By Rick Eymer
It has been a year since Stanford football coach David Shaw has had to prepare his team for a game following a loss. He's approaching it just like he would any other week.
"I've said all along let's play the season and see how it turns out at the end," Shaw said. "If we deserve to be in a bowl game, we'll go wherever they send us."
Junior Kevin Hogan prepares for a game as quarterback after experiencing his first loss as a starter. He's probably following Shaw's example and preparing just like he would any other week.
"He's going to be just fine," Cardinal senior center Khalil Wilkes said. "It might hurt him a little bit inside but he's competitive, and he's ready to step up to the challenge."
Nationally No. 13-ranked Stanford (3-1 in the Pac-12, 5-1 overall) hosts No. 9 UCLA (2-0, 5-0) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and the Cardinal suddenly finds itself looking up at both Oregon State and Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division standings.
Stanford, favored by 5 1/2 points, will have its hands full with the Bruins, who feature one of the top offensive players in the nation in quarterback Brett Hundley and one of the top defensive players in the nation in Anthony Barr.
The Cardinal continues to hang on to hopes of repeating as conference champion, which makes this weekend's game somewhat of a must-win. Second-ranked Oregon is not expected to lose any time soon and it would be prudent to remain within reach.
"Almost every game this year we see something different than what is on film," Shaw said. "We have to adjust to different blitzes, different looks."
Hogan gets most of the attention, though Shaw reaffirmed that it's not always on the quarterback.
"Kevin has not played great the past couple of weeks but he has done great things," Shaw said. "There are always mitigating factors. After this game, in my opinion, he will no longer be a freshman."
That's a reference to the redshirt sophomore Hogan making only his 12th start this weekend. He's been pretty good so far and is facing a little adversity for the first time. Not able to rally the team to a late win last week, he may be under more scrutiny this time around.
Hogan still has Ty Montgomery and Tyler Gaffney, both of whom did their best to lift Stanford during its 27-21 loss to Utah last weekend.
Gaffney rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time, and scored a touchdown in his fifth contest. He did not score in Stanford's win over Washington State, which was the Cardinal's highest- scoring game of the season. Gaffney has 570 rushing yards this season, already a career best.
Montgomery recorded season highs of eight catches for 131 yards, though his only touchdown was a 100-yard kickoff return. He recorded 296 all-purpose yards against the Utes and is the national leader in kickoff returns. He's also third nationally, averaging 196.5 yards a game.
Shaw credits health and his growth as an athlete.
"He knows the offense," Shaw said. "He's still building, still growing, still learning. He will be a superstar."
Montgomery also had career highs in receiving (31), receiving yards (514) and all-purpose yards (1,179). He's 84 yards shy of matching his career high for kick return yardage.
Stanford will need more than offense to get past UCLA. The Bruins rank second in passing efficiency, second in scoring (at 45.8 points a game), second in scoring defense (18.2), second in total offense (547.0) and fourth in total defense (344.8).
"We have to play better on offense and we have to play better on defense," Cardinal cornerback Jordan Richards said. "It's about as simple as that."
Hundley ranks third in passing efficiency, just ahead of Hogan. Hundley has thrown for 1,459 yards and 12 touchdowns, compared to Hogan's 1,178 yards and 12 touchdowns.
"He's been in their system and he's a big, strong kid," Richards said of Hundley. "He's athletic and he can throw the rock."
Gaffney ranks fourth in rushing with 95 yards a game, just ahead of UCLA junior Jordan James, who is currently listed as doubtful. Paul Perkins started in his place in UCLA's 37-10 win over California last weekend.
The Bruins will be looking for their first win over Stanford since 2008. Stanford has won the past five meetings, including twice last year.
UCLA senior outside linebacker Anthony Barr, a second team All-American last year when he ranked second in the nation in sacks, began his career as a fullback with the Bruins. He's been far more successful as a linebacker.
"The kid is unbelievable," Shaw said. "He's as good as he was last season, if not better. He's quick, explosive and powerful. He's the best defensive player I've seen in the conference for the past few years."
Including UCLA, Stanford's next three opponents are a combined 8-0 in conference play, 16-1 overall. In addition, California is the only team left on the schedule who has a losing record.
It would be a good idea for Stanford to get back on the winning track.
NOTES: Placekicker Jordan Williamson reportedly tweaked one of his legs during practice on Wednesday and could be sidelined for the UCLA game. If Williamson sits, redshirt freshman Conrad Ukropina would start. Ukropina has attempted, and converted, only one extra point this season. Williamson is 25 of 26 on PATs and is 9 for 12 on field goals. His 36-yard field goal in last season's Pac-12 Championship game against UCLA lifted Stanford to a 27-24 victory . . . tight end Luke Kaumatule has been moved back to defensive end to help shore up an area plagued by injuries. The defensive line showed weaknesses during last week's loss to Utah, primarily a lack of depth that the 6-foot-7, 267-pound Kaumatule will help strengthen.