Preview of the Washington Game

The 2-1 Washington Huskies come to the Rose Bowl Saturday, looking improved this season. It's a big game for UCLA, having to erase the lingering memories of the Utah debacle. Will UCLA prove that the Utah game was an aberration?


-- UCLA faces Washington at the Rose Bowl Saturday at 7:15 p.m. The game will be televised by FSN, on HD, with Barry Thompkins, Petros Papadakis and Jim Watson calling the action. <p>

-- UCLA is 2-1 on the season, having beaten Stanford and BYU in its first two meetings of the and then losing at Utah, 44-6, last week.

-- Washington is also 2-1 on the season, beating Syracuse, 42-12, and Boise State, 24-10, and then last week losing at home against #10-ranked Ohio State, 33-14.

-- UCLA was ranked #11 prior to last week's game, but having lost to Utah is now out of both national polls.

-- It's the first full-fledged week of Pac-10 action. UCLA has a slight advantage in the Pac-10 race so far, having beaten Stanford.

-- UCLA has an edge in the overall series against Washington, 35-29-2, which dates back to 1932.  The Bruins have won five of the last six and eight of the last 10. 

-- Last year, the Huskies snapped a five-game Bruin winning streak with a 29-19 victory in Seattle.  In that game, UCLA jumped out to a 16-0 lead, only to be outscored the rest of the way 29-3. It was Ben Olson's first career road start as a Bruin.

-- In the last meeting in the Rose Bowl in 2005, Washington jumped out to a 10-0 halftime lead, but Drew Olson and Marcedes Lewis led a Bruin comeback, and UCLA scored 14 fourth-quarter points to win 21-17.

-- Washington is coached by Tyrone Willingham, who is in his third year in Seattle, with a record of 9-17.  Willingham, the former Stanford and Notre Dame coach, took over a once-proud Husky program that had hit bottom in 2004.  Besides posting a 10-3 season at Notre Dame in one of his three years in South Bend,  the most impressive aspect of Willingham's career was having an overall winning record at Stanford, 44-36-1, which is a notoriously difficult place to consistently win. In fact, Willingham won the Pac-10 in 1999 and took the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1972.  He's known as a disciplined coach that fields a well-coached team, but isn't necessarily a goog game coach.

-- Interestingly, Willingham is the second Washington coach to have coached at another Pac-10 school, along with his predecessor Keith Gilbertson, who had previously been the head coach at Cal.

-- Willingham is 4-5 overall against UCLA. Also interestingly, among Pac-10 opponents, Willingham was the least successful against Washington, going 1-6 while at Stanford.

-- UCLA coach Karl Dorrell served as the Husky offensive coordinator for the 1999 season before leaving to coach the wide receivers with the Denver Broncos.

-- Dorrell coached on the Arizona State staff in 1994 with current Washington defensive coordinator Kent Baer. He also served on the Colorado staff in 1992 and 1993 along side current Husky tight ends/special teams coach, Bob Simmons.

-- Former UCLA cornerback Byron Velega, now known as Byron Davenport, transferred to Washington, and is listed second on the Washington depth chart at that position.

-- The Huskies roster includes 30 players from Southern California; UCLA has two players from the state of Washington, receiver Jamil Turner and tight end Adam Heater.

-- UCLA, of course, is coming off a devastating loss to Utah, 44-6, so the Washington game is a very big one, with the Bruins trying to right the ship and resurrect their reputation as a potential top-25 team.  Washington lost to Ohio State, in a game that was closer than the score indicated.  This could probably be called the Rebound Bowl.

-- The weather forecast calls for it to rain in Southern California Friday and possibly early Saturday, with the game-time temperature in the 60s. 


UCLA's defense, under DeWayne Walker, has struggled against spread offenses, and another one comes to town when the Huskies line up on Saturday in the Rose Bowl.

It's a spread that's not near as wide open as others, but it's definitely more open than traditionally what Willingham has run elsewhere.  The Huskies will run out of the shot gun a vast majority of the time, with four receivers, and many times send their tailback in motion to put five receivers in the pattern.

