-- UCLA (1-1) travels to Seattle to take on Washington (0-1) Saturday. The game will be televised by ABC live at 4:00 p.m., with commentators Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts calling the action.
-- After losing its season opener against Oklahoma State two weeks ago, UCLA rebounded last week with a win over Illinois on the road, 35-17.
-- Washington had a bye last week, after getting beat by Fresno State at Husky Stadium for the season opener two weeks ago, 35-16.
-- UCLA leads the overall series, 33-28-2. The Bruins have taken that lead in the last several years, having won six of the last seven, including the last three in a row.
-- Last year, UCLA beat Washington at the Rose Bowl, 46-16, in easily UCLA's best game of the 2003 season. After trailing 13-0, UCLA scored 39 straight points. The game turned at the beginning of the second half when UCLA defensive end Dave Ball sacked the Husky quarterback in the end zone and Rodney Leisle recovered for a touchdown.
-- The last time UCLA traveled to Washington was in 2002, and the Bruins won 34-24. In fact, the last time UCLA has lost to Washington was in 2000, dropping a 35-28 game at Seattle to the then #7-ranked Huskies. You then have to go back to 1996 for the next to last time UCLA has lost to Washington.
-- Despite UCLA's success in Seattle, Husky Stadium is considered one of the toughest places to play in the Pac-10, if not the country. The grandstands are very vertical, and look right over the field. They're also made of a tin-like material, which tends to amplify the noise from the already very-loud crowd. UCLA practiced with piped-in noise all week.
-- Washington is coached by Keith Gilbertson, who is in his second year as the Husky head coach, taking over for Rick Neuheisel when he was fired a month before the 2003 season started. Gilbertson went 6-6 and 4-4 a season ago, and was edged out of a bowl game by UCLA. Gilbertson was an assistant at Washington for four seasons before taking over the head coaching position. He had previously been the head coach at Idaho and at California, and has a 54-42 career record. As an offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, he has also coached in the NFL, with the Seattle Seahawks. Even though the national opinion is that Gilbertson is on the hot seat, many close to the Washington program believe he has some security in his job – at least for another season.
-- Gilbertson replaced four assistants in the off-season. He added UCLA's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from a year ago, Steve Axman, who was also a long-time Washington assistant. Axman is coaching receivers this season. Also, Washington's defensive coordinator is UCLA's former DC, Phil Snow.
-- UCLA Head Coach Karl Dorrell spent a season in Washington as its offensive coordinator in 1999 before going to the Denver Broncos as its wide receivers coach.
-- Washington Head Coach Keith Gilbertson coached UCLA offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Tom Cable at Idaho, and Cable worked under him at both Idaho and Cal. In fact, both went to Snohomish High in Snohomish, Wash. (which happens to be the high school attended by prime UCLA basketball recruiting target, Jon Brockman, as well as committed tight end recruit, Adam Heater).
-- The Washington Huskies roster includes 19 players from the greater Los Angeles area, including familiar recruiting names like Quintin Daniels (WR, Loyola), Clarence Simpson (CB, Sylmar), Dan Howell (LB, Hart), and Erick Lobos (DT, Venice).
-- This is a must game for Washington. With a loss, it gets almost exponentially tougher for them to possibly have a winning season since their schedule is relatively tough. Next week they go on the road at Notre Dame, and then Stanford on the road, then later in the season have USC, Oregon and rival Washington State on the road. They also face Oregon State and Cal at home.
-- UCLA receiver Craig Bragg is 16 receptions away from setting the career all-time reception list. He's current second on the list with 164 catches, trailing just Kevin Jordan with 179.
-- Saturday's weather in Seattle is expected to be in the low 60s with a 50% chance of rain (what a shock).
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON'S DEFENSE
If you see that Fresno State put up 35 points on the Huskies at home two weeks ago, you might think the Washington defense isn't very good.
Those 35 points are a bit misleading.
This is not to say that Washington's defense is not an elite group, but they certainly are fairly solid, with some big-play type of talent and some steady types anchoring their defensive effort.
|Washington corner Derrick Johnson (Getty).|
If you want to throw away from him the problem is that senior Sam Cunningham (6-0, 180) mans the opposite cornerback spot. Cunningham isn't necessarily a star, but he is a returning starter with experience.
If you want to try pick on the Huskies over the middle you then have to face one of the best safeties in the conference in senior Jimmy Newell (6-1, 195), who is tied for the most tackles of any returning defensive player from a season ago.
As you move up Washington's defense it gets less certain. The Husky linebackers could be considered solid, though. The unit is led by junior Joe Lobendahn (5-10, 23), a former starter who then beat out another former starter, senior Tim Galloway (6-2, 230) for one of the starting inside linebacker spots. Lobendahn had a Spencer Havner-esque day against Fresno State two weeks ago, collecting 16 tackles, five for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble. The other starter inside, Evan Benjamin (6-0, 210), a converted safety, had a good first game against Fresno State. Perhaps the knock on the linebackers is not really an elite level of talent and just a moderate degree of experience.
