-- #18/#17 Washington (3-1, 1-0) comes to the Rose Bowl to face UCLA (2-2, 0-0) Saturday.
-- UCLA leads in the overall series, 32-28. Last year at Husky Stadium, UCLA beat Washington, 34-24. UCLA has won the last five out of six.
-- An unranked UCLA team has upset a ranked Husky team in three of their last 11 meetings.
-- The UCLA and Washington coaching staffs have many ties. Perhaps the most significant is UCLA's current offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Steve Axman, was Washington's quarterback coach a year ago. Washington's defensive coordinator Phil Snow was UCLA's defensive coordinator a year ago.
-- Washington's head coach, Keith Gilbertson is in his first year as the Husky head coach. He took over for fired Rick Neuheisel only a month before the Husky season opener. Gilbertson is the former head coach at Cal (1992-95) where he went 20-26.
-- The game will be televised by Fox Sports Net at 3:30.
WASHINGTON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
After last season when the Husky offense was particularly dependent on the pass and was the second-worst rushing team in the Pac-10, this year they're quite a bit more balanced. They average 149 yards on the ground per game, good enough for third in the Pac-10, and 263 yards through the air. Overall they have the fourth-best offense in the conference, averaging 412 yards per game.
|Reggie Williams (Getty Images).|
Washington's offense goes through talented, experienced senior quarterback Cody Pickett. Before having a poor showing on national television in their season opener against defending national champion Ohio State, Pickett was getting Heisman hype. And it was justified. Last year Pickett threw for the most yards ever by a Pac-10 quarterback in a season, 4,458, also the first to throw for 4,000 yards in a season in conference history. He is big (6-4, 215), fairly mobile, has a good to strong arm but, more than anything, is smart and experienced.
Perhaps the smartest thing that Pickett does is throw the ball to one of the best receivers in the country, Washington's Reggie Williams (6-4, 225). Williams is 17th in the country in the country in receptions per game (7.0) and 11th in receiving yards per game (103). He is one of those types of players that you can't stop in a game, that you can merely hope you can contain, if you're lucky. Williams' performance seem to go either of two ways: 1) He catches just a few balls, but they're huge plays that greatly impact the game or 2) He catches double digits for 100+ yards and is the element of the offense that the opposing defense can't stop.
Pickett, though, spreads the wealth in the Husky offense, having thrown a completion to 17 different players so far this season. Junior Charles Frederick (6-0, 180) is the starter on the other side, and he's very dangerous himself. After those two, the receiving corps gets particular young and inexperienced, with three true freshmen filling out the two-deep (former UCLA recruit, Quentin Daniels, from Los Angeles Loyola, being one of them). Pickett distributes the rest of his throws to running backs and tight ends, with the Husky offense dependent on throwing quite a bit to its backs out of the backfield.
It's been speculated all week that UCLA's big cornerback, Matt Ware, would shadow Williams and match up with him on either side, despite UCLA's somewhat vague denial. Matt Clark will undoubtedly find himself covering Williams, and the smart Pickett will try to exploit the size difference (7 inches) between Clark and Williams.
While UCLA's defensive backs have a big assignment of trying to limit Williams, and Frederick is good, Washington doesn't have a deep stable of weapons catching the ball. Their tight ends are solid but not spectacular. It's easier against the Huskies than, say, with other offenses that boast more playmakers, for safeties to cheat over and help on Williams.
Really the big difference in Washington's offense this season has been the re-emergence of their running game, and you have to give senior running back Rich Alexis much of the credit. Alexis is third in the Pac-10 in rushing, averaging 85 yards a game, and 4.4 a carry, and has looked very good. He's broken off some big runs in the first four games and is a threat to hit the home run anywhere on the field. At 6-0 and 220, he also doubles as their bruiser back for short-yardage and goal-line situations. Washington uses two other, smaller backs as a change of pace, redshirt freshmen Kenny James (5-10, 215) and Shelton Sampson (5-11, 190). Sampson, Bruin fans might remember, had verbally committed to UCLA the summer before his senior year but then later reneged and committed to the Huskies.
