Several days may have elapsed since Stanford’s loss to Utah, but the sting of defeat and the resulting effects linger as fresh as ever. The wounds from last Saturday’s 27-21 loss showed themselves in practice this week.
“Certain guys have an edge to them because what we put on film last week is not who we want to be,” said head coach David Shaw. “We have another opportunity. That’s the best thing about being in the middle of the season; even if you go out and don’t play your best, you get six days to get ready for the next one.”
In its loss to Utah, Stanford played very uncharacteristically — losing the turnover margin, recording only one sack and allowing 176 rushing yards. Against UCLA this Saturday, Shaw and Stanford hope to return to the level of play it displayed against UCLA last year, beating the Bruins twice in a span of six days, including a win in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
“We didn’t play up to our standard and we got beat by a good football team,” Shaw said. “We have another really good team coming in, justifiably highly ranked, and playing great. It’s going to take our best game to have a chance to win.”
Stanford prepares to face UCLA this upcoming Saturday in what looks to be a statement game for both teams — Stanford eager to prove the loss as a fluke and UCLA ready to show that they are now among the elite in the Pac-12. UCLA enters ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press Poll and hopes it can establish itself as one of the country’s top teams with wins in both, or even just one, of its two upcoming games, road trips against Stanford and Oregon.
“They’re good, they’re athletic, and they’re disciplined,” said senior running back Tyler Gaffney. “Usually athletic and disciplined together are hard to come by, but that’s what makes a team great. And UCLA has been both of those.”
UCLA has allowed only one 100-yard game from a running back all season long, which came in the first week of the season when Nevada’s junior quarterback Cody Fajardo rushed for 106 yards. Gaffney and the Cardinal will look to change that this weekend.
“It’s going to come down to the three things we got — the line and the passing game, which will inevitably open up the run game,” Gaffney elaborated. “If we can solidify the passing and the line game, the run game should follow suit.”
The run game was noticeably absent on the final two plays from scrimmage for Stanford against Utah. On subsequent third and fourth downs with 2 yards to go, Shaw opted to throw the ball instead of handing it off to Gaffney.
“Every good player wants the ball in that situation,” said Gaffney. “Hogan would love to have the ball in that situation. Ty would love to have the ball in that situation. I feel the same way but it is what it is. If we score it’s the right call, if we don’t it’s the wrong call. It could have gone either way.”
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is still reeling from injuries — senior defensive end Henry Anderson and sophomore defensive tackle Ikenna Nwafor are sidelined for a few more weeks, and senior defensive tackle David Parry and fifth-year senior Ben Gardner have been slowed down by abdominal and arm injuries, respectively. To increase the depth on the line, defensive coordinator Derek Mason requested that sophomore Luke Kaumatule switch from tight end to defensive end. Through three practices, the move seems to be going well.
“He knows a little bit more what he needs to do,” Shaw said. “He’s a day better. But bottom line, it’s high effort and it’s exactly what we need. Right now we anticipate him getting some playing time.”
In other injury news, senior kicker Jordan Williamson tweaked a muscle in his leg. Shaw sounded optimistic that Williamson would kick Saturday, but it is not a guarantee. If Williamson is out, sophomore Conrad Ukropina would fill in.
With or without Williamson, Stanford takes on UCLA at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Contact Michael Peterson at mrpeters ‘at’ stanford.edu.