-- The Washington Huskies come to the Rose Bowl Saturday for a kick-off at 7:15 p.m. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net West 2, with the action being called by Bill Macdonald, former UCLA wide receiver Mike Sherrard and Sonny Sixkiller, with Lindsay Soto on the sideline.
-- UCLA is 3-0, coming off a big win over Oklahoma two weeks ago in the Rose Bowl, 41-24. Their start this season has garnered a #20 ranking in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Polls, being ranked for the first time in back-to-back weeks since 2001.
-- UCLA leads the series with the Huskies, 34-28-2, while also having won the last four meetings and are 7-1 in the last 8 games. The teams have met in each of the last 12 seasons and UCLA has an 8-4 record in that span, 5-1 in the Rose Bowl. UCLA hasn't lost to Washington since 2000, and hasn't lost to them in the Rose Bowl since 1995, in Terry Donahue's last season as UCLA's head coach.
-- Last season UCLA prevailed in Seattle, 37-31, coming back from a first-quarter deficit of 24-7. UCLA running back Maurice Drew had a career day, rushing for a UCLA record 322 yards and another record of five touchdowns. Drew had 169 yards in the first quarter and 235 at the half. He scored on runs of 47, 62, 58, 15 and 37 yards.
-- Washington is coached by Ty Willingham, who is in his first season in Seattle. Willingham, of course, is the former head coach at Notre Dame and Stanford. Willingham coached at Notre Dame for just three seasons before being fired. He was head coach at Stanford for seven seasons, compiling a 44-36-1 record at Palo Alto in that time. He was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 1999 when he led the Cardinal to a first place finish in the conference and its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1972. He was 3-4 against UCLA while at Stanford. Willingham, who was named National Coach of the Year after his first season at Notre Dame, is known for his conservative style, both offensively and defensively.
-- UCLA's Karl Dorrell is in his third season at the helm of the Bruins, with a 15-13 record overall. It is thought that Dorrell won a milestone game for his program two weeks ago when the Bruins defeated then-#20 ranked Oklahoma. UCLA being ranked in the last two weeks is the first time the Bruins have been ranked under Dorrell in his three years.
-- The Washington football program has generally been in decline since 2000. Last season it hit rock bottom when it posted a 1-10 record that resulted in the firing of its head coach, Keith Gilbertson. Gilbertson was head coach for just two seasons, going 7-5 the season before in 2003. Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback and assistant coach, was the Husky coach before Gilbertson, but was fired after a swirl of controversy that resulted after allegations that he gambled on the NCAA basketball tournament. It was a final transgression for Neuheisel, who had a history of incidents during his entire college head coaching career at both Colorado and Washington. In 2000, in his second to last season as the Washington head coach, Neuheisel led the Huskies to a 11-1 record, a first-place finish in the Pac-10, and a victory in the Rose Bowl to end the season ranked #3 in the nation. The program has been unraveling since.
-- Washington hadn't suffered a losing season in its last 27 years before last season.
-- Washington hasn't posted back-to-back losing seasons since 1973.
-- The game on Saturday will be Washington's first real road game of the season. It's first game of the season, against Air Force, was in Qwest Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks.
-- It's UCLA's Pac-10 opener for 2005. UCLA has won its last four conference openers. Karl Dorrell is 2-0 in Pac-10 openers, having beaten Washington in both 2003 and 2004 to open UCLA's conference schedule.
-- Karl Dorrell coached at Washington for a season as its offensive
coordinator in 1999.
Current UCLA and Washington coaches know each other well, with many having served on various coaching staffs together. There are also quite a few Californians on the Husky roster, while UCLA claims two players from the state of Washington.
WASHINGTON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
There isn't much that the Huskies are doing really well so far in the 2005 season, on either side of the ball.
Perhaps its most success has been in its passing game, where it's averaging 274 yards per game, which is pretty good for a team averaging just 382 yards of total offense.
The most pleasant surprise for Husky fans has been the improving performance of Washington's junior quarterback, Isaiah Stanback (6-3, 205). Stanback, on the season, has thrown for 1,041 yards, completed 57% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Becoming a starter really for the first time this season, Stanback has improved in Washington's four games, and looked good last week against Notre Dame when he went 17 for 34 for 353 yards. He has a strong arm and throws well on the run, and is very mobile and athletic, a threat to take off with his feet on just about every play. He's the second-leading rusher on the team with 127 yards.
Stanback started off the season a bit shaky, especially in his decision-making, and last week against Notre Dame still had some moments when he tried to force balls into receivers. With a lack of experience, he's still very prone to being forced into mistakes.
