Before they opened their 2012 campaign against the San Jose State Spartans, I previewed what looked to be a year of rebuilding for Stanford. Say goodbye to names like Coby Fleener, Michael Thomas, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin. But most importantly, no more Andrew Luck.

No problem. The Cardinal didn’t miss a beat from their dominant 2011 season that ended in a Fiesta Bowl appearance, because now they’re smelling roses after a tough 27-24 victory over the UCLA Bruins last night.

That’s not funny, coach Mora

Perhaps those who thought Jim Mora took it easy in last week’s shelacking were right, because the Bruins certainly looked like a different team in last night’s contest. UCLA made Stanford’s defense look shockingly bad in the first 15 minutes, opening huge holes for Johnathan Franklin to run through, one of which he exploited for a 51-yard touchdown run in UCLA’s first possession. In all, Franklin rushed for 194 yards and two touchdowns, while the Bruins collected 284 yards on the ground total. That’s a pretty significant jump from the 65 yards Franklin rushed for in the regular season finale.

Quarterback Brett Hundley wasn’t too shabby either, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown while completing 23-of-31 passing and converting half of his third down attempts.

So what gives with the sudden turnaround? We’ll probably never know, although the more you consider it, the more tanking (for lack of a better word) last week’s game made sense for the Bruins. Thanks to a controversial Pac-12 playoff system, the Bruins had already clinched the south and were headed to the conference championship, win or lose. A win would have sent them to face the Ducks in Autzen, while a loss would have given them both a scout game on their opponent and a much more comfortable road environment in Palo Alto. If Mora did in fact tank last week, he did a terrible job at hiding it, because the two Cardinal-Bruin battles were a tale of completely different Los Angeles teams.

Stanford’s defensive leaders scream for a rally

You can probably point to one thing in explanation for Stanford’s defensive failures, and that is tackling in open space. It’s the only complaint you’ll ever hear about the Cardinal, and it’s been true of them for longer than just this season. The athleticism of Hundley clearly had the Cardinal nervous, because Shayne Skov was on the sidelines after the quarterback’s first quarter touchdown run urging his players to stop “making up plays.” Chase Thomas was telling them to “play (their) defense.”

Those rally cries must have worked, because the ensuing Bruins drive resulted in an 80-yard Ed Reynolds pick-that-should-have-been-6. It put Stanford in business to tie the game at 14, and the defense held much better after that.

Last night’s porous run defense is definitely cause for some alarm, especially with the prospect of facing a rusher like Wisconsin’s Montee Ball in the Rose Bowl. Still, it may be better to chock that up to an anomaly, as the Cardinal have been one of the best run-stopping teams in the country all season long.

Your championship game MVP: Kevin Hogan

It didn’t take long (try four starts) for Hogan to pull off what Andrew Luck could never do: taking the Cardinal to a Rose Bowl. The redshirt freshman certainly wasn’t sharp early on, having trouble seeing the field and forgoing shots down field to check down.

Still, Hogan found his stride when it mattered, leading Stanford to a field goal drive to take the lead in the final seconds of the first half, and driving them to strike twice with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. The first was a 10-play, 63-yard drive that started in the third quarter and ended in a beautiful 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver (a wideout caught a touchdown pass!) Drew Terrell. That tied the game at 24 and the defense held. The next Stanford drive started with a short field and, aided by a 23-yard Kelsey Young scamper, got deep into UCLA territory quickly. A holding penalty on the Cardinal seemed to pull them out of kicker Jordan Williamson’s comfort zone, but one big completion got them close enough for Williamson to nail the 36-yard field goal. It turned out to be the game winner.

In all, Hogan was 16-of-22 for 155 yards and a score through the air, while he showed off his mobility with 47 more yards and another touchdown on the ground. After taking over midseason for Josh Nunes (parallels with Santa Clara, anyone?), many wondered if this gamble would cost pay off for the Cardinal. Looking back now, the move was genius. After all, hindsight is 20/2o, and in this case it’s pretty rosy too.