Stanford, UCLA Pac-12 Title Rematch A ‘Mind Game’
STANFORD (AP) — This week has been unlike any other in the 20 years Mike Gleeson has been Stanford football’s video director.
Even though there’s a tight turnaround between the Cardinal’s 35-17 victory last Saturday at UCLA and the Pac-12 championship game rematch Friday night, Gleeson’s typical task is simplified. All he has to do is add video from the first game and recalculate statistics to the preparation done last week.
After that, things get complicated.
“The staff, in a way, they have to shuffle the deck as if it didn’t happen. Or did it?” Gleeson said. “How do you want to look at it? Do you want to change things? Do you want to keep things? Now we’ve got the mind games with UCLA. What did they show? What do we think they showed compared to what they’ll do this week?
“Well, we have 11 other games. So we kind of know what they’re about, just like they know what we’re about. But did they show everything that they could against us? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s the mind game.”
Call last week a dress rehearsal, although even that may be in question. Stanford will wear its black uniforms, helmets and shoes for only the fourth time. UCLA is expected to swap out those dark blue “L.A. Night” jerseys for its traditional white tops, gold pants and gold helmets on the road.
With the league title at stake, what else the eighth-ranked Cardinal (10-2, 8-1) and the No. 17 Bruins (9-3, 6-3) bring out of the closet for what could be a rain-soaked sequel at Stanford Stadium might not be so obvious. They will be the first opponents in major college football matched against each other for a regular-season finale and conference title game in consecutive weeks.
After the opener at the Rose Bowl, booking a return trip to Pasadena for “The Granddaddy of Them All” on Jan. 1 could be tricky. Both staffs lost a day of game planning and practice, and the preparation has everybody involved contemplating how to approach Part II.
“I cannot recall ever being in this situation before,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “I don’t know that it benefits either team, or is hard on any team. It just comes down to going out on Friday night and executing. Any familiarity we have with them, they’ll have with us.”
Stanford’s video staff usually compiles highlights of about four games from when its opponent faced a team that mirrored what the Cardinal does, including last season’s meeting if the opponent has the same coaching staff or style. In this case, last week’s game stands for last season’s game. Then producers send the videos and analytical reports to coaches and players through an application on their iPad playbooks.
“Our challenge is to make sure that we don’t outsmart ourselves,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who won his second straight Pac-12 Coach of the Year award this week. “But at the same time, that we are as diverse as we can be, to make sure that the things that we did positively, we’ve got to know that UCLA is going to come back and have answers for it. The things that they did positively, we’ve got to make sure that we fix those things that hurt us.”
The Cardinal controlled the first matchup in familiar, physical fashion.
Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns and is 35 yards shy of Darrin Nelson’s school rushing record of 4,169 yards (note: Stanford had previously said Nelson finished with 4,033 yards, however, in recent years the school started including bowl game statistics and did not originally add Nelson’s postseason totals to its record books).
Kevin Hogan beat his third ranked opponent in his third straight start since replacing Josh Nunes at quarterback, passing for 160 yards and another score to help Stanford run away with its fourth victory in a row over the Bruins.
UCLA’s Brett Hundley completed 20 of 38 passes for 261 yards and a TD with one interception while getting sacked seven times. Stanford, which leads the nation in rushing defense (71.3 yards), sacks (4.4) and tackles for loss (9.2) per game, held Johnathan Franklin — the Bruins’ career rushing leader — to 73 yards on the ground.
“Both teams sort of see what the other teams are capable of doing and their tendencies, stuff like that.” Hundley said. “Both teams have that advantage.”
Things will not get any easier as the Bruins go for their first conference championship since 1998.
Stanford has won eight straight and 19 of its past 20 home games, with the lone loss coming to Oregon last season, then avenging that defeat with defensive domination in a 17-14 overtime win over the Ducks (11-1, 8-1) two weeks ago to secure the North Division tiebreaker. The Cardinal are riding a six-game winning streak and looking to win the league title for the first time since 1999 while advancing to their third different BCS bowl in as many seasons.
Rain started falling Thursday evening when the Bruins arrived on the quant Silicon Valley campus. A tarp covered the field at Stanford Stadium, and Mora and Shaw shook hands before posing for a ceremonial photo with the silver league title trophy inside the Cardinal athletic offices.
“I think the rain favors the team that executes the best,” Mora said.
UCLA’s repeat trip to the second annual Pac-12 championship game does come with at least one other noticeable difference. Last year, UCLA lost 49-31 at Oregon in lame duck coach Rick Neuheisel’s weird finale — the Bruins had a 6-6 record and only advanced out of the South Division because crosstown rival Southern California was finishing a two-year postseason ban for NCAA violations.
This time, Mora had to face questions after the regular-season finale about whether he limited his game plan knowing the possibility of facing Stanford loomed. Both he and Shaw, who took Taylor out during the fourth quarter with the score lopsided against UCLA, said neither side seemed to withhold anything.
Of course, all agree each game is different.
“They’ve probably got some tricks up their sleeve that we didn’t see,” Cardinal outside linebacker Trent Murphy said. “Everybody always says, ‘It’s really tough to beat a team twice.’ But as far as the positives go, every week you look on the tape, you see the mistakes you made and the things you wish you could’ve done better. The kind of moves that you see that were there after watching the film. You get an opportunity to correct those mistakes the next weekend.”