-- The UCLA Bruins travel to Seattle to take on the Huskies Thursday, with the game being televised nationwide on ESPN at 5:00 p.m. PST. Rece Davis, Craig James and Jesse Palmer will be in the booth.
-- Washington is 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the Pac-10, while UCLA is 4-5 and 2-4.
-- Washington has had a pretty extreme up-and-down season. For instance, they were blown out by Nebraska, came back the next week and beat USC, and then lost to Arizona State the next week. They are now on a three-game blow-out streak, having dropped consecutive games to Arizona (44-14), Stanford (41-0) and Oregon (53-16). Facing UCLA this week, the first unranked opponent Washington has faced since October 9th, must seem like a relief.
-- UCLA leads the all-time series with Washington, 38-29-2, which dates back to 1932. The Bruins have won 11 of the last 13 games, and are 4-2 in the last six games in Seattle.
-- No matter who has won in recent games, many of them featured pretty dramatic second-half action. Last year, UCLA barely held off a Husky comeback to preserve a win, 24-23. In 2007, UCLA won 44-31, in a game that featured 41 combined fourth-quarter points. In 2006, the Huskies in Seattle came from 16-0 down to win, 29-19. In 2005, the Bruins needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win, 21-17. In 2004, Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 322 yards and five touchdowns as the Bruins came back from a 24-7 deficit to win, 37-31. In 2003, 18th-ranked Washington had a 16-7 halftime lead but UCLA came back with a vengeance to win, 46-16 (UCLA's 39 second-half points were the most ever against a Husky team in the second half).
-- Washington is coached by 36-year-old Steve Sarkisian, who is in his second year in Seattle, with a record of 8-13. Last year, his first, he took the Huskies to a 5-7 season and what was viewed as a step forward for the program, after it had gone a combined 18-53 under his two predecessors, Tyrone Willingham and Keith Gilbertson, from 2003 to 2008. Sarkisian, of course, is the former USC offensive coordinator, who went from Trojan quarterback coach to offensive coordinator when then-OC Lane Kiffin left USC. Sarkisian was USC's OC for two seasons before taking his first head coaching job at Washington.
-- Going into the 2010 season, the Washington faithful had heightened expectations, especially with the return of quarterback Jake Locker, and the possibility of building on the promise of Sarkisian's first season. But the current record of 3-6 has drawn criticism of Sarkisian in Seattle, especially after the particularly demoralizing three-game blow-out streak. It doesn't help that Sarkisian made some pretty brash claims that Husky fans remember. When he took over the program, Sarkisian said he didn't think it would take long to turn around the program. Then, at the beginning of this season, he actually said the Huskies would go undefeated at home, and they've already lost three games in Husky Stadium.
-- The last head coach to have a winning record at Washington is Rick Neuheisel, when he went 33-16 from 1999 to 2002.
-- Many Washington fans, though, blame the current demise of the program on Neuheisel. Before Neuheisel arrived, Washington hadn't had a losing season in 22 years, but since his departure they've had six in a row (seven if you count this season).
-- Neuheisel has said this week that it won't be particularly significant to return to Washington to play Thursday, since he had already made his initial return trip with the Bruins in 2008.
-- If you think UCLA is going through the worst era in its football history, it's absolutely certain that the Washington program is experiencing its worst football since the 1950s. While UCLA fans are bemoaning UCLA's most recent record, it doesn't come close to the futility of Washington. In the last 8 years (including 2010 so far), UCLA is 50-46. Mediocre, yes. Washington isn't mediocre but horrendous, going 26-66 during the same stretch. It has recorded seasons of 0-12 (the worst in its history), 1-10 and 2-9 in that time.
-- Washington hasn't played a home football game on a weekday in the post-World-War-II era.
-- It's the final home game for Washington's 17 seniors.
-- Washington has already set a school record for playing the most true freshmen in a season, 14. In fact, the previous record had been 12 in a season, and Washington broke that record in its first game of this season against BYU when it played 13 true freshmen.
-- It's the 90th season to be played in Husky Stadium, which seats 72,500. Because of its design and location, with 70% of the seats located between the end zones and covered by canti-levered metal roofs, it is considered potentially to be the loudest stadium in college football. During a 1992 night game against Nebraska, ESPN recorded the noise level to be at 135 decibels, which was the highest decibel level ever recorded for a college football stadium and well above the threshold of pain. The stadium's last renovation was in 1987, and there are plans on the table for another update to begin in the fall of 2011. The $250 million remodel will be the most expensive renovation of a sports facility in NCAA history.