Probably what exacerbates his mistakes is the fact that he simply doesn't have a lot of support around him. Washington's offensive line, which was thought to be its strength going into the season, has had some problems. It lost its starting left tackle and potential standout when senior Joe Toledo (6-6, 290) injured his ankle in the season-opening game against Air Force, and he's not expected back this week. It moved its right tackle, senior Robin Meadows (6-6, 295), to Toledo's spot, and filled in senior Tui Alailefaleula (6-4, 335), a converted d-lineman, at the right tackle spot. Its left guard position is seeing a two-man rotation, between juniors Clay Walker (6-4, 300) and Stanley Daniels (6-4, 310). The mainstay of the OL is its center, senior Brad Vanneman (6-3, 305), a three-year letterman.
|UW's Craig Chambers.|
With Toledo's injury and a few other questions, the Husky offensive line has struggled to run block, which has limited the Husky running game and made its offense fairly one-dimensional. Averaging just 107 yards per game on the ground and just 3.5 yards per carry has allowed defenses to key more on Washington's passing game, and put pressure on Stanback.
Washington doesn't have a great group of running backs either. Junior Kenny James (5-10, 215) was the returning starter, but he's sputtered due to injury and sophomore Louis Rankin (6-0, 195), has stepped in, and he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. He did just okay against weak opponents like Air Force (112 yards) and Idaho (115) yards, but was shut down against decent defenses like Cal (38 yards) and Notre Dame (27 yards). Washington will also use senior James Sims (6-1, 205) as a third-and-short guy. Former UCLA-committed running back, junior Shelton Sampson (5-11, 210) hasn't done much this season, being fourth on the depth chart.
Washington's receivers are fairly decent possession-type guys. The receiver emerging is sophomore Craig Chambers (6-3, 204), who had a breakout game against Notre Dame a week ago, catching 5 balls for 127 yards, including a 49-yard touchdown. He emerged late last season and looks like he's becoming Washington's primary deep-ball threat. Their steadiest receiver is former Beverly Hills High standout, junior Sonny Shackleford (6-2, 180), who is their leading receiver so far this season. Shackleford has solid hands and gets most of his catches on short routes, lacking the breakaway speed to make him a real threat deep. Sophomore Anthony Russo (5-11, 185) is another receiver to watch.
The Husky offense also likes to look for its tight end often, and back-up redshirt freshman Johnnie Kirton (6-3, 280) has shown a penchant for getting his big body open, upstaging sophomore starter Robert Lewis (6-5, 230).
|Nikola Dragovic & Justin London.|
UCLA's defense proved itself to a degree two weeks ago against Oklahoma. While the Sooners weren't a traditional Sooners team, UCLA still looked good (and improved) defending them. The most eye-opening accomplishment was UCLA limiting Oklahoma to just 83 yards rushing on the day. UCLA's young defensive line is growing and developing in real time this season, and perhaps the guy making the most strides is defensive end Nikola Dragovic, who looked very good in the Sooner game. UCLA's two young defensive tackles, Brigham Harwell and true freshman Chase Moline, also looked better against Oklahoma than they did against San Diego State or Rice.
UCLA's big question on defense, with the loss of potential star defensive tackle Kevin Brown before the season to an ankle injury, was whether its interior d-line could hold up. While it's still not dominating by any means, it's improved.
Another particular break-through against the Sooners was the play of middle linebacker Justin London, who looked, for the first time in almost two years, like he wasn't hampered by injuries. London did, though, suffer a slightly strained hamstring in practice this week and it will be interesting to see if he can play like he did against Oklahoma.
UCLA's young cornerbacks will probably get their biggest test yet of the season, with Washington undoubtedly having to go to the air for most of the game to be productive offensively. UCLA's Trey Brown has played particularly well, good enough to keep talented Rodney Van coming off the bench. Two weeks ago against Oklahoma the Sooners didn't really try to go deep on UCLA, and Washington isn't exactly a deep-ball threat either, but it will attempt to stretch UCLA's defensive secondary occasionally.
Advantage: UCLA. It's a good matchup for the UCLA defense, with Washington's best asset, its passing game, going up against UCLA's best defensive asset, its pass defense. Anytime UCLA can face a weak running team like Washington is advantageous for them, taking the pressure off its young interior defensive lineman. Stanback will probably have a 300-yard game much like he did against Cal and Notre Dame, and UCLA, with its trouble in pursuing and tackling, will probably have some issues in containing the quick-footed Stanback. Watch for Stanback to probably run for a few of those frustrating third-and-long first downs. But UCLA defensive coordinator Larry Kerr has shown some aggressive play-calling so far this season in an effort to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, and you can probably expect Stanback to trying to avoid consistent UCLA blitzing. With UCLA blitzing and pressure Stanback, it's not hard to expect that he'll get forced into some mistakes, which so far this season has been the calling card of UCLA's defense - creating the turnover.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON'S DEFENSE
In the matchup between these two teams, This is where the real lopsidedness.
UCLA is second in the conference in scoring, averaging 49 points a game, while Washington is second to last in scoring defense.
UCLA is averaging a healthy 175 yards per game on the ground, while Washington is giving up a healthy 183 yards per game.
The Bruins are averaging 265 yards per game through the air, while Washington is allowing 248 per game.
UCLA is averaging 441 yards total per game on offense, while Washington is dead last in the conference in total defense, allowing 432 yards per game.
