college football picks Stanford at U-C-L-A 9-11-10

September 10, 2010

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GAME NOTES: The 25th-ranked Stanford Cardinal kicks off its Pac-10 Conference slate against UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

Stanford vaulted into the national rankings following a convincing 52-17 victory over Sacramento State in the season opener. The Cardinal is looking to improve upon last year’s eight-win campaign, and last week’s showing is a good start. The schedule gets fairly difficult in a hurry, as Stanford will face Wake Forest next week, followed by back-to-back road contests at Notre Dame and Oregon, then it’s back home to face USC.

Meanwhile, UCLA was upended by Kansas State last weekend, 31-22. The Bruins struggled on both sides of the ball, although they put together a late rally to nearly pull off the win. UCLA plays three of its next four games at home.

UCLA owns a 45-32-3 edge in the all-time series with Stanford, although the Cardinal notched a 24-16 victory last season at Stanford Stadium to end a five-game slide versus the Bruins.

There wasn’t much for Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh to nitpick about from last Saturday’s offensive performance. The 52 points scored marked the program’s third-highest scoring total in the modern era. Stanford has reached 40 or more points six times in three-plus seasons under Harbaugh, and last year ranked 11th nationally with 35.4 ppg. If last week was any indication, Stanford should continue to put up points in bunches this season.

The offense accounted for 529 total yards against Sacramento State, including 316 yards through the air from quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck set a personal best with four touchdowns in the victory, while his 316 yards were the second- highest total of his career. Doug Baldwin hauled in four passes for a career- high 111 yards and two scores. In all, the Cardinal had five plays of 30 or more yards.

“The big plays are really encouraging,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something that strikes fear into a defense and lets them know you have the ability to do that. It was good to see, and it was good to see us finish drives.”

Defensively, the Cardinal allowed just 167 yards of total offense, which is the fewest since 2006, when they allowed 161 total yards against Washington.

“I was pleased with the way the defense played, particularly the secondary,” Harbaugh said. “They had no missed coverages, and for the opening ballgame of the season that’s pretty rare.”

One of Sacramento State’s two touchdowns came on a punt return, and the other came after a fumble set the Hornets up with a short field at the Stanford 29. Other than that, yards were tough to come by against the Stanford D. Two Hornets quarterbacks combined to throw for 113 yards and were sacked three times, while the ground attack was stifled to a combined 1.8 yards per carry. Max Bergen paced the unit with eight tackles and a forced fumble, while Chase Thomas notched two sacks in the victory.

UCLA sophomore quarterback Kevin Prince had a day to forget in last week’s opener as he completed just 9-of-26 passes for 120 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Prince had some promising moments last year as a freshman, but coach Rick Neuheisel is expecting more consistency this year from his signal-caller. He guided the Bruins on a quick scoring drive to cut the deficit to two with 1:19 to play, but he was not able to connect on a two- point attempt to try and tie the game. Senior kicker Kai Forbath is a solid weapon, having connected on 40 straight field goals from 50 yards or closer. Forbath was tops in the nation last year with 2.15 field goals per game. He went 3-for-3 in field goals against K-State, however Neuheisel is looking for more touchdowns from his offense.

UCLA has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball, particularly against the run. Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas gashed the Bruins for a career-high 234 yards and two touchdowns last week. If the Cardinal does not tighten up in a hurry they could be in for a long season in the Pac-10. The strength of the defense is in the secondary, as Stanford ranked 28th in the nation in pass defense a year ago. All-American safety Rahim Moore is the linchpin of this unit. He led the nation with 10 interceptions a year ago and is one of three starters returning in the secondary. However, as long as opponents are picking up chunks of yardage on the ground, there is little incentive to test Moore and the rest of the secondary.

Stanford has lost six in a row to UCLA at the Rose Bowl, with the last victory in Pasadena coming back in 1996. The program has seemingly turned a corner under coach Harbaugh, and they’ll face a Bruins squad that is ripe for the picking after last week’s uninspired loss.


FREE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICKS : Stanford 24, UCLA 16

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