It then gets a little dicier up front for the Huskies. In fact, it is not completely unlike UCLA's situation at defensive line, but probably not as extreme. The completely known quantity is senior defensive tackle Manase Hopoi (6-4, 290), the only returning starter to the d-line. He is quick, strong and a very sure tackler. After that, the line consists of a converted offensive lineman at the other defensive tackle position, sophomore Dan Milsten (6-5, 290), a JC transfer at one defensive end position, junior Mike Mapuolesega (6-3, 265), and an undersized sophomore at the other d-end in Brandon Ala (6-3, 245). Washington's rush defense, though, did quite a bit better than UCLA's counterparts in their first game, allowing Fresno State 137 yards on the ground, and just 3.9 yards per carry.
|UCLA tight end Marcedes Lewis(Getty).|
UCLA's offensive line has been stellar in its first two games, led by junior center Mike McCloskey. On the ground, UCLA has averaged 232 yards in those two games, and 5.8 yards per carry. UCLA's Thunder and Lightning running back tandem of Manuel White and Maurice Drew have also been very good, averaging 214 yards between the two of them. The holes have been big and plentiful, and White and Drew have hit them well. Tom Cable, the offensive coordinator, introduced a few new running plays against Illinois, and you can probably expect a few more against Washington to keep their defense on their toes.
Washington will probably come out with a philosophy of trying to stop UCLA's running game by stacking the box a bit, and making UCLA quarterback Drew Olson have to overcome Washington's very good defensive secondary in the rain. Among UCLA's receivers, Craig Bragg, of course, has been exceptional. But for UCLA to be effective against Washington's secondary, another receiver will have to step up and take the pressure off Bragg. It could be Tab Perry time – with the senior now having gotten his feet wet and his experience helping him go into a tough situation like Husky Stadium and step up.
But probably the receiver who might be able to do the most damage against the Huskies is tight end Marcedes Lewis. You can probably expect UCLA to utilize the West Coast Offense philosophy pretty extensively, that is, throwing the ball short, dinking you down the field. This is where Lewis is really most effective, being able to catch those 5-15 yard passes and being able to get past that first-down marker to move the chains. He'll probably most of the time see linebackers in coverage, and he'll have an advantage.
So much, though, comes down to Olson's ability to execute. How he did against Illinois on the road last week was encouraging. Also encouraging is that Washington's defensive line didn't appear to mount a very formidable pass rush against Fresno State, and UCLA's offensive line has yet to give up a sack in two games. Washington will be blitzing, with defensive coordinator Phil Snow liking the zone blitz, to try to put more pressure on Olson, and it will be interesting to see if Cable's newly-built offensive line and blocking scheme can provide Olson enough time to operate.
Advantage: UCLA. UCLA's strength, running the ball, goes up directly against the apparent weakness of Washington's defense, its defensive line. After just two very good games it's difficult to crown UCLA's offensive line as complete kings of the trenches just yet. But since we only have the two games to go on, and then having watched the Washington/Fresno State game, you have to give the most critical advantage in this game to UCLA's offensive line. If they can create holes and keep the pressure off Olson, UCLA's offense will hold onto the ball, consume the clock, and control the game.
WASHINGTON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
It's a tale of two struggling units facing each other.
The issue is: which will struggle the least? No matter how you spin it, UCLA's defensive front seven have been porous. They've given up a whopping 317 average yards on the ground in two games. You know it's bad when the Bruin faithful were citing how much improved the defense did defending the run against Illinois when they gave up 221 yards.
|UCLA defensive tackle C.J. Niusulu (Getty).|
The real issue is probably just how effective – and healthy – these players are. If defensive tackle C.J. Niusulu is 100%, his presence would indeed impact the defense considerably. But the question is how close is he to 100%, and how many plays will he get. Dorrell even mentioned this week that Niusulu, after having sat out for nearly three weeks, isn't in condition to play a full game.
Kyle Morgan, the JC transfer defensive end that was slated to start at one defensive end, would be a huge boost if he were close to 100%. He said Thursday he was in the high 90s percentile. Morgan, last spring, looked good, having the type of strength and size UCLA needs to hold the line.
Converted offensive guard Eyoseph Efseaff is certainly a guy who can contribute, being the strongest player on the team. He is thought to be fully recovered from his groin injury.
Freshman defensive end Brigham Harwell showed his talent last week, and looks to be close to 100%.
Star middle linebacker Justin London got back some of his quickness and agility in practice this week. Though he says he's not 100% you can expect him to be better than he was against Illinois last week, and get in on more plays.
These five guys are going to have to be healthier and better, and be on the field quite a bit more than they were in the last two weeks if the front seven is going to be what you could possibly deem successful against Washington. Because, again, nothing against the young UCLA players that are valiantly manning the positions while these guys have been hurt, UCLA just can't hope to be successful defensively if the younger players continue to get the majority of the reps on defense.
