A huge portion of the offseason hype about UCLA came from the Bruins’ new pistol offense. Considering that very few major conference FBS teams run the pistol, we’ll start out this week’s preview with an overview of the kind of offensive attack that UCLA will run against Stanford on Saturday in Pasadena. For the most part, the pistol utilizes a mixture of the shotgun and the I-formation before the snap. The quarterback stands several yards behind center, but slightly closer than he would in the shotgun. The running back stands a couple yards behind the quarterback and can get a bit of a running start before taking a hand-off, giving him an advantage over the stand-still positioning used in the shotgun. The quarterback’s position in the pistol also offers him a better opportunity to read the defense than he has in the shotgun, due to his closer proximity to the opposing linebackers and secondary.
According to Wikipedia, 23 college football have used the pistol or a variant thereof. The pistol is most famous at its birthplace, Nevada, where the pistol is the primary offensive set. The system allows offensive playmakers—mostly dual-threat quarterbacks and agile running backs—to make decisions and get into open space. Nevada’s current quarterback, senior Colin Kaepernick, has thrown for over 2,000 yards in each of the last 3 seasons, and he has rushed for over 1,100 yards in both 2009 and 2008.
Unfortunately for UCLA, the team does not have an abundance of Tim Tebow-esque players.
Although it’s never wise to sink too much analysis into a team’s performance in Week 1, UCLA only posted 120 passing yards last week in a loss at Kansas State. The Bruins’ top receiver in the contest, junior tight end Cory Harkey, caught just one ball for 35 yards, and their leading rusher, sophomore Johnathan Franklin, only picked up 60 yards on the ground. If UCLA had merely been trying not to unveil too much of their playbook before conference play, those numbers wouldn’t be a huge concern. But UCLA lost to the Wildcats, and the Bruins’ offense looked problematic (at best) and sometimes bordered on inept (at worst). Kevin Prince, the starting quarterback, completed only 9 of his 26 passes (35%). While we ought to expect improvement from game 1 in a new offensive set to game 2, it does not appear that the blue and gold will put up more than 20 points this weekend. Stanford’s defense looks superior to that of Kansas State, and home field advantage can only aid the Bruins so much.
The other side of the ball presents the gravest concern for UCLA on Saturday: containing the Stanford defense. Kansas State put up 31 points on UCLA and ran for 313 rushing yards. Given UCLA’s apparently porous run defense, the Card should have an opportunity to continue testing the stable of halfbacks and see which one will get the most carries later in the season. Look for the Stanford halfbacks’ perpetually fresh legs to tire out the UCLA defensive line and linebackers, and break out for big gains in the second half.
Although Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman never really tested the UCLA secondary, he completed 69% of his passes and threw a touchdown. If a player who had only thrown 3 passing touchdowns in his career prior to this season could play with that kind of efficiency in week 1, Andrew Luck should have a hay day. We predict that he will throw for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Card will tack on 2 more through the run game and get another 6 points from kicker Nate Whitaker. UCLA should score roughly the same number of points that they did against Kansas State last week, but we’ll give them a few more because Saturday marks their home opener and the adrenaline should be flowing. That won’t mean an upset, though.
Verdict: Stanford beats UCLA, 41-26