After a disappointing loss at Utah, some questioned whether the Cardinal would go into the tank or rebound against unbeaten UCLA on Saturday.
Turns out, the Stanford players were a lot more resilient than people thought.
Not only did the 13th-ranked Cardinal beat the ninth-ranked Bruins, 24-10, it dominated, much to the delight of the loud and appreciative homecoming crowd at sun-baked Stanford Stadium.
“We’re going to fight in every game,” junior quarterback Kevin Hogan said. “Last week was tough, but we know how to respond. We had a great week of practice. We knew we couldn’t hang our heads because we had a great team coming in. We just fought today.”
Added junior wide receiver Jordan Pratt, who made his second-career catch in the game, “I looked at just about every one of my teammates in the eyes this week, and the only thing I could see was focus and readiness for preparation. I got a million questions from friends and family that were like, ‘Oh, it must be so hard and everybody is so discouraged.’ And I responded, ‘No, you don’t know these guys. These are ready to respond.’
“By the time we got back and watched film together on Monday, all we could think about was playing this game this week and being 1-0. That’s just impressive to see. We have great leadership.”
Fifth-year center Khalil Wilkes said the team had its best practices of the week.
“We had a chip on our shoulder losing to Utah and we’re going to need that each week,” he said. “No letdowns. Oregon State is a great team and then we’ve got Oregon, USC, Cal and Notre Dame. Each game is going to be a fight.”
Added junior nickelback and special teams ace Ronnie Harris, “It was a hard week. We practiced hard, we played fast. This team has a mindset that when we lost that game, the game was over with and it was on to UCLA. We brought that mentality out here. It’s a group of guys I would fight anywhere with.”
Kevin Danser, a fifth-year senior offensive tackle from Saratoga, said the team went back to basics and came out focused and determined Saturday.
“We had a real chip on our shoulder after last week,” Danser said. “We know we’re a lot better team than we showed on the field last Saturday. We knew if we just keep it to our fundamentals, do what we always do, play Stanford football, we’re going to be in every game and win every game. A lot of people wanted to write us off and say we aren’t the same team, but when it comes down to it, I’m going to take every one of these guys in the locker room – every one of my brothers in here – and we’re going to beat every team. It doesn’t matter who. We’ll take on anybody in the country.”
The Stanford running game piled up 192 yards, with Tyler Gaffney supplying 171 on 36 carries. The fifth-year senior workhorse never lost a yard and scored two touchdowns, eclipsing 100 yards for the fourth time this season. So what’s in like to block for him?
“Gaff did a great job running the ball – he runs hard,” said Wilkes. “We just know as an offensive line, if we make some holes, our running backs will make things happen.”
“That guy runs so hard,” he said. “You’ve got to love blocking for a guy like that, because you know if you block him for four (yards), he’s going to give you eight or nine every time he touches the ball.”
Sophomore Conrad Ukropina from Pasadena, Calif. handled all the placekicking duties for the first time in place of injured Jordan Williamson, who pulled a muscle during the week in practice and is questionable for next week’s game at Oregon State.
Ukropina didn’t play last year, but had a solid high school career in 2011, with 45 of 50 kickoff going for touchbacks and made 101-straight extra points.
“It was definitely a ride this week, but I expected nothing less,” he said. “Honestly, today I think I was more calm than when I’m not playing. Jordan really helped me this whole week with mental preparation. If I ever had any questions like, ‘Hey, when you’re warming up, what do you think about?’ Or, ‘Hey, what do you do here?’ He was really, really great and kind of my mentor this week, which made it smooth. And honestly, while warming up, I felt great. I was perfect in pre-game and made all my field goals.”
Ukropina kicked his first collegiate field goal from 31-yards in the first quarter and missed from 46 yards in the fourth quarter. He made all three extra points and most of his kickoffs were strong.
Ukropina found out Friday he would be the starting kicker.
“I did a little more visualization than when I’m not kicking,” Ukropina said. “I slept well. Over the summer, every week we do crusher field goals, and if we make the kick, there’s less running for everybody the next day. That’s obviously a big incentive. Everyone was really building me up. It was awesome.”
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Not to be overlooked was the punting of Ben Rhyne, who is quietly turning in a solid season. He averaged 43 yards on six punts, with a long of 54. Coming into the game, he averaged 41.5 yards on 20 attempts.
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Harris, a junior from Atlanta, continued his fine special teams play by making three unassisted tackles on the punt coverage team. His first play resulted in a minus 5-yard return, and the next two were limited to 1 yards.
“For me, the punt always starts with hang time and location, and Ben Rhyne did a great job this week,” he said. “That’s what we were working on all week in practice. We got enough hang out there and I was able to just work some of my gunner techniques that the coaches have been working on with me and I was able to make some plays.”
Many resulted in poor field position for UCLA.
“You want to go there and help your teammates any way you can,” said Harris. “We want them to have a long field. We play with passion every time we’re out there. You don’t count the plays, you make the plays count.”
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Hogan was still marveling at the one-handed 30-yard touchdown catch made by sophomore wide receiver Kodi Whitfield, whose father Bob was a standout offensive tackle at Stanford.
“I had a great protection and we had the right look,” said Hogan. “He just made an unbelievable play. There’s nothing I can say other than that. I just tried to give him a chance and put it where he could go for it. He did the rest.”
Senior outside linebacker Trent Murphy was his usual disruptive self, collecting two sacks and two tackles for loss. However, chasing around UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley all afternoon was a challenge.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Murphy said. “He holds that offense together. He can move and make you miss; he’s probably one of the shiftiest quarterbacks we’ve played. We just have to keep our heads up, run our feet, gang tackle and keep getting after him on every play. I missed a couple tackles where I felt like I had him in my hands. We’re just kind of going with our defensive mentality, which is keep chopping wood every play. You can’t get discouraged. The biggest thing is putting pressure on him every play.”
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Results from upcoming opponents: Oregon State defeated Cal, 49-17; Oregon defeated Washington State, 62-38; Notre Dame defeated USC 14-10.
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Stanford moved up five spots from 13th to eighth in the latest Associated Press poll released Sunday … The Cardinal extended its streak of forcing at least one turnover to 32-consecutive games when strong safety Jordan Richards intercepted a Hundley pass in the third quarter. It is the second-longest streak in the nation behind Missouri (37) … In addition to making a team-high 10 tackles, Richards intercepted two passes … Former starting tight end Luke Kaumatule, who was moved to defensive end this week to add depth and energy, saw limited action but did not make a tackle … Stanford dominated in time of possession: 37:11 to 22:49. The Cardinal also converted 9 of 17 times on third down while limiting UCLA to 5 of 15 … Scouts from eight NFL teams were in attendance … Former Cardinal offensive lineman Chris Dalman served as team honorary captain … The game marked the 50th anniversary of the Stanford Band. Former members, Dollies and Trees joined in the pre and halftime celebration.
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