UCLA vs. Stanford College Football Week 9: Postgame Takeaways

Breaking down the most notable storylines that came out of the Bruins’ win over the Cardinal on Saturday.

The Bruins are back in the win column, and they once again proved to have the upper hand against one of their oldest rivals.

No. 12 UCLA football (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) beat Stanford (3-5, 1-5 Pac-12) 38-13 at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. It was a return to form in many ways for the Bruins, who had lost to Oregon the week before after starting the season 6-0, and they thoroughly dismantled the Cardinal to prove they were past it.

These are three of the biggest takeaways, narratives and questions to come out of Saturday’s game.

UCLA’s defense comes back to life

The Bruins had been getting progressively worse on the defensive side of the ball throughout conference play.

After giving up 309 yards to Colorado, UCLA allowed 410 to Washington, 479 to Utah and 545 to Oregon. The trend was always bound to reverse against a Stanford team that didn’t break 16 points in either of the past two weeks, but the unit still managed to impress regardless.

The Cardinal may have ended the night with 270 yards and 13 points, but most of those came in garbage time. Coach David Shaw called timeouts and ran hurry-up in a four score game to make sure his team could hit those marks, leading to 123 yards and seven points after the Bruins had already reached 38 points.

UCLA was hitting guys hard, applying constant pressure and perfectly reading the gross slow mesh Stanford was adamant to stick to. Edge rusher Laiatu Latu had two quarterback hits and a sack, linebacker Darius Muasau had an interception that led to points and co-led the team with six tackles alongside linebacker JonJon Vaughns.

What makes the performance even more impressive is that they managed to do it all without their defensive coordinator, as Bill McGovern fell ill and had to watch the game from home. Defensive analyst and former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast stepped in as the lead man in the booth, and the play-calling was largely done by committee.

To be clear, there is no way the defense succeeded because of McGovern’s absence. He installed the game plan throughout the week, and he should get a decent share of the credit despite not actually being present Saturday night.

After all, if UCLA is going to truly compete down the stretch this year, they are going to need a lot more performances like the one they turned in against Stanford.

Charbonnet may be surpassing Dorian Thompson-Robinson

When the game itself is as non-competitive as it was, that provides a chance to dive straight into the narratives.

And when it comes to completely fabricated, abstract competitions that don’t mean anything, what’s better to break down than “which amazing UCLA offensive player is the most amazing UCLA offensive player?”

On Saturday, that was easily running back Zach Charbonnet.

The former Michigan transfer trucked his way to 198 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, tying his career highs in both categories. Charbonnet only needed 21 carries to reach those marks, averaging 9.4 yards per carry in the contest.

Charbonnet was also UCLA’s leading receiver on the night, reeling in five passes for 61 yards. 13 of his 27 touches went for first downs or touchdowns, and he was extremely difficult to drag down all night long.

The Bruins are now 12-1 when Charbonnet rushes for 100 yards, so the team clearly succeeds when he does.

Charbonnet is also the leading rusher in the Pac-12, despite missing one game, with 964 yards. If UCLA makes it to the conference championship game and a bowl, Charbonnet is on pace for 2,221 scrimmage yards this year, which would be the most by a Pac-12 player since Christian McCaffrey was Heisman runner-up in 2015. Johnathan Franklin’s single-season program rushing yards record is within reach, too.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, on the other hand, was not quite as explosive Saturday.

Thompson-Robinson, who was cleared hobbled and took a handful of trips to the injury tent, passed for 199 yards and rushed for another 50, and his only touchdown came on the ground. His 119.7 passer rating was his lowest of the year by a wide margin, and his 62.1% completion percentage was about 10 points below his season average.

It wasn’t totally Thompson-Robinson’s fault that he had his worst statistical game of the year – right tackle Garrett DiGiorgio was getting burned on the regular, and it felt like Thompson-Robinson got hit every time Stanford brought an extra blitzer. There were other issues in the passing game that weren’t totally on Thompson-Robinson, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

But whether it’s due to injuries, game plan or something else, it’s hard to ignore just how hard Charbonnet is coming on heading into the final stretch of the season.

There’s no shame in that for Thompson-Robinson, either. After all, the Bruins could very well have the No. 1 quarterback and No. 1 running back in the entire Pac-12, so they can both sleep easy knowing they are part of the best one-two punch in the conference.

At this point both of them are serious contenders for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.

It could have been much, much better

Now, look at this as a positive or a negative, but the Bruins had their fair share of concerning mistakes Saturday night.

Before diving into what those were, it is genuinely impressive that UCLA was beating Stanford 38-6 despite a string of pretty frustrating mishaps. That goes to show how much more talented the Bruins were, and how well they executed a very precise gameplan to near-perfection.

Still, it would be naive to overlook what went noticeably wrong.

The box score only gives UCLA two drops, but another five of Thompson-Robinson’s incompletions went off his receivers hands. Thompson-Robinson also missed a wide open Kam Brown breaking free towards the end zone late in the second quarter, which could have been a communication issue but cost the Bruins seven points nonetheless.

The offense was also flagged for four false starts, and just couldn’t seem to get set when trying to run the hurry-up.

A lot went right Saturday, but not everything did. If you can beat a conference foe by 25 points without playing at your best, that’s a pretty good spot to be in, but UCLA will need to continue to clean these up before facing off against USC in a few weeks.

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