Pac-12 Championship: Stanford Defeats UCLA

At the beginning of the season, could anyone have predicted that USC and Oregon wouldn’t be in this game? They were both the overwhelming favorites to win their divisions, and yet there we were: tough-running UCLA versus the stout defense of Stanford.

UCLA was 6-3 in league play this year while Stanford was 8-1, the same record as last year – when they had Andrew Luck. “I remember when nobody was giving us a look down at the Pac-12 media day,” Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas said this week. “I told them, `It was the same thing when Toby (Gerhart) left. It was the same thing when (Jim) Harbaugh left. It was the same thing when Andrew left.’ I guess people out there just don’t get it. They don’t understand what type of guys we have on this team. The kind of coaches we have. We’re not going away. We’re not a one-person team. We never have been. So people can think what they want. We know this team is going to be around for a while.”

Clearly Stanford was firing on all cylinders heading into this game, and it showed: they won 27-24.

After taking over for Josh Nunes against Colorado, Kevin Hogan has been fantastic, completing 72.8 percent of his passes for 809 yards and eight touchdowns. It was a bold move by Stanford head coach David Shaw, but it has paid off handsomely. Hogan faced much-improved UCLA defense here, fifth in the nation in sacks and 53rd in rush defense, but he did what he had to do, completing 16 of 22 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown. The game was closer than many people figured, mostly because UCLA did a much better job of containing Stepfan Taylor this time around than they did last week. Stepfan Taylor, is one of the most underrated offensive players in the country, and has once again been sensational this season, rushing for 1364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Before this game, he ended the season with three 100-yard efforts in a row, all against ranked teams, so Taylor was chugging full speed ahead when he took on UCLA for the second time in a week. However, he was semi-contained, rushing for only 78 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, good for a 3.3 yards per carry average.

UCLA’s offense was pretty powerful in its own right, riding running back Johnathan Franklin to great success this season, who has rushed for 1500 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and easily broke Maurice Jones-Drew’s career total yardage record at the school in this game. Franklin rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, good for an astounding 10.2 yards per rush.

Ultimately, however, Stanford’s team was older, more experienced and more rugged on both sides of the ball. They did just enough to squeak out another narrow win.

“Character,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said after the game. “Even when we don’t play well, we still play hard. Our guys played with such heart. We made plays when we needed to make plays.”

Now Stanford needs to gear up for their next stop: the Rose Bowl.

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