-- The Huskies will go all-black on Thursday, wearing all black jersey and pants, in an effort to pull off a "black-out." The end zone will be painted black and black t-shirts will be handed out to the Washington student section in an effort to black out the stadium. "We are just trying to do something special for our student body to keep them involved and excited about coming to watch us play," Sarkisian said. "I think our kids (players) are excited about it and it adds a unique feel to a night game."
-- Thursday's weather in Seattle calls for a pretty typical day this time of year – a high of 42 degrees and low of 38 degrees, and showers.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON'S DEFENSE
Washington's defense is not very good. They are ranked 110th in the nation, allowing 440 yards per game, and their rushing defense is 118th, allowing 219 yards per game.
But it's also not nearly as bad as those stats suggest. Washington's defense has gotten that rating playing against some very good offenses, like Oregon (#2), Stanford (#14), USC (#16), Arizona (#19), and Nebraska (#22). Those kind of match-ups will skew your rankings a bit.
The Husky D, though is being called a one-man show, mainly because of the performance this season by senior linebacker Mason Foster (6-2, 242), who is having an All-American type year that probably won't get recognized on that level because UDub is 3-6. Foster leads the conference in tackles by a whopping margin, having 114 while the player with the next most has 80. He's averaging 12. 7 tackles is second in the nation, and accounts for close to 20% of the tackles Washington makes in a game. He is pretty much a heat-seeking missile and big hitter, his specialty being forced fumbles.
|Liinebacker Mason Foster.|
The Washington linebackers, as a unit, are generally having a pretty good year. Junior middle linebacker Cort Dennison (6-1, 236) and senior outside linebacker Victor Aiyewa (6-1, 219) are flying to the ball and making plays themselves.
The primary defensive problem for the Huskies has been their front four. They had considerable troubles last season and those seemed to have carried over to 2010, and it's gotten even worse in recent weeks. Starting defensive tackle Cameron Elisara is out for the rest of the season with a neck injury. True freshman Sione Potoa'e (6-2, 285) has been starting in his place, and it's been a matter of trial-by-fire for him. Senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu (6-3, 330) is trying to hold it together. There's also a freshman defensive end on one side, Hau'oli Jamora (6-3, 238), who has been filling in for injured Talia Crichton. Not only has the unit been poor against the run, it's getting very little pressure on opposing quarterbacks, having the least amount of sacks (17) in the Pac-10.
So, the Washington front four have been beset by injury and now have youth and inexperience playing a good portion of the game, much like UCLA.
With that kind of DL, one that gives an opposing quarterback quite a bit of time to throw, the secondary has struggled itself in pass coverage. Senior safety Nate Williams (6-0, 215) is having a decent year, even though he and sophomore free safety Nate Fellner (6-1, 201) have been blamed for some blown coverages. Starting corners, junior Quinton Richardson (6-0, 200) and sophomore Desmond Trufant (6-0, 177) aren't un-talented, but have been put under a great deal of pressure.
UCLA's offense has shown signs of some balance in the last several games, with a passing game that could be sputtering to life. In fact, in UCLA's last two games, its passing game has out-gained its running game. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean much when both aspects of the offense aren't exactly ripping it up, but it is a sign that UCLA's passing game has been coming out of its shell a bit.
Quarterback Richard Brehaut has done a serviceable job throwing the ball in his last two starts against Arizona and Oregon State, completing 56% of his passes, and more often than not making the throw UCLA needs to move the chains.
He's been helped by his wide receivers, who have collectively strung together a couple of nice games. Randall Carroll and Josh Smith both had big deep catches against Arizona, and then clutch first-down receptions against Oregon State. The word, too, is that Nelson Rosario, the team's leading receiver before he went down with an injury a month ago, is close to 100% this week.
UCLA, though, will undoubtedly try to exploit its running attack, which might have the biggest advantage of any match-up in this game. It's the Pac-10's fourth-leading rushing offense against the conference's worst rushing defense, so you'd have to expect UCLA will dedicate a great deal of effort to getting yardage on the ground. It's the type of situation in which, so far this season, Johnathan Franklin has had a big game, and everything points to it here. On a potentially rainy day and a wet field, his style of running, which features a strong, straight-ahead style on a 5-10 guy who is hard to get a good shot at, should be effective.
