• UCLA will host the Washington Huskies at the Rose Bowl on Friday at 6:01 p.m. PST. The game will be telecast by ESPN2, with commentators Carter Blackburn, Danny Kanell and Allison Williams calling the action.
• UCLA is 7-2 (4-2 in the Pac-12) and ranked 13th in the country.
• Washington is 6-3 (3-3 in the Pac-12) and is currently unranked.
• UCLA leads the all-time series 38-30-2. The two teams haven't met since UCLA plays in Seattle in 2010, when the Huskies won 24-7.
• UCLA has won the last seven meetings between the two at the Rose Bowl. The last time Washington won at the Rose Bowl was 1995, when current UCLA linebacker Myles Jack was two months old.
• UCLA running backs have set two of their most impressive records against Washington. In 2001, Deshaun Foster rushed for 301 yards against the Huskies, which set a then-UCLA record. In 2004, Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 322 against the Huskies, which broke the record and still stands.
• This week, UCLA has several injured or dinged up running backs, including Jordon James, Damien Thigpen, and Steven Manfro, but unveiled a formation last week that put linebacker Myles Jack in at running back. Jack exploded for 120 yards on six carries, and it's an open question how much time he'll see in the offensive backfield on Saturday.
• Jack is from Bellevue, Washington, which is just a short distance away from Seattle. Washington was one of the main schools recruiting him, aside from UCLA.
• Washington is led by head coach Steve Sarkisian, in his fifth year in Seattle, with a record at Washington of 32-28. Sarkisian, who took over a program that had gone 0-12 in 2008, immediately pushed the Huskies back to some sort of respectability, earning a 5-7 record in his first year. Since then, though, Sarkisian's Huskies' teams have been mired in a familiar place for UCLA fans, consistently churning out 7-6 records in each of the last three years. This year, with high hopes to being the year, Washington lost three straight, to Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State, which knocked them out of the Top 25. There is speculation that Sarkisian, who as recently as a month ago was talked about as a potential candidate for the USC job, could find himself on the hotseat if Washington is unable to finish strong.
• Washington is eliminated in the Pac-12 North at this point, having lost to both Stanford and Oregon, who are the two current leaders in the North. Even if Washington were to win out, Stanford holds the tiebreaker, and only has two conference games remaining.
• UCLA, on the other hand, still controls its own destiny in the South. If the Bruins win out, they'll be the South champions for the third year in a row. If UCLA does lose to Washington, though, the road gets a little muddier, with the Bruins needing Arizona State to lose at least one more game to either Arizona or Oregon State.
• After beating Colorado last week, Washington made itself bowl eligible, but the Huskies may still have some work to do. Currently, eight teams are bowl eligible from the Pac-12, and depending how many teams gets BCS bowls, a six-win Pac-12 team could find itself out of luck when bowls select teams. The Pac-12 only has seven contracted bowl agreements, meaning that if the Pac-12 does not place a team in a non-Rose Bowl BCS game, at least one team would need to hope for a non-affiliated bowl.
• A week after facing off against Ka'Deem Carey, who some believe is the best running back in the Pac-12, the Bruins will face the guy everyone else considers the best running back in the Pac-12, Bishop Sankey. Sankey is third in the country in rushing yardage per game, and his 2,931 yards rank him fourth on the all-time Huskies rushing list. With 189 more yards, he'll eclipse Joe Steele on the all-time list and find himself behind only Chris Polk (3,999) and Napoleon Kaufman (4,041).
• Obviously, there are many connections between the Huskies and UCLA, none more prominent than the connection between UCLA head coach Jim Mora and the school. Mora graduated from Washington, and played defensive back under Husky legend Don James. In 2006, while still the head coach for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL, Mora joked on radio that he take the Huskies job even if the Falcons were in the middle of a playoff run. Mora drew a great deal of criticism from the Atlanta fan base, and the joke may have played a role in his ultimately being let go by the Falcons. Since then, there's been speculation, founded or unfounded, that the Washington job would be his dream job.