Washington's D, lacking the talent and depth, can only try some desperate measures in defending against UCLA's defense. And probably at the top of the list of desperate measures is stacking the box, putting eight or nine defenders around the line of scrimmage, to try to take away UCLA's running game.
|UW's Manase Hopoi.|
Washington actually has a player who is good at doing this, senior defensive tackle Manase Hopoi (6-4, 290). Hopoi is commonly ranked among the top ten defensive tackles in college football, after making second-team Pac-10 a season ago. He's very good against the run, and has a good ability to get off his block in rushing the passer. One of the best matchups of the day will be Hopoi against UCLA's senior center, Mike McCloskey, after McCloksey had his hands full with Oklahoma's nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek.
It's been a bit curious, though, just how poorly Washington's defense has fared, since they have some decent talent, especially among their linebackers. Senior middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn (5-10, 230) looks pint-sized on the field, but he's considered one of the best defensive playmakers in the league, leading the team in tackles with 36. Junior Scott White (6-1, 230) and senior Evan Benjamin (6-0, 215) are also fairly undersized but quick and can cover a good amount of the field.
Washington has shown vulnerability among its cornerbacks, starting two new ones for 2005. Sophomore Matt Fountaine (5-11, 185) is the only one with some decent experience, and he only had two previous starts coming into the season. On the other side is junior Josh Okoebor (5-10, 175), and sophomore Roy Lewis (5-11, 175) could play in place of Fountaine quite a bit. The corners are overall young and inexperienced, and not particularly big, and have been showing it in Washington's first four games.
Junior Dashon Goldson (6-2, 195) is a returning starter at the free safety spot, and he's a good hitter, but plays out of control sometimes. C.J. Wallace (6-0, 205), a junior, is a returning starter at strong safety and generally pretty solid.
Washington will have its hands full on the groun and through the air. Cal, which has a fairly similar offense to UCLA's in terms of talent and production, ran for 287 yards and passed for 271. The Washington defense - and its fans - have to be having nightmarish flashbacks thinking about Maurice Drew, after he ran for a UCLA record 322 yards against them.
|Bruins' offensive line.|
UCLA's offensive line plowed through Washington's d-line a year ago, and UCLA's o-line is probably improved. The youngsters on UCLA's o-line, guards Shannon Tevaga and Chris Joseph, and tackle Brian Abraham, have played very well, and will probably improve as they get more confident with the season progressing. Given Washington's inability to stop the run, this would be a prime game for them to gain more confidence.
Oklahoma decided not to allow Drew and Chris Markey beat them, and stacked the box, and challenged UCLA quarterback Drew Olson to beat them. And he did, easily. You can probably expect a similar approach from Washington's defense, even after witnessing Olson picking apart Oklahoma, mostly because Washington really doesn't have any other choice. Everything points towards UCLA's All-American tight end, Marcedes Lewis, having a huge game, going up against a defense whose back seven are on the smallish side and with them primed to stop UCLA's running game.
The key to UCLA's offensive success has been UCLA's precision in its short passing game, able to move the ball down the field with Olson throwing quick outs and hitches to sure-handed Marcus Everett and Co. With a short drop, and not able to be pressured, Olson has proven to be very effective in getting the ball to his receivers. The o-line has been excellent in providing time also when he's looked downfield.
Advantage: UCLA. There isn't really much that Washington can do here to stop UCLA. They'll try to limit UCLA's running game, so they don't dominate the ball and the time of possession. UCLA, on the other hand, will again try to sustain long drives and eat up the clock, to keep its defense off the field, as it did against Oklahoma. If the running game is clogged because of a Washington stacked box, Olson will go right back to the short passing game to sustain those drives. But really, Washington's only hope is to not allow UCLA to run all day and they'll probably do everything they can to limit Maurice Drew.
Washington, on special teams, has a very good punter in Sean Douglas, who is averaging 45 yards per punt, which is good enough for 10th in the nation. They have been pretty poor in covering kickoff and punt returns also, and UCLA's return teams have been a strength so far this season.
It would be a surprise if UCLA's offense didn't dominate the game. Even with Washington trying to stop the run, it's a good bet they won't be able to - at least all day. Washington very well could limit Maurice Drew early, but it's only a matter of time. If Drew Olson has the kind of game he has against Oklahoma, Washington's defense has little chance.
The Huskies, though, aren't by any means a 1-AA team. Even though the score against Notre Dame didn't indicate it, they were still in that game and competitive, mostly because of the effectiveness of their passing game and Stanback blossoming into an effective quarterback. UCLA will be coming at Stanback, trying to pressure him into mistakes, which he has been prone to make.
Will UCLA have a let down? After a big victory over Oklahoma, a bye week and then possibly looking ahead to Cal next week, you could see it. The rustiness from the bye week and a little complacency will probably keep Washington in the game for the first half.
If you happened to see the Washington/Cal game, you might expect a repeat of that in the Washington/UCLA game. It was fairly close early, as Washington played tough, but then the flood gates fell and Cal's offense took over. That game, in Seattle, was 56-17.
UCLA's defense probably isn't as good as Cal's overall, so give the Huskies another score against UCLA. But then again, take away a few points for Washington playing its first road game, with Stanback really not going into a hostile environment yet this season. Then again, probably take away a few UCLA points because of the UCLA letdown factor.