• UCLA travels to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies Saturday, in a game set to kick off at 4:00 and be televised on Fox Sports 1.
• Washington is 6-3 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12 North. They had an unfortunately tough conference schedule, with its three losses coming at the hands of Stanford (20-13), Oregon (45-20) and Arizona State (24-10). Their conference victories were at Cal (31-7) and at Colorado just last week, 38-23.
• UCLA is ranked #18 in the country, coming off a victory over then-#12-ranked Arizona last week. The Bruins are 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-12 South.
• The series between UCLA and Washington dates back to 1932, with the Bruins holding a 39-30-2 edge. Last year, in the Rose Bowl, UCLA won 41-31. UCLA has won 9 of the last 11, and 12 of the last 15, going back to 1997.
• In Seattle against the Huskies, UCLA is 14-20-1, and 4-5 in the last 20 years. The 2000s were actually pretty good for UCLA in Husky Stadium, going 3-2 there during that decade.
• UCLA and Washington have had four common opponents so far this season. Both teams beat Cal and Colorado on the road, with Washington’s victories coming a little easier (even though Washington was trailing Colorado last week through halftime). Both teams lost pretty handily to Oregon, while UW lost at home to ASU, which UCLA trounced on the road.
• UCLA, as a ranked team, hasn’t lost in Seattle in 29 years, not since 1985.
• In 12 of the last 17 meetings between Washington and UCLA, one or both of the teams has been ranked. In four of those games in which UCLA was the underdog, the Bruins managed to upset the Huskies -- most notably the 1990 loss at Husky Stadium that knocked UW out of national championship contention.
• Washington is in its first season under the helm of Head Coach Chris Petersen. Petersen (50) took over the UW job after eight successful seasons at Boise State, where he went 92-12 and led the Broncos to eight straight bowl games, punctuated by an undefeated season (14-0) in 2009 in which Boise State finished the season ranked #4 nationally. With what was considered a mid-major program, Petersen finished four seasons ranked in the top ten, and vaulted Boise State into national attention. He was known for taking lesser-ranked recruits and developing them into high-level college players. He turned down many job offers while at Boise State, including overtures from USC in 2010 and UCLA in 2012. It’s well known that Petersen is more of a Pacific Northwest kind of guy, and felt more comfortable in Washington, thus finally opting to leave Boise State. He’s known as an offensive coach, being a good quarterbacks coach himself, and fielding fundamentally sound, well-coached and well-disciplined teams. The NCAA record book lists the top active FBS coaches in terms of winning percentage (minimum five years at FBS) and Petersen tops this list with a career .885 mark.
• UCLA, as is well known, pursued Chris Petersen after the Bruins fired Rick Neuheisel. Sources were strongly indicating that Petersen was very serious about the job, but he ultimately turned down UCLA, and UCLA eventually hired Jim Mora.
• There are, of course, many ties between the UCLA and Washington programs. Jim Mora played at Washington, lettering from 1981 to 1983, and he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at UW. His father, Jim E. Mora, was an assistant coach under Don James. UCLA assistants Demetric Martin and Eric Yarber have coached at Washington.
• There has been somewhat of an on-going story between Mora and UW. When he was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons in 2006, on a radio talk show, when the Falcons were statistically still alive for a playoff spot that season, Mora jokingly said he’d take the Washington head coaching job if it were offered (even though it wasn’t open at the time). He was criticized by many Falcon fans for it, and Mora was fired by the Falcons following the 2006 season. Last year, when the Washington head coaching job did become open after Steve Sarkisian jumped to USC, Washington seriously pursued Mora, but he turned down his alma mater to remain at UCLA.
• It will be the first time Mora coaches in his former home of Husky Stadium since he was a graduate assistant there.
• Last year’s game at the Rose Bowl was a big one for Washington native Myles Jack, with the linebacker running for four touchdowns against the Huskies. Jack made some finger-licking gestures at the Washington sidelines, and there aren’t exactly pleasant feelings from Husky fans toward Jack. It is, of course, his first time returning home to play in front of his hometown crowd.