• Under Mora, UCLA has done particularly well against the Pac-12 South, with an 8-0 record through the past two seasons, but has struggled against the Pac-12 North. Currently, the Bruins have a 2-6 mark against the North, having lost to Stanford three times, Oregon State once, Oregon once, and California once. Washington, obviously, is in the North.
• Jim Mora is 9-2 at the Rose Bowl in his two years at UCLA, and 5-2 in conference home games.
• Jack's one game of running was good enough to place him 10th on the all-time freshman rushing list at UCLA.
• Friday's game will mark the first time that UCLA has played a home game on a Friday night since 1978, when the Bruins hosted Arizona at the Coliseum. With a 6:00 P.M. start time, there's an expectation that many fans will need to miss work to get to the game on time.
• UCLA will debut its all-black "L.A. Midnight" jerseys on Friday. The blue and black have become, in a certain sense, the de facto football colors of the Mora era, with Spaulding Field now decked out in black and blue, the equipment truck painted black and blue, and many of the coaches donning black and blue clothing during practice and games.
• Despite pleas from Mora and the players for fans to wear black, UCLA has not called for an official blackout.
• It's the first time UCLA has opened a season ranked and remained ranked through the first 11 rankings since the 2001 season.
• The Bruins are favored by 2.5.
• The weather in Pasadena on Friday calls for a high of 72 degrees, and it should be in the mid-to-low 60s at the 6:00 p.m. kickoff.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON'S DEFENSE
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.|
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?
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.
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?
WASHINGTON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
While Washington's defense is very similar to UCLA's defense, its offense is also very similar to UCLA's offense.
It's similar in scheme, playcalling and even personnel, to an extent, but while UCLA's offense has been faltering a bit and trying to compensate for injury, Washington's offense has been hitting its stride and been pretty injury-free.
UCLA's offense averages 36.6 points per game, Washington 37.2.
Picture this: UCLA's current passing attack with the rushing attack it had to begin the season, and you have Washington.
Washington's offense was dismal last season, so it installed an up-tempo spread this year, and it's paid off. It emphasizes the short passing game, trying to get the ball into the hands of its good skill players, while it uses the run to set up the pass. It will work out of a spread, a Pistol, and a heavy look.
As with UCLA, so much of the success with the UW offense hinges on the play of senior quarterback Keith Price (6-1, 202). Price had a record-setting sophomore season then had a major hiccup a year ago, and his senior season has been solid, with a few hiccups. He is mobile, executes the position well, and generally is good in the short passing game, but he can be a bit inaccurate throwing the ball down the field. It's probably why Washington just doesn't go vertical that much. He, like Hundley, can be devastating with his feet.
|Running Back Bishop Sankey.|
Really, the difference between the offenses of UCLA and Washington is the running game. Junior tailback Bishop Sankey (5-10, 203) is a big reason for that; he's tough between tackles, gets those couple of extra yards with good balance, and he has a second gear when he's past the line of scrimmage. It's why Sankey is third in the nation in rushing, with 1,305 yards so far on the season, and averaging 145 yards per game. He's the UW offense's crutch. They work Sankey like a dog; whenever they face a defense that is clearly weak against the run they'll just keep going to him. Junior Jesse Callier (5-10, 207), redshirt freshman Dwayne Washington (6-1, 220) and junior Deontae Cooper (6-0, 201) are very serviceable back-ups, each averaging four or five carries a game. Last week against Colorado, when they were up by about 100 points at halftime, they didn't pass the ball once in the second half.
What has really benefitted the Washington O is continuity on the offensive line. The Huskies have had just one real injury on the o-line so far this year, to sophomore left guard Dexter Charles (6-4, 289), but he's returned and he started last week against Colorado. Junior Erik Kohler (6-4, 294) has held down the position solidly for half the season, though. Junior center Mike Criste (6-5, 305) and junior right guard Colin Tanigawa (6-3, 275), who is nicknamed the Panda, are new starters this season, and both have been good in run blocking. Junior left tackle Micah Hatchie (6-5, 305) and junior right tackle Ben Riva (6-6, 300), have had a good year in creating holes for Sankey and Co., but the problem a bit has been pass protection. In many games, like against Oregon and Arizona State in particular, Price was quite often under a great deal of pressure and running for his life. UW is 10th in the conference and 90th in the country in sacks allowed (2.67) per game.