|Spencer Havner (AP).|
You also have to give a huge amount of credit to Washington's offensive line, which wasn't exactly stellar in run blocking last season. They're anchored by an all Pac-10 candidate at center in Todd Bachert (6-4, 300). The Husky system is also very dependent on good production from its tackles, and this year, so far, Khalif Barnes (6-5, 290) and Nick Newton (6-5, 330) have done a very good job in giving Pickett pass protection. Their matchups against UCLA's twin defensive ends, Dave Ball and Mat Ball, could be very interesting to isolate on - if you enjoy the trench battles. If the Balls can get past Barnes and Newton and get Pickett out of his rhythm, or at least in hurry mode, that could be enough to keep Washington's offense from moving up and down the field. It will also be interesting to see if Washington can run on UCLA up the middle in the first half since UCLA will be without star defensive tackle Rodney Leisle due to an ejection last week. Fifth-year defensive lineman Asi Faoa will start in his place, and he brings quickness but not near as much bull strength as Leisle.
UCLA's victory last season was saved through an interception by UCLA linebacker Spencer Havner. And with the kind of underneath throws the Huskies love, you can probably expect UCLA's talented and quick linebackers to again have a big impact on pass defense, and this game. Havner, Brandon Chillar (the Pac-10 leader in tackles) and middle linebacker Justin London have been excellent so far this season.
Advantage: UCLA slightly. UCLA's defense, even though it's looked good so far this year, hasn't really faced an offense as good as Washington's, and that includes Okahoma's. Even though they aren't the high-wire, passing circus they were a year ago, the Huskies are harder to defend this year since they added the ground game dimension. UCLA's passing defense looked vulnerable last week against San Diego State - only keeping the Aztecs down because their quarterback Matt Dlugolecki plainly isn't very good. If the Bruins can't get pressure on Pickett, you can expect him to make the throws that Dlugolecki didn't. It's not only that UCLA has to try to contain Alexis and Williams, and keep them from making the big plays that have fueled Washington's three victories so far this season, the real guy to contain is Pickett. UCLA will have to pressure him, flush him out, and then contain him so he can't burn the Bruins with scrambles. Even though it might not seem like one player, especially a defensive tackle, could make such an impact, but the loss of Leisle for a half is a pretty significant blow. Without him it could give Washington enough advantage on the line for a half to get both its running and passing games on track.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON'S DEFENSE
Washington's defense last season wasn't as bas as everyone thought, finishing fourth in the Pac-10 overall, and ultimately proving to be very good against the run. Returning some talented starters from that team, they're proving it again this year, second in the conference so far this season overall in defense (behind UCLA's Pac-10 leading defense), and #1 against the pass (allowing only 161 yards through the air per game). They also are allowing only 119 yards per game on the ground, and have not allowed any opponent to get on track in their running game.
For an offense like UCLA's that's struggling and trying to get on track, it's not a timely matchup.
|Terry Johnson (Getty Images).|
Washington is strong up the middle defensively, starting with their senior defensive tackle Terry Johnson (6-4, 295). Johnson has been a menace for opposing offensive lines, corralling 10 tackles for loss and five sacks in his first four games. Next to him at the other defensive tackle position is another solid, experienced player, senior Jerome Stevens (6-3, 295).
Keeping with our straight up the middle theme, Washington has two very good inside linebackers in Marquis Cooper (6-4, 215) and Tim Galloway (6-2, 235). Cooper leads the team in tackles and Galloway is second. They run well and are fast to the ball.
The defense isn't a gambling type, as we all are familiar with ex-UCLA defensive coordinator Phil Snow now running the show for the Huskies. But they employ an effective zone blitz, one that mixes it up enough to keep offenses guessing.
True sophomore quarterback Drew Olson will again be called on to carry the developing UCLA offense. Despite the three fumbles last week, he improved his play-making against San Diego State, adapting to SDSU's perpetual blitz. Washington doesn't put a great amount of pressure on the quarterback, so he might have quite a bit more time to operate than what he was used to last week. Karl Dorrell is now playing the media like a violin, on many different subjects. This week one of the biggest he probably wasn't full forthright about was the recovery of Matt Moore. Early in the week Dorrell was talking like Moore looked to be on track to return and play. By the end of the week, he was playing it down. While Olson, given the circumstances, has done fairly well, UCLA misses the potential play-making ability that Moore brings to the offense. It's thought that, despite what Dorrell has said in the last couple of days, Moore will see time. The UCLA coaches recognize what he brings to the table and know they need it if they hope to get their struggling offense "clicking" in Pac-10 play. And Pac-10 play is now.
