STANFORD — The matchup between Stanford and UCLA this Saturday was supposed to be the last major hurdle before the Pac-12’s showdown of the season.
And it still might be — just maybe not the one everybody expected.
Stanford’s collision course with Oregon — set for Nov. 7 on The Farm — took a detour when the Cardinal lost at Utah last week, snapping a 13-game winning streak. Now No. 9 UCLA (5-0, 2-0) can take the conference down another path entirely by handing No. 13 Stanford (5-1, 3-1) a second straight loss.
That would make the Oregon-UCLA game on Oct. 26 in Eugene the Pac-12’s game of the year and it would have all kinds of national championship implications.
“This is what we’ve been working for,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said.
The Bruins first need to find a way to get past a Stanford team that has won five straight in the series and shown an ability to respond after losses.
Stanford has not dropped consecutive games since October 2009, when the Cardinal fell at Oregon State and at Arizona, and they’ve never lost consecutive games under third-year coach David Shaw. Stanford also has won 12 straight at home and 14 in a row against teams from California.
That run includes beating the Bruins twice in a six-day span last season. The Cardinal topped UCLA 35-17 in the regular-season finale in Pasadena before outlasting the Bruins 27-24 in the Pac-12 championship game at Stanford Stadium.
“We know they’re going to come out fired up because of what happened last year,” Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said. “We’re just going to come out and bring it.”
Mora said he doesn’t want his team thinking about payback. Instead, he wants them focused on the opportunity that awaits — a chance to start 6-0 for the first time since 2005.
“We have been waiting for this,” UCLA receiver Jordan Payton said. “Stanford, man, we lost to them twice in one year. We know that, we remember that. This is definitely a big game for us.”
Here are five things to watch when UCLA and Stanford meet Saturday:
GROUND GAMES: The Bruins, led by Johnathan Franklin, ran for 284 yards against the Cardinal in the Pac-12 title game last season. Stanford, led by Stepfan Taylor, had 170 yards rushing against UCLA. Both running backs are in the NFL now, but neither team has lost a step in the ground game. Jordan James has helped UCLA average 223.4 yards, and the Cardinal are racking up 199 yards per game behind starter Tyler Gaffney.
TY TIME: Ty Montgomery has been Stanford’s best scoring threat by far this season. The junior wide receiver has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in each of the last two games and ranks third in the country with an average of 196.5 all-purpose yards per game. He has a team-leading 31 catches — more than twice any other receiver — for 514 yards and five touchdowns.
HUNDLEY’S HEISMAN MOMENT: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has received little attention on the West Coast this season. That could all change with big games the next two weeks. Hundley has thrown for 1,469 yards and 12 touchdowns and run for 260 yards and three touchdowns. “These games are where you leave your legacy, where that Heisman talk will start,” Hundley said. “These are the type of games that everyone will look back on and say, ‘I remember that game.”’
HOGAN’S RESPONSE: As Hogan has gone the past year, so has Stanford’s offense. He won his first 10 starts at quarterback, including the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl last season, until falling at Utah. The redshirt sophomore has been inconsistent of late, throwing an interception in a 31-28 win over Washington and fumbling in the loss at Utah. The Cardinal are counting on Hogan to respond from his first setback.
KICKING GAME: UCLA’s Ka’imi Fairbairn is hoping to redeem himself after missing a tying, 52-yard field goal in the final moments of the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford’s Jordan Williamson is just hoping to play. Williamson missed most of practice this week with an injured leg and is questionable to play. Williamson is 9 for 12 on field goals this season and 25 for 26 on extra points. He kicked the game-winning field goals over UCLA in the title game and in overtime at Oregon last season. Redshirt freshman Conrad Ukropina, from Pasadena, Calif., will start if Williamson can’t play. Ukropina converted an extra point in his only action this season.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP