Preview: UCLA's O v. Washington's D

It's a pretty exciting match-up, between a good defense and a question-mark of an offense. The biggest question marks: How will Brett Hundley perform and how will UCLA use Myles Jack on offense?

Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox came into Washington last year and got the unit under control after many years of some spotty defensive play. The Husky defense in 2013 has been pretty much holding a similar standard this season, with a solid result against both the pass and the run, with perhaps a bit more vulnerability against the run.

Pretty much, in terms of results, the Washington defense is very similar to UCLA's defense. Washington is allowing 21.8 points per game, UCLA 22.9. The Huskies allow 171.7 yards per game rushing, UCLA 175.6. Through the air, Washington's defense is giving up 209.7 yards per game and UCLA 213.8.

In fact, even though Washington utilizes a base 4-3, in application it's very similar to UCLA's 3-4.

Up front, the Huskies are pretty strong, and are built mostly for speed. It does start, however, with junior nose tackle Danny Shelton (6-1, 327), who is having a season that gets him in the all-Pac-12 discussion. He's pretty tough to move and often times elicits double teams. Next to him is junior Evan Hudson (6-5, 277), a big guy who moves very well for his size and can run down ballcarriers. These two are workhorses and don't get subbed much. On the outside, the third lineman with his hand down most of the time is junior defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha (6-3, 250), Kikaha looks like a linebacker and plays like one, being very good off the edge, leading the team in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (6, which has him tied with Anthony Barr). On the other side is sophomore Cory Littleton (6-3, 230), who is a stand-up defensive end used similarly to UCLA's Barr – mostly rushing the quarterback but sometimes dropping into coverage. Littleton is second on the team in both categories, with 7.6 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Junior Josh Shirley (6-3, 232) gives Littleton a breather and there is really no drop-off.

Linebacker Shaq Thompson.
Even though Washington conventionally uses three linebackers, the personnel gives it some flexibility, mostly because sophomore Shaq Thompson (6-2, 224) has the athleticism to play like a safety/nickel. Quite often he‘s outside of the box lined up on the slot. The other outside linebacker is Princeton Fuimaono (6-1, 217), who has been the surprise of the season, winning a starting spot in August and now leading the team in tackles (62) on the season. He knocked out projected starter, the bigger sophomore Travis Feeney (6-4, 224), with just his reliability and steadiness. He kind of epitomizes Washington's defense – a bit undersized but quick. Junior middle linebacker John Timu (6-1, 235) is very active from sideline to sideline.

Washington's secondary was the biggest question coming into 2013, having lost two starters, but, similarly to UCLA's secondary, it's stepped up and played generally well for the season. The strength is with the two veterans, senior safety Sean Parker (5-10, 195) and sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters (5-11, 193). Parker might get some post-season consideration with his four interceptions on the season, high for the team. Peters is easily the best cover guy, and had a big play last week when he scooped up a fumble and scampered 53 yards for a touchdown. Senior safety Tre Watson (5-9, 186) also got on the scoreboard with a pick six last week against the Buffaloes. He is listed as the back-up to Will Shamburger (6-0, 192), who was an uncertainty coming into the season but the fifth-year senior won the starting job midway through the season with solid tackling – and some big plays, like a forced fumble against Arizona, which led to the Huskies' winning drive. The other starting corner is senior Gregory Ducre (5-10, 178), who is billed as the fastest player on the squad but has shown vulnerability in coverage.

UCLA's offense is a bit of an enigma. It looked dominating at the beginning of the season, then some injuries and the faltering of Brett Hundley, and some subsequent conservative playcalling, have made it a complete unknown at this point. It struggled mightily against Stanford and Oregon, under-performed against Colorado, even though Hundley looked better, and then did enough to win in a tough situation on the road against Arizona.

Given all that, it's very difficult to know how it's going to look week to week at this point.