Washington's defense will also have another dimension it will have to scheme against, with the development of Brehaut's running ability against Oregon State. Brehaut's success running out of the Pistol was key to the offense's ability to move the ball against the Beavers, and it will give the Huskies one more running element it will have to contend with, for an already overwhelmed Husky rushing defense.
Advantage: UCLA. There are quite a few elements in this match-up that point to UCLA. First and simply, Washington's defense isn't good. But it's not good in a way that falls right into UCLA's wheelhouse, which is against the run. If Washington's defense was particularly vulnerable against the pass, on a potentially rainy day it might offset UCLA's advantage. But on a day where it could be difficult to pass, it's a very good sign that UCLA's offensive strength is running the ball while Washington's defensive weakness is defending the run.
It also is a good set-up for UCLA that, if it does go to the pass, Washington is the worst pass-rushing team in the conference. That definitely helps a UCLA offense whose primary drawback has been protecting the quarterback. Washington's defense, also, isn't the type that forces many turnovers, which is good for UCLA because it does like to give away the ball. UCLA, too, has struggled a bit when it's inside the redzone to get the ball over the goal line, and Washington is the worst in the conference in redzone defense.
On a wet day, and with Washington having no faith in UCLA's passing game, you can expect the Huskies to stack the box against the Bruins to try to take away the running game and UCLA's potential dominance of possession time. It will be key for UCLA that it's able to be effective enough in its passing game, then, to consistently move the chains.
WASHINGTON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
It's not really that big of a mystery, whether quarterback Jake Locker (6-3, 230) will play Thursday, after being out with a cracked rib since November 1st. He's been practicing, and appears to observers to be fine, even though Head Coach Steve Sarkisian is trying to retain as much mystery over Locker's availability as possible.
Even though Locker will almost certainly play, there might be a question as to how effective he will be. He's had Washington's bye week to heal up, but he hasn't taken any contact since the injury, and his mobility could still be an issue. In addition, he'll probably be a little rusty, having missed a week of practice and being away from game-type tackling and speed.
|Receiver Jermaine Kearse.|
When Locker was out, redshirt freshman Keith Price (6-1, 192) from Bellflower St. John Bosco, filled in. Price was 14 for 28 for 127 yards against Oregon November 6th in his first career start. If Price does play, you'd have to think he'll be a bit more comfortable playing at home against UCLA than he was starting for the first time in Eugene against the #1-ranked Ducks. Price is mobile and has an okay arm, and Washington wouldn't ask him to do too much.
The one Washington offensive player that's having an all-conference type of season is junior receiver Jermaine Kearse (6-2, 205). Kearse has 50 receptions on the year, which is pretty amazing, given that Washington's passing offense hasn't exactly been lighting it up. Kearse, in fact, has about 1/3 of all Washington's receptions, and about 40% of its receiving yards. And what's most impressive is that opposing defenses are scheming against him, trying to take him away with double teams and such, but he continues to be effective. His production has trailed off a bit in the last few weeks, however.
Stepping in to pick up some of that slack has been junior Devin Aguilar (6-0, 188). Senior D'Andre Goodwin (5-11, 188) has also benefitted when defenses have shaded Kearse.
Washington's running game has done pretty well, given the circumstances. Sophomore Chris Polk (5-11, 214) is 6th in the Pac-10, averaging 81 yards per game, and he's earned just about every one of those yards. True freshman tailback Jesse Callier (5-10, 205) has shown some talent, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and exhibiting some explosiveness. Both Polk and Callier, too, are Locker's fourth and fifth favorite passing targets, catching a good amount of passes out of the backfield.
Washington's offensive line has had some injuries and been fairly inconsistent. They seem to be back to relative health after the bye week, with senior right tackle Cody Habben (6-6, 290) back in the starting lineup. Left tackle, junior Senio Kelemente (6-4, 289) gets most of the hype among Washington's linemen as the most talented.
The line isn't great, and they've been worse at pass protection than the stats indicate (having only give up 20 sacks in 9 games). They've basically avoided sacks because of Locker's ability to evade the pass rush, but the offensive line doesn't give him a great amount of time to set his feet.
UCLA's defense looks also to be a bit healthier, benefitting from the bye week themselves. It gets back starting cornerback Sheldon Price, and defensive end Keenan Graham will be the healthiest he's been since suffering a foot injury about a month ago.
