fourth quarter was spent mostly trading punts, with the outcome decided and several key players for both teams absent. Taylor ran for 142 yards on 20 carries — none after the third quarter — leaving him just 35 yards shy of Darrin Nelson’s Stanford career rushing record of 4,169 yards.
“They have a perfect running game,” Hester said. “That’s what they do.”
But, as he said, “the beauty of it is, we get to play them again next week. We get to play a team that just beat us; any competitor in sports loves that.”
While starting just 3-of-8 through the air, Hogan finished up the game by going 12-of-14 and racking up 160 yards with a touchdown.
And Stanford has now closed out its regular season with three consecutive victories over ranked teams, all with Hogan at the helm after he replaced Josh Nunes under center.
A win over UCLA would send the Cardinal to its first Rose Bowl since 2001, against the winner of the Big 10 Championship game that features Nebraska and Wisconsin.