• Husky Stadium is one of the classic venues in the Pac-12 and perhaps the country. The Huskies are currently in their 94th season in the stadium, with some recent renovation fixing structural problems due to Washington’s moist weather, and featuring other upgrades. The renovation, began in 2011, cost $280 million, with the Huskies moving back in last season after playing at CenturyLink Field, the home of the Seahawks, for the 2012 season. It seats 72,500, and has a pretty fantastic view through its open end of Lake Washington. Husky fans claim the Wave started there, and it’s considered one of the loudest stadiums, with almost 70 percent of the seats located between the end zones and the cantilevered roofs trapping the sound (the volume has also probably been enhanced since some seats are now closer to the field with the track being removed in the renovation). Husky Stadium utilizes a turf field.
• UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has 68 career touchdown passes, and needs just one more to move into sole possession of the top spot on the all-time UCLA career list. He’s currently tied with Cade McNown.
• Last week, Eric Kendricks went over 100 tackles for the season, and became only the third Bruin in history to have three consecutive seasons of at least 100 tackles. He’s now in the vaunted company of Don Rogers (1981-83) and Jerry Robinson (1976-78).
• Paul Perkins went over 1,000 yards for the season last week against Arizona, becoming the 13th Bruin to do so.
• UCLA is 32 of 33 for scoring in the redzone this season, which is a 97% success rate, #1 in the nation.
• UCLA has done well away from home recently, winning its last eight straight games away from the Rose Bowl (5-0 this season). The last time it had a longer streak of wins away from home was in 1997-1998 (10).
• UCLA was favored by 4.5 points, but with the Marcus Peters news, the line has jumped to 6.5 points.
• The Seattle weather forecast calls for a high of 57 degrees Saturday, with partly cloudy skies and just a 10% chance of rain.
Washington’s Defense vs. UCLA’s Offense
On the face of it, Washington’s defense may present the stiffest challenge of the season for UCLA’s offense. The Huskies have one of the best front sevens in the Pac-12, and led by defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, this Washington team has developed one of the most fearsome pass rushes in the country, with the second-highest sack total in the country behind Utah. It’s a dangerous defense that can present many issues for teams with questionable offensive line play.
It’s primarily a 3-4 defense that often functions like a 4-3, much like UCLA’s defense in 2013 and 2012 with Anthony Barr more often than not acting as a fourth defensive lineman. Washington doesn’t blitz a lot, but mostly because it hasn’t had to this year, thanks to the significant pressure its gotten from just its front four. The Huskies have given up 4.8 yards per play in FBS contests this year, a number that’s very comparable with Utah in the Pac-12, but a significant step behind Stanford (which is giving up a ridiculously low 4.1 yards per play). As you might imagine given their sack totals, the defensive front is also stout against the run, giving up just 3.4 yards per carry, which is very comparable with both Utah and Stanford.
For Washington’s defense, everything begins with the defensive line, which is a talented, senior-laden group. Senior buck linebacker/defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha (6'3, 246) is effectively the “Anthony Barr” of the defense, only if Barr had put up even more ridiculous numbers. Kikaha is leading the nation in sacks with 16, putting him on pace for 20+ on the year. He combines a great motor with a great speed rush to get many of his sacks, but he also has good strength, oftentimes being able to shuck offensive linemen. He does occasionally look for the sack too often, which can come at the expense of containment or run defense, but he is a force off the edge. He probably splits time about evenly between having his hand down and standing up. He’s joined in the pass rush by senior nose tackle Danny Shelton (6'2, 339), who might be the best interior defensive lineman in the Pac-12. Shelton leads the team in tackles and — again — he’s the nose tackle. He also has 7.5 sacks so far this year, to go along with 12.5 tackles for loss. He’s an absolute playmaker on the interior, with incredible strength that demands double teams along with underrated athleticism. On the other end, opposite Kikaha, is another talented edge rusher in senior Andrew Hudson (6'3, 246). Hudson has certainly been the beneficiary of much of the attention paid to Shelton and Kikaha this year, but even still, he has shown some good athleticism off the edge to register six sacks of his own. Senior Evan Hudson (6'6, 273), who’s not related to Andrew, mans the other defensive tackle spot, and isn’t much of a pass rush threat, acting more as a gap-plugger. Junior defensive tackle Taniela Tupou (6'2, 282) and redshirt freshman nose tackle Elijah Qualls (6'1, 311) will work into the interior rotation, and Qualls in particular has some real talent, with great strength and athleticism, though he is inexperienced.
