Bruin Beatdown: Tough lessons from Stanford’s homecoming loss to UCLA

The Cardinal (2-5, 1-4 Pac-12) dropped a home game to the No. 25 UCLA Bruins (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) by a score of 42-7 — on the heels of a miraculous comeback against Colorado last week. 

The result was never in question. The Bruins’ offense had a methodical approach that allowed them to move the ball down the field with ease against Stanford’s defense. On the other side of the ball, Stanford was unable to convert in 3rd and 4th down situations against the UCLA defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12. 

While Stanford only scored seven points in the game, the offense did look noticeably improved from earlier in the season. The Cardinal had multiple opportunities to score early in the game, with the offense deep inside UCLA territory. However, inopportune penalties stalled these drives and the Cardinal came out the other side empty-handed more often than not.

Struggle against the scramble

Stanford’s struggles against scrambling quarterbacks have been apparent throughout the year, but they were magnified to a significant extent on Saturday. The Cardinal allowed UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers to make key scrambles on third down to keep drives alive early in the first half. It is certainly important to give Garbers credit for a good feel of the pocket and an understanding of where the pressure was coming from on Stanford’s defense.

However, there were several times when the Cardinal defensive line weren’t staying in their assigned gaps, allowing Garbers a free hole to take off. At other times Garbers was able to get the edge against Stanford’s linebackers, which exhibited the Cardinal’s lack of athleticism and dynamic play-making at the second-levels of the defense.

The Bruins tried to exploit this in other ways, namely by throwing to receiver and tight ends in the flat, a weakness of the cover three matchup zone, particularly with linebackers that lack the requisite athleticism.

Defensive coordinator Bobby April III dialed up some blitzes that put the Stanford linebackers in tough quandaries. In hindsight, April probably wishes he had assigned a QB spy on Garbers. At the same time, a huge deficiency in personnel is a large part of the reason Stanford has continued to struggle against scrambling quarterbacks this year.

Elic Ayomanor is a No. 1 receiver

Sophomore wide receiver Elic Ayomanor was college football’s darling last week after his game against Colorado. The 6’2″ receiver from Canada had a Stanford record 13 receptions for 294 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal’s 29-point comeback against the Buffaloes. While Ayomanor’s encore against UCLA couldn’t surpass his coming out party, he still delivered a strong performance. Ayomanor tallied eight receptions for 90 yards, once again leading the Cardinal in receiving yardage.

Admittedly, much of that yardage was already after UCLA already accumulated a big lead. He also had a drive-killing penalty earlier in the game, when the Cardinal were down by two scores, that put the offense out of field goal range. But Ayomanor would have had more opportunities to tally yards if the offensive line had held up just a couple seconds more.

The bottom line is that, for a team that was wondering if it had a player on the outside that could consistently win one-on-one battles, Ayomanor has certainly proved he could do that against Pac-12 competition back-to-back weeks. 

Too many penalties

The Cardinal are among the most penalized teams in the country this season, and that was certainly evident on Saturday. Against UCLA, Stanford was penalized 10 times for 113 yards. For a team that is way less talented than the rest of their Pac-12 foes, a football field’s worth of penalty yardage is digging the team into a even bigger hole.

Several penalties, including the offensive pass interference against Ayomanor and the ineligible receiver penalty against sophomore tight end Sam Roush effectively ended Stanford’s chances to compete in the game. 

As Troy Taylor said after the game, “Our margin for victory is thin.”

For Stanford to pull out any more games this season, it will have to play spotlessly.

The Cardinal will take on the No. 5 Washington Huskies at Stanford Stadium. The Huskies, led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and receivers Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan are looking to bring Washington back to the college football playoff for the first time since 2016. Washington’s high-powered offense will certainly be a challenge for Stanford’s defense, in particular in the secondary. Kick-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. next week.