With some uncertainty over Locker's effectiveness, the primary match-up here will be between Washington's rushing game and UCLA's rushing defense. UCLA did better defending the run against Oregon State, and Washington is probably about as good a running team as the Beavers. It also could be the improving play of UCLA's young defensive line, including true freshman defensive tackle Cassius Marsh, who has continued to improve since he was made a starter a couple of games ago. UCLA also, didn't sub nearly as much in its front four as it did in the beginning of the year, utilizing the starters more, and that seems to have improved the overall play of the unit.
True freshman linebacker Jordan Zumwalt filled in for the injured Patrick Larimore at the Mike spot against OSU, and had a breakout game, leading the team in tackles. Star LB/DE Akeem Ayers was healthier and played better, more like his old self, against Oregon State, and he has to be even healthier after a bye week.
Advantage: Even. If you could tell us that Locker would be 100%, we'd probably give the nod to the Huskies. Even so, Locker hasn't come close to living up to the pre-season hype when he's been healthy this season. Yes, he's been evading pass rushers a lot of the time, but quite often when he's had ample time to throw he's missed his mark. The scouting report on Locker has always been: "Great athlete, runs really well, but still lacks NFL-type passing accuracy and decision-making." And that's proven true this season.
As we've written many times in previews of UCLA football games, a key will be whether UCLA will blitz. Washington doesn't pick up blitzes well, and even though Locker is a threat to break off a big run, the key to stopping Washington's offense is to pressure him – and then contain him. I would suspect, though, given UCLA's much-established conservative approach, that UCLA won't blitz any more than it usually does (which isn't much), and sit back in a bend-and-don't-break, challenging Locker to beat them through the air. You can probably expect UCLA to run a good amount of stunts and zone blitzes to try to confused Washington's offensive line, which does tend to get confused. But it'd be a shock if UCLA sent more than four pass rushers more often than it usually does.
Washington has some of the poorest collection of special teams in the Pac-10. Its kickers aren't bad – punter Kile Rasp, averages 45 yards per punt, and placekicker Erik Foles is 10-of-13 on the season, and has hit two from beyond 50 yards.
But where Washington is particularly poor is in kickoff and punt returns, and kick-off and punt return coverage. The Huskies don't do a good job of blocking or creating holes on their kick return teams, and do a poor job of filling holes on their kick return coverage teams. While Rasp is decent, he's not very good at pooching, so Washington is also dead last in the conference in net yards punting. It has been a thorn in Washington's side all year, with their special teams putting them in a field-position hole throughout every game. It's a pretty good bet that UCLA will win the field position battle as a result of special teams, and if there was ever a match-up where UCLA kick returner Josh Smith could bust one, this could be it.
On one hand you might think this game would be high-scoring, since both defenses aren't great (UCLA is 8th in the conference in scoring defense, giving up an average of 28.6 points per game, and Washington is dead last, averaging 36.2 points per game).
But, on the other hand, UCLA's and Washington's offenses don't score a lot of points (20.8 and 21.1). Also, the weather forecast calls for rain, so that could ground the passing games (and for UCLA's and Washington's passing attacks that doesn't take much).
You could see both teams deciding they'd like to keep their porous defenses off the field, and the best way to do that is to keep their offenses on the field through an effective running game. Time of possession, in this game, will be key.
So, it's probably logical not to expect many points put up on the scoreboard.
In terms of the running games, UCLA has a slight edge, with the slightly better running attack. But Washington probably has the better all-around offense, so it's kind of a push.
Turnovers could be a key, especially given the potentially bad weather. UCLA has the worst turnover margin the conference, and Washington is decent, having gained one more turnover than it's given up.
One of the biggest keys to the game very well could come from special teams. Even it just affects field position, it could have a big impact, especially in what will probably be a ball-control battle.
So much has been made that Locker is the key, and the prospect of him playing has even influenced the betting line (Washington is currently favored by 3), but we don't think he'll have that big of an impact.
The fact that Washington has been blown out three games in a row, which gets them hungry for a win, they play at home against a beatable opponent, and they have a chance for a bowl game this late in the season for the first time in many years should serve as sufficient motivation for the Huskies.
The Huskies, too, have a rep for having heart and playing hard, even when they're getting blown out.
I think UCLA's rush defense will be a bit better than Washington's, and UCLA's offense, particularly its running game, will control possession.
It should be a close game, with two teams that are similar in both talent, youth and inexperience. And given how evenly matched the two teams are, and the recent history in the series, you can probably expect the game to come down to the fourth quarter, with either team able to win in the last few minutes.