If there’s a weakness in this defense, it’s definitely the secondary, especially now that junior cornerback Marcus Peters (6'0, 190) has been dismissed from the team. Teams have been able to pass on the Huskies, at least to a much larger extent than they’ve been able to run on them. Washington starts two true freshmen in the unit, with Budda Baker (5'10, 173) manning one of the safety spots and Sidney Jones (6'0, 171) manning one of the cornerback positions. Baker has actually been mostly good this year, playing similarly to how Jaleel Wadood has played for UCLA, but Jones has had some struggles at times matching up against physical, more experienced receivers. Peters had become one of the most heavily touted cornerback prospects in the country, thanks to his combination of instincts, speed, and athleticism, but on Thursday morning, he was dismissed from the team. This obviously throws the entire into flux, and likely means that true freshman Naijiel Hale (5'10, 171) will get the start in his place, putting three true freshmen in the starting lineup. Sophomore Kevin King (6'3, 183) is the other safety, and he’s long and rangy, but not incredibly talented. It’s not a particularly deep unit, either, with true freshman Darren Gardenhire (5'11, 173) also factoring into the rotation at cornerback. This week, there’s been noise that sophomore John Ross (5'11, 179), Washington’s talented receiver, could play at cornerback, and it's likely even more imperative that he does so with Peters out. Ross was a good corner in high school, but it’s really anyone’s guess what he’ll be able to do in his first outing as a college corner. That should give you an indication, though, of some of the depth issues Washington has in the secondary.
UCLA’s offense was fairly inept last week against Arizona, after putting together only so-so performances against California and Colorado. All three teams had pretty weak defenses, but each was able to flummox UCLA’s offense fairly consistently by dropping seven or eight into coverage and forcing Brett Hundley to make difficult reads downfield. Against Arizona last week, Hundley took off on more than a dozen scrambles after seeing his first or second receiver covered, and, because he’s a very talented scrambler, it paid off, with UCLA’s offense riding the scrambling of Hundley and the running of Paul Perkins to a weird 17-7 victory.
The question is really whether that strategy — essentially hoping that Hundley can make plays with his legs — can really work long-term, especially against good defenses. Hundley hasn’t been seeing the field well, arguably since he sustained ten sacks against Utah, and his struggles in the passing game have led UCLA to opt more for the rushing attack. It’s mostly worked the last three weeks against poor defenses, but through the final three games of the season, UCLA will play one decent defense (USC), one good defense (Washington), and one elite defense (Stanford), and UCLA will need to show a much more consistent and dynamic passing attack to make it through that gauntlet unscathed.
|UCLA Offensive Line|
UCLA has had one big injury in the receiving corps the last couple of weeks, with Thomas Duarte sitting out the last two games with a hamstring issue. As Jim Mora said this week, Duarte was suited up for the game last week, but didn’t end up getting in. He’s expected to be healthy this week, and a full go, which should help Hundley in providing him another target over the middle that he trusts. Duarte, if he’s fully mobile and healthy, presents a matchup issue for many linebackers and safeties, with good athleticism, good size, and great hands.
In the first version of this preview, we gave Washington the advantage, but with Peters out, there is simply too much inexperience in the Washington secondary to believe the Huskies can effectively deal with UCLA's receiver screens and swing passes. Even with that, though, this is still the best pass rush UCLA will have faced since Utah, and we all remember how well the Bruins fared against the Utes.
The Huskies have the ability to pressure many aspects of UCLA’s offensive line at once; in that respect, Washington is actually different from Utah, which was primarily geared toward the edge rush (at least when the Utes weren’t blitzing). Washington should be able to pressure both on the interior and on the edge at once, which will leave UCLA’s linemen often blocking in one-on-one situations, which could be very tricky. We actually think Conor McDermott could hold up well against Kikaha — McDermott moves his feet well enough to deal with the speed rush, and the weight he added between this year and last should help against Kikaha’s underrated strength. We actually see the primary issue as Scott Quessenberry, Jake Brendel, or Malcolm Bunche lined up against Danny Shelton. Shelton’s combination of strength and athleticism is like nothing any of those guys have dealt with this year, and the interior of UCLA’s line has actually been the weakness the last couple of weeks.
It’s obviously critical for UCLA’s offensive line to win enough battles to keep Brett Hundley relatively secure. It’s unrealistic to expect them not to allow a sack or three, but if this turns into the sack-fest that Utah turned into, Hundley will be hard pressed to put together any sustained drives. If the offensive line does give him some time, there should be some favorable match-ups against that young Washington secondary, but much will hinge on the battle in the trenches. Even more to the point, it’s going to be important for the interior of the line to open up some lanes for Paul Perkins and company to run through, since that’s quickly becoming the strength of the offense.