UCLA defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes said this week that Washington has better skill players than Oregon, and we tend to agree. In addition to the crew at tailback, the Huskies' pass-catching talent creates some tough match-ups. Junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-6, 276) is one of the best tight ends in the country. He's like a bigger, more athletic version of Joe Fauria, and Washington uses him as their go-to guy like UCLA used Fauria last season. Sophomore Jaydon Mickens (5-10, 170), who is essentially a running back they split out wide, leads the team in receptions (50) and receiving yards per game (68.2). One of the toughest match-ups on the roster is 6-2, 215-pound Kasen Williams, but he underwent surgery for a broken fibula two weeks ago and is out for the remainder of the season. Senior Kevin Smith (5-11, 214) and sophomore Marvin Hall (5-10, 182) are in the smaller, shiftier mold. True freshman John Ross (5-11, 173) is the star of the future. They'll consistently try to get these three touches out in the flat in space. They'll go deep with them, too, and have had some success, but Price has struggled to get them the deep ball, even when they've had steps on their defenders. Without Williams, though, they really don't have that bigger option out wide. Sophomore back-up tight end Joshua Perkins (6-3, 224) has been picking up the slack to a degree. They're trying to bring along true freshman Damore'ea Stringfellow (6-3, 225) but the light hasn't turned on yet.
UCLA's defense has generally had a good season up to this point. It got through the gauntlet of Stanford and Oregon pretty well, really holding up its end of the bargain. The last two weeks against Colorado and Arizona, though, have generated a little worry. It wasn't exactly dominant against Colorado, and was just holding on against Arizona. And Washington's offense kind of does it the same way as Arizona, emphasizing a running game behind an elite running back.
We've given a great deal of credit to UCLA's front seven this season, and deservedly. But they looked like they were worn down last week against the Wildcats in the second half. Arizona ran for 239 yards. Senior lineman Cassius Marsh has had an up-and-down season, and had an up-and-down game last week, getting some good penetration but also allowing some pretty big runs on his side of the field. Anthony Barr had perhaps his worst game of the season; it could have been because he was literally held and tackled very often against Arizona.
UCLA's young secondary has really performed way beyond expectation so far this season. Ishmael Adams is, flat-out, a very good cover corner. The "veteran" of the group, safety Randall Goforth, also continues to get better, particularly in his coverage, which was the area he probably needed the most improvement. Safety Anthony Jefferson and Fabian Moreau, too, have fought off some nicks and continued to play well.
One big question will be how much Myles Jack plays at linebacker. If he does, in fact, get increased reps on the offensive side, can he sustain starters minutes at linebacker? It's a tough question for Mora, and we know Mora likes his defense, and is very secure with Jack at linebacker. And the feeling is valid: If Mora takes Jack out of the equation, with a not-100% Kendricks, he's undercutting his linebacking group, and that could be just enough, against the run-emphasizing Washington offense, to give the Huskies the edge in this game.
Like the UCLA O/Washington D match-up, this is a pretty exciting one also. Washington's offense is fun to watch, as is UCLA's defense. Both have their stars.
UCLA's potential game plan for this game is a bit of a quandary. For a vast majority of the season, UCLA's defensive strategy has been not to dedicate more than 3 or 4 bodies to the pass rush, keep the opposing quarterback contained to the pocket, have more bodies in coverage to give its young secondary an advantage, and hope that Anthony Barr or Keenan Graham get to the quarterback.
Last week against Arizona it generally didn't work that well. Arizona's quarterback, B.J. Denker, wasn't contained for enough of the game and his ability to run made a big impact. If that's going to happen, you'd rather opt for gambling with more pressure on the quarterback in the pocket so, really, UCLA got the worst of both worlds last week.
And it might not work against Washington. Yes, Price can also beat you with his scrambling ability (even though it feels like he's been more pocket-oriented this season), so containing him is key, and UCLA might think it needs to use the pocket strategy. But giving Price time to throw the ball has really been the difference for Washington this season. In the games in which Washington's offense was limited (Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State), the defenses were successful because they put a great deal of pressure on Price. When he's pressured he struggles. His footwork and mechanics break down a bit and he's more apt to make a bad decision.
So there's the quandary. Does UCLA break away from what it's been doing for a majority of the season, and send more blitzes at Price, or does it stay with its strategy and hope UCLA's standard rush gets to the quarterback? We'd have to believe UCLA will opt with the same plan. Washington's offensive line hasn't been fantastic at pass pro. We think, at least, UCLA will initially go with its standard strategy to start the game and hope it puts enough pressure on Price.
Can UCLA contain Washington's running game? Last week against Arizona, the UCLA DL had just two down linemen for a majority of the game, with the defense in a form of a nickel most of the time. It wasn't very successful against the Wildcats, who pounded through it with their running game, and we'd expect it wouldn't be against Washington. Washington might emphasize its running game even more than Arizona.
So, more quandary. And that's another reason the match-up is so interesting.
Washington's special teams have been mostly unspectacular and, at their best, solid. Field goal kicker Travis Coons (6-2, 199) hasn't missed a field goal yet this season. He hasn't taken many, just 9 in 9 games, and his longest is 46. Coons double-dips, is also the punter and is having a solid season punting, netting 39 yard on the season (Just about the same as UCLA's Sean Covington).
That's the solid part. The unspectacular part has been in kick and punt return and coverage. Washington is 11th in the Pac-12 in punt return, averaging just 5.1 yards a return, and 8th in kickoff return, averaging a pedestrian 20.2 yards. John Ross handles the kick and punt return and, while he has some quicks and speed, he looks overwhelmed at this point as a true freshman.
Here's a door cracked open: Washington has had pretty slack kickoff coverage this season, and UCLA's kickoff returner, Devin Fuller, has looked like he's one shoelace away from breaking one.
UCLA's specialists, Covington and kicker Ka'imi Fairnbairn, have had good seasons, UCLA's coverage teams have been stellar and, as we said, UCLA's kickoff return is due.
This should be a very good college football game. It has all of the elements – the play-making stars (Sankey, Seferian-Jenkins, Barr, Jack), the hard-to-call matchups, the unknown (Jack), the cool uniforms, what should be a packed stadium, the teams playing to stay alive for a championship, and the added drama of this being the first time that a coach faces his alma mater.
The more you look at the two teams the more they resemble each other. The quarterbacks, Price and Hundley, are very similar, in the Pac-12 ranked 6th (Price) and 7th (Hundley) in passing yards per game (275 and 247, respectively), and third (Hundley) and fourth (Price) in pass efficiency (154.8 and 154.4). And beyond the stats, they're very similar in their playing style, strengths and weaknesses. Both struggle a bit to throw the ball down the field and get rattled by pressure, and both can really do damage scrambling.
And then, there is so much added curiosity to the game because of Myles Jack. After last week, and one of the most stunning performances of the season in college football, what does Mora do with him now? You'd have to think he's just too good, after that performance, not to use more on offense. But was it an aberration? Now that Washington knows about him they'll undoubtedly be more prepared for him than Arizona. But is he too good to stop? And you know UCLA has installed some new wrinkles to keep the Washington coaches off-balance that might or might not include Jack.
This is just too much fun.
And way too hard to call. And it's not as if either team are turnover prone, or exceptional at getting turnovers to the point that you could assert that would be a big factor. In fact, talking about being similar, UCLA and Washington are tied for fourth in the Pac-12 in turnover margin (+5).
The only edge that appears to tilt this game either way is that it's a home game for the Bruins. Washington has only had three road games so far this season, beating a bad Illinois team, and then losing to Stanford and Arizona State. That pounding at ASU (53-24) has to be lingering in the back of the mind of the Husky faithful.
The other edge: Mora's motivation. Mora is clearly a competitive guy and this game easily has the most personal motivation for him to win than any other since he's been at UCLA. You think Mora remembers at all that Washington chose Steve Sarkisian as its coach instead of him?
We'll go with Mora.