By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck spent last weekend on the couch, watching a lot of college football. Cardinal linebacker Max Bergen said he didn't take much time off at all.
From an offensive standpoint it would seem logical that Luck be able to spend some down time. After all, he's the Heisman Trophy candidate, Stanford's offense is among the best in the Pac-12 Conference and its defense is the best in the conference heading into Saturday's home game with UCLA.
Defensively, Bergen sees a lot about the Bruins that is worrisome, especially their running attack behind the one-two punch of Jonathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman. UCLA ranks second in the conference with 214 rushing yards a game.
"We pride ourselves on our run defense and we've been waiting for a game like this to show what we can do as a run defense," Bergen said. "We're going to have two get after them pretty hard."
Luck's beard, which has made a comeback over the bye week, is the only sign of his so-called 'bum' weekend. There's a better-than-even chance he was doing more than watching football on television. If there's something football in front of him, he's busy analyzing.
Luck paid more attention to UCLA's victory over Oregon State last weekend than a casual fan. When the sixth-ranked Cardinal (1-0, 3-0) steadies itself for Saturday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff against the Bruins (1-0, 2-2), you can be sure Luck is prepared for whatever he saw on television.
"We shouldn't miss a beat," he said. "All the guys are geared up to play UCLA. There should be no letdown. It's always a great rivalry between the schools."
It is a fact that UCLA and Stanford are No. 1 and in NCAA team championships won. They are the only schools in the nation with more than 100 NCAA titles.
The football rivalry dates to 1925 and the Cardinal will be looking to win its third straight in the series since winning the first five games between 1925-31. The Bruins are in control of the series, 45-33-3.
"We have a lot of guys on our team from Southern California and its always fun for them to play UCLA," Luck said. "It is a historic rivalry and they are a better team than their record indicates."
The Bruins have lost at Houston and against Texas and they are looking for the kind of signature win that could propel them forward. Stanford fits the bill.
"If you let them run the ball they way they want to you are in a for a long day," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "And they've played well at Stanford."
UCLA's pistol offense is designed for misdirection, sleight of hand and using the backfield to its fullest capabilities. Quarterback Richard Brehaut is a key component of the offense as he is also a running threat and averages about 35 yards a game. He threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the victory over the Beavers.
"We look at this as a great opportunity," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Last year they embarrassed us and we have to answer that. They have a great defense and much heralded for a reason. We have to play a great offensive game. We want our chance."
The Bruins are also aware of Stanford's rushing attack, ranked third in the Pac-12, and of Luck's ability to create things out of broken plays.
"I thought we covered them well," Neuheisel said. "Andrew Luck made plays with his legs. Out of the pocket he must have scrambled to keep two or three drives alive. We have to corral him and that's a tall order."
Luck said the offense wanted to be critical of itself and identify areas of concern during the bye week.
"As a quarterback group we worked on footwork and getting our timing down on some of our throws," he said.
Bergen said without leading tackler Shayne Skov, others will have to pick up the slack.
"We're looking forward to the challenge," said Bergen, who is second on the team in tackle going into Saturday's contest. "A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster have stepped it up. We just have to trust each other and we have to be disciplined."
Stanford looked at ways to help the defense without one of its key clogs. Chase Thomas should have more of an impact, even though he's third in the Pac-12 with 3 1/2 sacks and fourth with five tackles for a loss. Defensive end Ben Gardner leads the conference with 5 1/2 tackles for a loss.
"Especially with Shayne out we have to make sure guys are in the right spot," Shaw said. "We worked on our blitzes and drops. We spent a lot of time correcting the things we haven't done well and experimenting on some other things."
Alex Debniak and James Vaughters will also have an impact at linebacker. They have been part of the rotation all year.
Stepfan Taylor, currently on pace to gain 1,156 rushing yards, is a big reason why Stanford ranks third in rushing offense in the conference. Of course, the offensive line with returners Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro, also has been helpful.
"We started out a little sloppy but we've improved every game," said Martin, who originally committed to UCLA. "This will be a physical game."