If Washington is able to get consistent pressure with its front four and also stop the run, even with its issues in the secondary, it’ll be a long day for UCLA’s offense.
Washington’s Offense vs. UCLA’s Defense
Where Washington’s defense is clearly one of the better units in the Pac-12, Washington’s offense is clearly one of the worst. The Huskies, running a multi-set scheme like Chris Petersen used to run at Boise State, have been unable to generate any kind of consistent offense, especially in conference play. They’ve had uneven play at quarterback, injuries at running back, and some underwhelming performances from receivers throughout the year. Washington averages an anemic 4.7 yards per play, which ranks above only Utah in the Pac-12, and the Huskies have been pretty evenly bad at both running the ball and passing it.
Of course, the last two games, Washington has been marginally improved running the ball thanks to Shaq Thompson becoming a full-time running back. Thompson, who started the last two games at running back due to injuries to redshirt freshman Lavon Coleman (5'11, 217) and sophomore Dwayne Washington (6'2, 219), was really effective against Arizona State and Colorado, running for 272 yards on just 36 carries (an average of over 7.5 yards per carry), which came with some explosive touchdown runs. The question this week will be simply how much time Thompson gets at running back with Coleman and Washington making it back to the lineup. It was a bit of a desperation move for Petersen, but Thompson gave Washington the best offensive threat it had all year. He has said Thompson will likely still start at running back, but it’ll be interesting to see if that’s true, and if so, how much time he ends up getting there. Coleman and Washington are serviceable running backs, but they don’t provide anywhere near the combination of physicality, speed, and strength that Thompson brings to the table.
The receivers have not been great, and there have been some odd shakeups in the rotation all year. Senior Kasen Williams (6'3, 217), who looked like one of the best receivers on the team last year, really hasn’t been involved much all year, catching just seven passes for 52 yards. Junior John Ross (5'11, 179), as we wrote, is likely going to play cornerback this week, and he is the third-leading receiver on the team, with 17 catches for 371 yards, and easily the most explosive. Junior slot Jaydon Mickens (5'11, 174) has actually been the leading target for Miles this year, with 38 catches for 329 yards, and people still wonder whether his hands are made out of actual rocks. Senior receiver DiAndre Campbell (6'2, 206) has been solid, providing a big-bodied possession-type target for Miles. Freshman Dante Pettis (6'0, 177) will actually get the start in place of Ross at one receiver spot, and he has a chance to be just as explosive, with 18 yards per catch this year.
The offensive line has been a bit of a disappointment for the Huskies this year. It was expected to be a strength of the team, with a good deal of experience throughout the unit, but it has really struggled run-blocking. Yes, there have been some injuries, with junior left guard Dexter Charles (6'5, 311) sitting out recently along with right tackle Ben Riva (6'7, 313), but even at full –health, the unit hasn’t done a great job. Charles should make it back this week, which should help to some extent, but Washington lost fill-in redshirt freshman right tackle Coleman Shelton (6'4, 281) to an apparent injury last week against Colorado. With Riva still out with an ankle injury, and Shelton potentially out this week as well, it could force senior James Atoe (6'7, 381) to move from right guard to right tackle and push senior backup center Mike Criste (6'6, 316) into the lineup at right guard. So, in short, the right side of the line has been up and down all year. At left tackle, senior Micah Hatchie (6'5, 308) is a three-year starter, and is a very solid player, with good mobility. At center, senior Colin Tanigawa (6'3, 292) was a three-year starter at guard before switching to center this offseason. There has been some concern that it’s taken a bit longer to gel with him having a new role as the captain of the offensive line, but, whatever the case, the offensive line hasn’t been anywhere near the beastly unit that the Washington coaching staff likely expected heading into the year.
UCLA’s defense has, on the other hand, for much of the year looked very little like the unit many expected heading into the season, but over the last few weeks, the Bruins have started to turn it around, culminating with a dominating near-shutout against Arizona last week. Much of the improvement has to do with much more aggressive game planning from the coaching staff, calling for slightly more blitzing as well as more aggressive play from the cornerbacks on the edge. As the coaches all said after the game, the players also seemed to be more comfortable with each other, now nine games into the season, and were better able to play their responsibilities rather than try to cover for other players. This was best exemplified by Eric Kendricks, the safety net for every other player in the defense, only having a handful of tackles all game.
