Behind a four-game winning streak and the exemplary play of senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, the No. 15 Stanford Cardinal (4-1, 3-0) are favored by a touchdown over No. 18-ranked UCLA Bruins (4-1, 1-1) before Thursday night’s crucial conference showdown at Stanford Stadium.
The Cardinal have won seven straight over the Bruins, and Hogan has been under center the last four meetings to fire off five touchdowns to one interception. He’s also completed no less than 68 percent of his passes for 776 yards and another 138 rushing yards and a touchdown.
And unfortunately for a Bruins defense that ranks fifth in the conference with 22 points allowed per game, Hogan looks even stronger this season. Connecting on 71.2 percent of his passes and second in the Pac-12 with a 169.8 efficiency rating, Hogan’s rifled nine touchdown passes to two picks for 1,155 yards and he’s gathered steam against the rest of the conference in the last three weeks.
Stanford joins No. 4 Utah as the only Pac-12 teams without a conference loss. David Shaw's squad is coming off a 55-17 blasting of Arizona at home behind strong play from his two best offensive weapons. Hogan completed two touchdown passes and let rising sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey hit the frontline for 156 yards and another score.
The performance lifted McCaffrey to third in the Pac-12 in rushing with 601 total yards, and he’s averaging better than 120 per game.
The Cardinal unleashed 314 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Wildcats, a fact that won’t be lost on a UCLA defense allowing opponents to gain 197 rushing yards at 4.4 yards per carry, the fourth-worst ground defense in the Pac-12.
But Jim Mora should have the Bruins motivated just two weeks removed from a loss 38-23 loss to Arizona State that bumped them out of the nation’s top 10.
Blanked in the first and third quarters and unable to generate any sort of ground attack, UCLA and true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen sputtered to 342 total offensive yards and failed on 11 of its 14 third-down attempts.
Suffering the first loss of his young college career, Rosen threw his fifth pick of the season and fourth in the last three games while completing 22 of his 40 attempts for 280 yards and two scores. Despite the troubles, he’s still fifth in the Pac-12 with 248.6 yards per game and armed with talented leading receivers Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte.
Duarte scored his team-best third and fourth touchdowns of the year against Arizona State, and he and Payton are ripping off better than 15 yards per reception.
But both quarterbacks will have to shake off two of the conference’s best secondarys. UCLA’s second in the Pac-12 with 185.2 yards allowed through air and holding opposing passers to a 53.1 percent completion rate.
The Cardinal are barely behind at No. 3 with 198 passing yards surrendered per contest, third in the Pac-12, and only six passing touchdowns scored by opponents this season.
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online: Watch ESPN
Betting Odds: Stanford -7
Over/under: 54.5 points