From all indications, it does appear that the intention is for Niusulu, Morgan, Efseaff and Harwell to get more reps, and more London to go as long as he can.
|Washington fullback Zach Tuiasosopo (Getty).|
After Barnes, the Washington OL is unproven. Sophomore guard Clay Walker (6-4, 300) started six games a year ago, and he has the next most experience of any of the offensive linemen after Barnes. The rest of the line consists of a senior new starter, a junior new starter, and a sophomore converted from the defensive line who is also a new starter.
They're probably a bit better than Illinois offensive line, but not nearly in the same ballpark with Oklahoma State's OL.
Among its skill players, Washington has a good collection at the top, but not a lot of depth. Probably the best is senior wide receiver Charles Frederick (6-0, 185), one of the best receivers the Pac-10. Frederick is dangerous deep but has good moves and can bust loose on short throws. Sophomore Corey Williams (6-2, 195) is a new starter at the other receiver position and, as a true sophomore, is completely unproven. He caught five passes a season ago as a true freshman and didn't make a reception two weeks ago against Fresno State.
The running backs are solid to good, with the talent being probably more at the starting fullback position than at tailback. Senior fullback Zach Tuiasosopo (6-2, 245) is considered one of the best fullbacks in the country, and didn't disappoint in his first game against Fresno. He ran the ball twice for 51 yards (one was a 50-yard run) and caught 5 passes for 47 yards, and looked like Washington's most dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Sophomore Kenny James (5-10, 215) starts at tailback, having started five games last season and running for a total of 530 yards. He's a Maurice Drew-type of back – small, low to the ground, stocky, and hard to bring down because of low center of gravity while being able to break tackles.
Washington will get back its starting tight end, big Joe Toledo (6-6, 285), who sat out the Fresno State game with a groin injury. He practice this week and will play, even though there's a question whether he's 100%. He's considered more of a blocking tight end, but an effective one. Senior Jon Lyon (6-6, 265) is more of the Huskies' tight end receiving threat, even though he didn't catch a ball against Fresno State.
The primary issue with Washington's offense is their quarterback position. Cody Pickett, the owner of most of Washington's passing records, left after last season, and left the position in a bad state. Junior Casey Paus (6-5, 220), former UCLA quarterback Corey Paus' younger brother, is the starter, and is struggling. He was 18-for-39 against Fresno State for 183 yards and three interceptions. He looked like he not only struggled to throw the ball down the field, but make reads on short routes, throwing into double coverage often. He also appeared to look only for Frederick every time he dropped back to pass. The other potential option at quarterback was going to be sophomore Isaiah Stanback (6-3, 205), but as of Thursday the word out of Washington is that he's doubtful due to injury. It's uncertain whether Stanback legitimately is doubtful, or whether Gilbertson thinks he's playing some clever mind game with UCLA by keeping his status unknown. With Pickett gone, Washington has returned to its old option-based attack it ran under Marques Tuiasosopo a few years ago, and Stanback, a converted wide receiver, is the guy who runs it better, so that is the big mystery. The issue, though, really isn't necessarily what scheme the offense will run, but the fact that Washington doesn't have a very good quarterback to run it. Stanback struggled in the Fresno State game about as much as Paus did.
Watch for UCLA to blitz at least as much as it did against Illinois in the second half of that game, and possibly more, challenging Paus to try to be the one to beat them. UCLA's two star linebackers – Spencer Havner and Justin London – will probably have big days with blitzes and potential interceptions.
UCLA's defensive secondary will have a challenge containing Frederick, but will be able to zone and double-team since no other Washington receiver has stepped up to pose a real threat.
Advantage: Even. It's a testament to how mediocre Washington's offense is that it's an even proposition with UCLA's depleted and injured defense. It all starts with Washington's quarterback situation, and Paus just hasn't proven that he can get it done. Look for UCLA's recovering defense to look even better against Washington, blitzing and stacking the box to try to mask its deficiencies on the defensive line, which plays perfectly along with forcing Paus to beat you. Without Stanback, Washington will not have the option of going to the option as much as it would like, which should limit its already limited offense more.
PREDICTION: Here are the trends: UCLA's defense is getting healthier and will play with more returned starters and impact players for this game than it has in its first two. Washington's offense is struggling and probably without a quarterback who could add a much-needed dimension to the team. UCLA's offense has rolled up more yards in each of its last two games than in any game last year. Last week's total of 481 yards was the most the offense has produced in a game in two years. UCLA's offensive line has put together its best two performances by any UCLA offensive line in many, many years. Washington has a pretty decent defense, but its weakness potentially is its inexperienced line, going up against the strength of UCLA's offense, its offensive line.
You have to discount in playing in Husky Stadium, which is always worth at least a touchdown (which would make the Huskies' loss against Fresno State, 35-16, even more shocking). You have to discount in the rain that is forecast for Saturday, which will slow down both offenses.
But the Bruin offense should be able to move the ball against the Husky defense, and the UCLA defense should look better against a Washington offense that is probably worse than Illinois's offense.