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UCLA FOOTBALL

UCLA and Stanford battle for ... Pac-10 leadership?

They haven't finished one-two in the conference since 1953, but both the Bruins and Cardinal are off to strong starts as they enter Saturday's game.

October 03, 2009|Chris Foster

There is a huge confrontation in the Bay Area today, and it's on early enough so USC and California players can watch it. UCLA and Stanford are playing with first place in the Pacific 10 Conference on the line. Somewhere Red Sanders and Pop Warner are surely monitoring. Times staff writer Chris Foster looks at some of the game's key issues and matchups:

The Big Game

Though a couple of ranked teams meet nearby in a game that is likely to eliminate one from conference championship contention, UCLA and Stanford, who are among the unranked and unwashed of the Pac-10 football masses, are trying to change the landscape.

Stanford, which has 10 victories in the last three seasons, comes in atop the conference standings with a 2-0 league record, 3-1 overall. UCLA, 3-0 and playing its conference opener, is the circuit's only undefeated team. The Bruins can match their win total from last season with a victory.

The last time these programs finished one-two in the conference was 1953. UCLA was first and Stanford second in a race that even Ike had to like. For another reference point, Idaho was a conference member at the time.

Still, old habits die hard. Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh was asked this week what it was going to take to break USC's hold on the conference.

Harbaugh patiently replied, "We're mainly concerned with U-C-L-A."

Luck or Craft-iness?

Stanford's Andrew Luck had to throw only 14 passes in a 34-14 victory against Washington last week.

UCLA's Kevin Craft performed adequately in a 23-9 victory against Kansas State two weeks ago.

They are quarterbacks on different career paths.

Luck, a redshirt freshman, hails from Houston and comes with Texas-sized expectations. He has yet to have a breakout performance.

Craft, a senior nearing the end of his career, inspires Rhode Island-sized hopes.

He is trying to expunge the memory of 20 interceptions last season among a few breakdown performances.

Road worrier

Craft threw 10 interceptions in his last three road games, five of which were returned for touchdowns.

On the run

The Bruins are well aware that they are facing Cardinal battering-ram running back Toby Gerhart, the nation's third-leading rusher.

Stanford has the nation's 11th-best rushing offense. UCLA has the nation's ninth-best rushing defense.

Gentlemen, I want to see a clean fight, no biting, head butts or rabbit punches. Now go to your huddles and come out swinging.

The rundown

The Cardinal defense will get a ground test as well, as UCLA's Rick Neuheisel "run the ball or die trying" mantra lives.

UCLA tailback Johnathan Franklin rushed for 119 yards against Kansas State. He will try to become the first UCLA running back with back-to-back 100-yard games since Chris Markey in September 2006.

Stanford gave up 251 rushing yards to Wake Forest, and that's worth noting because outside of that game Wake Forest is averaging 133 yards rushing yards a game -- one yard less than the Bruins' average.

Sure bet

A year ago, Stanford was close to a game-clinching touchdown against the Bruins, but faced a fourth-and-one situation at the UCLA 11-yard line.

Gerhart had already run for 138 yards in the game. The Bruins defense was tired. This was an easy call . . .

Except Harbaugh chose to kick a field goal for a 20-16 lead with two minutes left.

Craft then led UCLA on an 87-yard touchdown drive to win the game.

"The key to those decisions is not looking back," Harbaugh said this week.

UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner looked back, and ahead, saying, "I was surprised, especially when you have a big back like that and can pound it. Faced with the same situation this year, I bet they change their minds and go for it."

Go with Verner on this. He is a mathematics/applied science major.

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chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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