UCLA’s interior linemen, Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes, have been good most of the year, but have rarely been as consistently good as they were against Arizona last week. Vanderdoes was shedding blocks with ease, and looked like the play-making force that he was billed as coming out of high school. With those two playing so well, it took a great deal of pressure off the defensive ends and linebackers, allowing them to pursue more into the backfield.
The secondary also played very well, with Tahaan Goodman easily having his best game as a Bruin. Goodman had a reputation in high school as a big hitter, and for the first time, he really showed it at the college level. He had at least four or five really big hits throughout the game, including one that put Austin Hill on the ground for several seconds. It did seem that Arizona’s receivers had a little more trepidation going over the middle as the game wore on. Fabian Moreau also played extremely well, finally looking more like the player many expected coming out of fall camp. Moreau is at his best when he can press at the line of scrimmage, and it looked like that helped his confidence a good deal during this past game.
Washington does not have a good or dynamic offense, and UCLA’s newfound defensive strength could make this a very difficult matchup for the Huskies. If Thompson plays on offense, that should give the Huskies a modicum of a running game, but even so, we’d have to imagine the Bruins are going to be able to successfully stack the box to take away the run, and force Miles to make throws to beat them. Given what we’ve seen of Washington’s receivers and Miles’ ability to make throws in the face of pressure, we really don’t see Washington being able to score a ton of points.
The Bruins are fresh off a dominating performance against a much better offense in Arizona. Even if there’s some dropoff from that game, which we’d imagine there will be, half of the effort they showed against the Wildcats should be enough to shut down the anemic Washington attack.
Washington has two very dangerous return men in Dante Pettis and John Ross. Pettis handles punt returns and already has a touchdown this year on an 87-yarder, while Ross is averaging 22 yards per kickoff return with a long of 54 yards. Meanwhile, Ishmael Adams was so effective as a kick returner through six games that teams have almost entirely stopped kicking to him. If Washington ends up kicking to him, we see UCLA winning this side of the matchup, and if the Huskies don’t, we see them giving UCLA good enough field position that the Bruins will also come out on the plus side.
For college kicker, sophomore Cameron Van Winkle (5'10, 180) has been very good this year, making 11 of 13 kicks, with a long of 51. He’s missed from 36 and 40 yards, but the 40-yard miss came in what was effectively a wind tunnel against ASU. He’s nearly automatic from 35 yards and in, and has good range. Ka’imi Fairbairn is pretty good from 30 yards and in with no pressure, but struggles when there’s significant pressure or it’s a longer kick. We’ll hand this side of the battle to the Huskies.
Junior Korey Durkee (6'4, 230) has been a solid punter for Washington, averaging nearly 41 yards on 44 kicks, including 13 buried inside the 20 yard line. Matt Mengel has come on strong for UCLA over the last four or five games, and has become a very reliable kicker, with good hang-time and range on the majority of his kicks. Both teams have pretty good kick coverage (Washington is allowing just 1.8 yards per punt return this year).
Before the year started, we had Washington pegged as one of the four or so games we could see UCLA realistically losing. It’s been pretty clear, though, that the Huskies have not adjusted to the new coaching staff well, and are experiencing some real growing pains, making them much less of a threat to the Bruins.
Unlike the last three weeks, when UCLA has played three opponents with good offenses and bad defenses, the Bruins now face a team with a good defense and a bad offense. The Huskies clearly have some talent on the defensive side of the ball, with the defensive line in particular looking like a unit that can cause UCLA some issues.
Much will hinge for Washington on where Shaq Thompson ends up playing. If he slides in on offense, you can expect the offense to at least be able to generate the occasional drive. If he plays more on defense, there’s probably a better chance of containing Hundley in the running game. His absence on both ends, though, presents some issues; without him at running back, the offense is probably going to be stagnant, but without him on defense, Washington loses a lot of its speed that can be used to contain UCLA’s running game. We do not envy Chris Petersen the decision.
With Marcus Peters out, UCLA should be able to attack the edges in the passing game and force Washington’s corners to make tackles in space. Coupled with some running from Hundley to the outside, the Bruins should be able to tire out Washington’s defense up front. Keeping a quick pace and emphasizing getting to the edges quickly will be big for UCLA, since that’s where Washington is weakest.
In the end, we see UCLA being able to move the ball effectively at times, and we simply don’t see Washington scoring anywhere near enough to put real pressure on the Bruins.