Stanford Cardinal (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS) vs. UCLA Bruins (2-1 SU, 0-3 ATS)
College Football Week 4
Date/Time: Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 8PM EST
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: STAN -3/UCLA +3
Over/Under Total: 47.5
The Stanford Cardinal come down south to the Rose Bowl to face the UCLA Bruins in Pac-12 Conference action in week 4. UCLA scored its second straight win since a demoralizing road loss at Texas A&M to open the season by beating BYU, 17-14 on Saturday. After building a 17-0 lead, they had to hold on to win and now look to open their conference schedule strongly this week at home against the defending Pac-12 champions. On Saturday, following a one-week break, the Cardinal got back to work with an easy 27-10 win over USC to start their conference schedule.
The BYU win was key for the Bruins, a triumph over a good team. They really should be 3-0, which would give this game a lot more appeal. They fell behind to Texas A&M in week one and tied the game with an improbable comeback. A few OT miscues including a drop in the end zone led to A&M eventually winning it. A week two win over UNLV and the win over BYU make it a little easier to stomach now. A win here would make it almost a forgotten issue. The offense hasn’t really been in-sync this season thus far. They had to fight for all of the 17 points they got against a good BYU defense last week, while relying on their improved defense to hold off the Cougars.
It might be an over-simplification to say the UCLA offense is worse than last season, while the defense is better, but that might not be far from the truth. Josh Rosen had over 300 yards passing on Saturday, but lacks the cast he had last season. Soso Jamabo was not at running back, with Nate Starks making his first appearance. The run-game was not effective, but BYU can really stuff it, especially at home. Receiver Darren Andrews has 91 yards and a touchdown. Twelve different players caught passes from Rosen. It seemed like a lot of people were hung up on how good Rosen would be after such a promising freshman campaign, while forgetting most vital members of his cast had departed. It’s only natural that they’re going to need a little time to regenerate.
The defense has been solid for the Bruins. BYU has been struggling on offense this season, so we don’t want to put too much credence on how the “D” played last week, but they also shut down Texas A&M for much of the second half in week one and there is visible better play up-front with the return of Eddie Vanderdoes. Safety Jaleel Wadood and corners Randall Goforth and Marcus Rios are making plays left and right. The front applied pressure and stuffed the run to the tune of 25 yards on 23 carries. Taysom Hill got cooking later in the game as BYU made their inevitable comeback bid, but UCLA held firm for the good win.
Stanford started the year with a stutter step—a win over Kansas State, a week off, and then the home game against USC. The offense is looking to build around Christian McCaffrey, with a new quarterback in Ryan Burns who hasn’t exactly taken to flight. Regardless, they’ve scored two covers and wins in their two games and look to kick it up a notch this week. On Saturday, McCaffrey ran for 165 yards, while scoring on a 56-yard catch. If only they could get Ryan Burns jump-started, as his production in the first two games has been minimal. Then again, if you were going to lean on one player, you could do a lot worse than McCaffrey, the biggest difference-maker in the conference.
It might not even cost them here, but will having McCaffrey be such a huge part of the offense cost Stanford at some point? At the same time, McCaffrey was a huge part of the Cardinal offense last season and he still ran absolutely hog-wild on the Bruins’ defense with a slew of big plays all afternoon. And Stanford can be pretty creative with how they run McCaffrey. And when everyone is looking at him, they can let someone else spring a play, as they did when receiver Michael Rector took a reverse 56 yards to the end zone on Saturday.
Stanford is counting on the defense a lot this season and they’ve shown a good edge thus far. They caught a couple good breaks in the way of calls against Kansas State, but still held a good offense to 13 points. USC’s offense is not a vintage Southern Cal group, but holding them to ten points further suggests they might be better than last season’s defense—the worst that’s been there in the David Shaw era. And they’ve been pretty clutch, tightening up when the opposing offense threatens to seize momentum and on third downs. They took all of USC’s playmakers out of the game on Saturday. We’ll see how they do on the road this week.
Rosen was big in last year’s game against Stanford, save for some turnovers, one of which was returned for a TD. But he threw for over 300 yards and connected well with his tools. UCLA had more total yards than Stanford and still lost 56-35. The three-touchdown gap had a lot to do with UCLA mistakes. And Christian McCaffrey. He ran for 243 yards, scoring 4 touchdowns. He made some key returns. Granted, the UCLA defense is playing better defense this season, but they’ll need to play a little over their heads to keep McCaffrey in check.
Stanford faces a critical point in their season in the next few weeks with consecutive road games against UCLA and Washington. This one can’t be overlooked, as UCLA faces a one-time fix to get their season back in the fast lane. Both offenses might be worse and both defenses might be better than last season. But that’s based on a short and potentially-deceiving window of games. It’s not going to be easy for the Cardinal, but I see them emerging from the Rose Bowl with a hard-earned victory and cover.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Stanford Cardinal minus 3 points.
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