The elephant in the room, too, is Myles Jack, the linebacker who last week as a tailback against Arizona had one of the most stunning performances in college football this year. What do you do with Mr. Jack? Do you get him more involved in the offense? That could take away from his contributions on defense, which are much needed, given that the status of linebacker Eric Kendricks is unclear. Do you use him just in the same heavy formation from last week against Arizona, or do you incorporate him into the base offense? Is that possible? Is there enough time in practice to prepare him? Or do you just use the heavy formation more extensively, and perhaps expand its play repertoire?

Myles Jack.
It truly is the biggest question of the week, not only for the UCLA O/Washington D match-up, but for the entire game. UCLA's offense certainly benefitted from the boost Jack provided last week, and with its uncertainty, could use another boost this week against the Huskies.

You'd have to think that UCLA is going to try to surprise Washington in how it uses Jack. Washington will prepare for the heavy formation, so UCLA will have to do something a bit different – either in the Jack formation or not, to try to keep Washington guessing.

Could it be, too, for UCLA, that Jack is the answer to UCLA's offensive woes? The offense started sputtering when it lost Jordon James (and two starting OLs,), and subsequently the running game. It stands to reason that if Jack can make UCLA's running game viable, it then opens up the offense, takes the pressure off Hundley and the Bruins could go back to being the offense it was in the second half of Nebraska.

Jack could be that kind of talent at running back. He, of course, isn't going to have the same kind of spectacular results he did last week against Arizona all the time. And you have to concede that he might not be as fantastic as he appeared in those five carries. But it's very simply something that has to be investigated. What if Jack is, in fact, the answer?

We think UCLA has to find out.

We don't expect UCLA to get back either Simon Goines or Conor McDermott this week, so it will go with the same OL it has the past three weeks, one consisting of three true freshmen, Alex Redmond, Caleb Benenoch and Scott Quessenberry. They generally, for true freshmen, have played well, but had a few faltering moments last week.

The key, of course, is Hundley. If he's going to keep opposing defenses from stacking the box, he has to be more effective throwing the ball, especially down the field. When a downfield pass play is called it also opens up the field for Hundley to scramble, which is easily the most potent aspect of his game. The question is whether Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone feels confident enough in Hundley and his young offensive line to do that.

Senior receiver Shaquelle Evans had some markedly good receptions last week, even though he dropped a big third-down conversion. What's strange is how the budding star, Devin Fuller, disappeared last week, his number seemingly not called much, if at all. Keeping Fuller, who has become UCLA's best receiver weapon, involved in the offense is vital.

Advantage: Even. Neither of these are elite units at this point in time. So, when it's this close, you tend to give it to the unit with the homefield advantage.

Something to note: Washington allowed just 24 combined points in the past two games against bad offenses, after surrendering 53, 45 and 31 in the previous three contests to Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford, respectively.

In their two Pac-12 games on the road, against ASU and Stanford, both losses, Washington gave up an average of 246 yards on the ground. If UCLA gets close to that, the Bruins win.

It really is interesting how similar in many aspects Washington's defense is to UCLA's defense. Along with the personnel, the scheme, etc., there is, similarly, some question about whether the playcalls are aggressive enough. Washington, like UCLA, tends to rely quite a bit on its base pass rush. The Huskies, though, generally have blitzed more, and you'd think they'll have some blitz packages installed to try to rattle Hundley. The match-up of the two good rush ends for Washington against UCLA's tackles, particularly the freshman Benenoch, is one to watch.

The strategy against UCLA now is to stack the box, blitz some, and make Hundley beat you and keep him in front of you, and we'd expect Washington to follow the blueprint.

Again, it will come down to Hundley.

It could, also, come down to whether UCLA can utilize Jack to jumpstart its running game. We think UCLA will be forced to use Jack more, merely because there just aren't many other options.

If Jack does show some of the talent and productiveness he did last week against Arizona, it could give UCLA the edge. The prospect of that, and the mystery, makes this game particularly exciting. What will UCLA do with Jack? Will he get extensive time in their base offense or in just the heavy formation?

If he actually is as good as he looked, could it be that Jack is the real savior of UCLA football, at least for the 2013 season?


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