UCLA football was firmly on the radar of Stanford quarterbacks/receivers coach Mike Sanford during Sanford's youth. Sanford's father, Mike Sanford, Sr., was the wide receivers coach at USC from 1989-1996. The Bruins weren't viewed favorably in the Sanford household in those years.
"The two places that I grew up essentially not liking as a coach's kid were UCLA and Notre Dame," Sanford, Jr. said. "And those were the two schools that you always amped up for. I remember there was just a little something different about both of those game weeks at USC when I was a coach's kid… This is a fun week. Especially when they are where they are right now as a program, one of the top teams in the country, it makes for an extra special week."
Sanford will guide Stanford's passing game against a Bruin secondary that's young - only one of the Bruins' starting defensive backs is an upperclassmen - but also productive. The Bruins intercepted six passes in a win over Utah two weeks back and are limiting opposing offenses to 5.7 yards per pass attempt.
"They're athletic," Sanford said of UCLA's secondary. "I think they've done a really good job in recruiting obviously. The other thing that's impressive about what they've been able to do is getting guys ready to play early. It's a little bit different from our standpoint because we have a lot of veterans that we really trust that have made a lot of plays for us in huge games. We're playing some young guys but not nearly as many. They've done a good job of getting guys up to speed and mentally where they need to be to make plays."
UCLA's secondary has been getting plenty of help from the Bruins' front-seven. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr, a likely first round NFL Draft pick, is an imposing force with which opposing offenses must contend.
"You're always going to account for a player that good," Sanford said. "The game of football is all about matchups and from a schematic standpoint we're going to have some things that we have to do to offset that, which is going to happen if there is a great nose tackle, a great inside linebacker like Kiko Alonso last year, there were some things that we had to account for."
Rector's Role: Redshirt freshman receiver Michael Rector has cemented his status as one of the top deep receiving threats on Stanford's roster. He's averaging 39.5 yards per reception and has scored two touchdowns. However, the Washington native has been targeted sparingly in the short and intermediate passing game.
"The thing that's neat with him is that he's becoming a receiver that you talk about high percentage throws, the deep ball is becoming a high percentage throw when we're throwing it to No. 3," Sanford said. "That's been a positive development for our offense. He runs outstanding routes. Just like at the running back position, really the problem isn't him at all, it's just that there are some other guys that are playing really well. That position right now, they're blocking really well, they're catching the ball. It's been a positive development. But there's still a lot that everybody can get better at when you look at the minute details."
Another position switch: While Luke Kaumatule's move from tight end to defensive end garnered more attention, he's not the only Cardinal player who switched positions. In its continuing search for defensive line depth, Stanford also moved Blake Lueders to defensive end, though Lueders could slide back to outside linebacker if necessary.
"Who knows what it's going to be like in the future but he's gone in and done really well," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He figured it out. He understands what to do and how to do it and has done well, so (the move) may be permanent (or it) may not be permanent. I'm not sure. But he's done well and hopefully he continues to do so."
The two position changes have created additional competition along the defensive line.
"Nobody gets to relax," Shaw said. "If you don't perform then you're not going to have a chance to play. That's all that's done. With Blake coming in, Blake's another high effort tough kid. Luke, high effort, tough kid. Nobody gets to coast through practice. Every rep you get you're going to go all out. Because we're looking to see whoever practices the best is going to play."
Injury updates: Stanford safety/special teams contributor Zach Hoffpauir will join Henry Anderson and Ikenna Nwafor as players expected to miss Saturday's game.
"Zach Hoffpauir will not play this week," Shaw said. "He hurt his foot. We didn't think it was going to be that bad but it may be a week or two. We'll see. It won't be the season. He's done a great job on special teams and has played some at safety also so hopefully we'll get him back soon."
Jordan Williamson is still considered questionable with a tweaked muscle in his leg. If Williamson is unable to play, Conrad Ukropina will handle placekicking duties; Ukropina and punter Ben Rhyne could share kickoff responsibilities.
"We could use both guys to kickoff," Shaw said. "Ben Rhyne has done a great job on kickoffs in the past. He's been practicing them really well. (I'm) not sure who's going to get the first one. (We) might see both of them."
Stanford nose tackle David Parry, who's been plagued by a nagging abdominal issue, is expected to play.