Rising through the ranks: Cardinal look to snatch the Bruins’ gold, leaving them blue

Oct. 28, 2022, 1:46 a.m.

This weekend presents another round of homecomings, but not for the Cardinal. No. 12 UCLA (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) is set to host Stanford (3-4, 1-4 Pac-12) this Saturday for a Bruin homecoming weekend.

There is a long-standing rivalry between the conference competitors, with each school having about 40 wins on each other. Of the last 14 games versus UCLA, the Cardinal won 12. Despite this being a game of rivalry, it’s also worth savoring what could be one of the last games at the Rose Bowl between these two teams, as UCLA plans to move to the Big 10 conference in 2024.

Coming off a two-game win streak, Stanford is looking to continue rising in the ranks. What was predicted to be a repeat of last year’s upset defeat of Oregon is proving to be a legitimate series of victories — a momentum that remains alive.

The last three games for the Cardinal were close scoring. Over the last two games, the defense allowed the opposing team only 14 points per game, playing aggressively to protect the redzone.

Against Arizona State (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12) this past weekend, Stanford played a game of field goals. Junior kicker Joshua Karty put up all the points for the Cardinal, scoring 5-for-5 on 35+ yard field goals. He was awarded Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week for his athleticism for the third time this season and has a confident mindset going into this weekend’s UCLA match-up:

“Yeah, of course I believe I am the best kicker in America. I kind of have to,” said Karty. “I kind of try to embrace it as much as possible. It helps the confidence for sure and [I] just can’t wait to get back out there next week against the Bruins.”

Some could argue Stanford was spared a loss by inches. In the final minutes of the game, the Sun Devils executed an impressive final play: at fourth and 19, redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones lobbed what was initially declared a complete pass down the field towards Stanford’s 1-yard line. However, after a review of the play, the pass was declared incomplete, as the receiver’s foot was halfway out of bounds.

Sure, a win is a win, but as head coach David Shaw emphasized, “field goals will not be enough to take down the Bruins.” Shaw is also looking to improve the performance of the offensive line.

As senior center Drake Nugent said, “it was kind of hard to digest that win. I feel like as an offensive line we didn’t play well enough to win but we still squeaked it out.”

The Cardinal need to be a well-oiled machine, pulling equal weight on every part of the team towards victory. This means creating a supportive environment to produce touchdown-yielding offensive plays out on the field. This goal may be best executed through reinforcing trust with the backup running backs, considering junior running back Casey Filkins’ recent injury against Arizona State. Confident teamwork yields touchdowns — something the Cardinal need to fine tune.

Coming off their first loss of the season, UCLA will be hungry to regain victory status. This has been a season of success for this team. Preceding the loss to Oregon, the Bruins started the season with six games undefeated, which is the most the program has seen since 2005.

Every Bruins game this fall has been high scoring. Stanford’s coach and players recognize UCLA’s strong playmakers at quarterback and running back, as well as an offensive line that is athletic, big, powerful and fast. This team is ranked 12th in the country for a reason. Looking at the coaches poll, UCLA makes No. 15. Head Coach Chip Kelly is known to successfully cater playmaking to his opponents, making for interesting and tense matchups, as well as recruit transfers. The Bruins also have numerous transfers on their defensive line with notable performances this season, including senior linebacker Darius Muasau with 38 tackles and redshirt sophomore Grayson Murphy with three sacks and 13 tackles. The Cardinal offense believes it will be difficult to anticipate their opponent’s performance come Saturday.

What is clear: UCLA knows how to play the ball on both sides of the line. The defense kept Oregon to 49 yards in 10 plays in one possession, and the offense drove 75 yards on seven plays in 2:18 for a touchdown, one of the game’s quickest plays. Kicker Nicholas Barr-Mara is also of notable performance, scoring 3-of-3 30+ yard field goals against Oregon. He may not be at 100% successful field goal attempts for the season like Karty, but he has increasingly good performances.

Stanford cannot afford to lose any momentum approaching this weekend’s game at the Rose Bowl. If the defense remains consistent in protecting the red zone and keeping the opponent’s score low, and the offense scores touchdowns and moves the ball, the Cardinal can claim the defeat of a ranked opponent.

Kickoff returns to nighttime primetime at 7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN.

Hawe is a contributing writer for the sports section.

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