UCLA will probably operate out of the shotgun more this week, having done it a little last week against San Diego State, and being more effective throwing the ball out of it. Olson looked far more comfortable having to complete a third-and-long out of the shotgun.
|Marcedes Lewis (AP).|
Washington's cornerbacks are decent, led by senior Roc Alexander (6-0, 195). From a talent matchup standpoint, UCLA's receiving unit should be able to have a field day with them, though, but this offense hasn't shown in the first four games that it exploits its receiver talent much. There were signs of it last week against San Diego State, but talented Craig Bragg is still waiting to bust out. Junior Taylor had his best overall game of his young career last week, but you still came away from the game feeling the scheme is limiting UCLA's wide receivers.
Again, we say this every week, but Marcedes Lewis again presents matchup problems for UCLA's opponent. While Washington tries to cover Bragg and Taylor, having to then find some bodies to watch out for Lewis, who functions as a 6-6 wide receiver himself, is a tough task for any defense.
Washington's pass defense, though, has played very solidly, with very few gambles and mistakes. Their lofty stats against the pass, though, are also a bit based on having not really faced a good passing team.
Not that they'll be facing one this week.
UCLA's running game looks to have a tough go of it against Washington, facing perhaps the best running defense it's faced yet this year. Manuel White will be expected to carry the load once again, and you can expect him to become an even bigger focus of the offense in Pac-10 play. Maurice Drew will continue to get increased reps, and Tyler Ebell will have specific plays called for him. The running backs should have some balls thrown their way this week also, compared to last week when they didn't have one pass thrown to them. Also, expect UCLA to introduce a couple of new wrinkles to its running game. Nothing too radical, though.
Advantage: Washington. The Huskies have solid talent and are playing solid defense. UCLA's offense is still under construction. The hype that we heard after the San Diego State that the UCLA offense started to get more in the groove in the second half of that game was, well, some hype. While it completed more passes, and made a few big plays, it still didn't efficiently sustain drives. It got its scores as a result of SDSU's turnover. So, perhaps you can say that it was a step in the right direction since the offense did actually convert turnovers into points. But sustained drives, that convert into touchdowns, are still rare commodities. UCLA will continue to see stacked boxes, and while Snow doesn't necessarily adhere to the stacked box philosophy, he was known for hedging a few defenders closer to the line when he faced an offense whose passing game - and quarterback - were suspect. Expect that tomorrow. UCLA will have to throw the ball to win this game, and throw the ball further than a five-yard out. It's questionable, facing an opponent on a different level than SDSU - or even Illinois or Colorado - if UCLA's passing game has developed enough to create the plays it needs to win.
UCLA's special teams were more or less solid against SDSU last week; they should be an even trade-off with Washington's special teams. The slightly queasy feeling is the one you get when you wonder what issues UCLA's team will have in this week's game. So far, each week it's been something substantial. But if UCLA can get its penalties under control and not have any huge lapses on special teams, the Bruins have enough talent on their team to beat Washington, despite the current limitations of its developing offense. Washington, a team with some some good talent, but not a great deal of it, and certainly lacking depth, is a little over-rated and even over-achieiving. Over-rated and over-achieving are not a good combination. The Indiana, Idaho and Stanford teams they've beaten have a combined 3-10 record so far this season. And Washington didn't exactly route the three of them. The issue is whether UCLA's offense has developed enough to put points on the board. If it has, and we're talking not a lot, just three touchdowns or so, UCLA's defense is good enough to limit Washington's offense. If it hasn't, UCLA's defense will probably not be able to continue carrying the flag of the program, and this week wear down against Washington's talented offense. It's too hard to call - with the call coming down to whether this will be the week where UCLA's offense is decent.