UCLA-Stanford features this week's WR/CB showdown
After suffering their first loss of the season to Arizona State, UCLA had a bye last week to see what went wrong. This week the Bruins look to hand the Stanford Cardinal their first conference loss. Thursday night features a premier matchup between wide receiver Jordan Payton of UCLA, and cornerback Ronnie Harris of Stanford. Who will prevail in Palo Alto?
Jordan Payton is a 6-1, 205-pound senior who earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2014 after leading the Bruins in all three of the major receiving categories (67 catches for 954 yards receiving and seven touchdowns). He doesn’t have any world-class traits, but his above-average speed, hands, and route-running are a blessing for freshman QB Josh Rosen. After being the go-to target for QB Brett Hundley a year ago, Payton has assumed the same role this season and is the security blanket for Rosen. He’s done the most damage 20+ yards downfield on the right sideline. He’s racked up 117 yards and a touchdown in this area. Payton is our 12th-ranked wide receiver (+7.6) and can stretch the field of play underneath equally well.
Harris, a 5-10, 173-pound redshirt senior is a team captain and the most experienced member of the Cardinal secondary. While he is a small cornerback, he is tough in coverage and against the run (+1.2 run defense grade). Like Payton, Harris doesn’t have any jaw-dropping attributes, but he has no obvious weaknesses either. He can run with anyone and is strong for his size, allowing him to carry receivers through traffic when needed. He is our 14th-ranked cornerback (+8.6) and despite having no interceptions, has great coverage numbers including six passes defensed this season.
Payton wins if…
He forces Harris to play through him. By using his larger frame, Payton can shield Harris from throwing lanes by running smart, well-timed routes. Both players are experienced and have evenly matched skills. Payton’s size is his biggest advantage, and he needs to work back to the ball on short and intermediate routes to prevent Harris from using his quickness to jump in at the last second.
Harris wins if…
He is aggressive on short routes and patient on longer, downfield throws. Payton can box him out and pick up first downs if he stays back on the quick passes. Conversely, if Harris maintains positioning on longer fade routes by not biting on head fakes and “getting stacked” (this is when a wide receiver runs by a cornerback and stays ahead of the cornerback in a straight line, forcing the cornerback to run through him to get the ball), he’ll limit where Payton has been the most dangerous.
Prediction: Payton over Harris
Payton has an excellent QB who knows his strengths and how to feed him the ball. He’ll receive the most targets and will pick up a handful of first downs as well as a touchdown. Harris is a tough cornerback, but he won’t hold up to Payton’s size and strength, which will play a major role in this bout