What it does is open up the field for sophomore quarterback Jake Locker (SO, 6-3, 225), who is earning a rep as one of the best, young playmakers in the country.  Washington utilized Isaiah Stanback at quarterback for the last couple of years, a guy who was definitely a threat to take off and run the ball, and now they plug in Locker, who is just as much a threat to run. In fact, Locker leads the Huskies in rushing with 269 yards in three games, averaging 89 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry.  Not only will he scramble and run, but Locker will tuck the ball and take off in designed plays out of the spread.

Locker hasn't yet proven himself to be a great passer, but he's shown some signs.  He's done fairly well in completing quick, short throws, but has looked a bit shaky when throwing the ball more down the field. Last week against Ohio State he had three interceptions (but he did run for 102 yards on 14 carries).  He's only three games into his career starting as Washington's quarterback, so the youngster is prone to mistakes, but he can also make big plays for the Huskies, so it's a pretty good trade-off. On one play last week against OSU Locker looked like he was sacked, but scrambled, and not only made the first down but, after some nifty moves, found the sideline and turned upfield for quite a bit more yardage beyond the first-down marker. That's when he's really most dangerous - when you think you have him contained and he makes a big play on you.

Louis Rankin (SR, 6-0, 205) is one of those guys that seems like he's been at a program forever. He's got good size and is quick, and he had a great game beating up on lowly Syracuse in the season opener, but then has only averaged 43 yards on the ground in the last two games.  He's getting some grief in Seattle for dancing around and not hitting holes hard (sounds familiar). 

Behind Rankin, it doesn't seem like the Husky coaching staff has too much confidence in anyone else.  Among their three other tailbacks, there have been only two other carries by tailbacks other than Rankin in Washington's last two games.  It also could be because the Huskies are becoming very enamored of Locker running the ball and he's taking the carries.  There is Brandon Johnson (FR, 5-11, 195), who missed the Ohio State game last week but is expected to play this week and seems to be the next most favored tailback on the roster.  Paul Homer (SO, 6-0, 222), the fullback, is also good for a couple of carries a game. But expect Locker and Rankin to get between 15-20 carries each, and that's just about as many carries as the Huskies have to go around.
Receiver Marcel Reece.

Among the wide receivers, emerging as someone to worry about is Marcel Reece (SR, 6-3, 240), who combines a tight end's size with decent quickness. He's consistent in getting 4 or 5 catches per game, and Locker has shown a penchant to go to him when he needs a completion.   Anthony Russo (SR, 5-11, 185) is the guy who compliments Reece with speed, and he's been very consistent in getting his catches every game.  Russo is the guy they look to go up top with to stretch the field.  Corey Williams (SR, 6-2, 196) is also decent, and Washington is trying to get D'Andre Goodwin (SO, 6-0, 170) more touches since he's probably the fastest guy on the team. Watch for Washington to utilize him on a reverse.  Washington's receivers, though, have had a little bit of the dropsies so far this season, which doesn't help a young quarterback.

The tight end is a position that has gone relatively under-used in terms of receiving for the Huskies. Robert Lewis (SR, 6-5, 250) is the best receiver among a group of three, and former walk-on Michael Gottlieb (SR, 6-5, 245) is used primarily as the blocking tight end.

The biggest key to the offense heading into the season, besides quarterback, was Washington's offensive line.  The Huskies returned three starters but had to find two new ones.  The anchor is center Juan Garcia (SR, 6-3, 315), who is a solid, second-team All Pac-10 level guy.  Chad Macklin (SR, 6-8, 300) and Ben Ossai (JR, 6-6, 300) give the Huskies two reliable returning starters on the outside, while Cody Habben (SO, 6-6, 300) has been platooning a bit with Ossai. A couple of sophomores, Ryan Tolar (SO, 6-5, 315) and Casey Bulyca (SO, 6-6, 320), have taken over the two guard spots, and their play has gotten decent reviews.

You might have noticed, though, that Washington's OL is pretty large, averaging 310 pounds, while UCLA's starting defensive line this week averages 269 pounds.  In the last two weeks, going up against BYU's and Utah's bigger offensive lines proved to be tough for UCLA's smaller DL, especially now with two of UCLA's starters out (Brigham Harwell and Nikola Dragovic).

UCLA's defense.
UCLA's defense, which had a rep as being one of the best in the Pac-10 last season, and heard some hype as being one of the best in the country coming into this season, is currently ranked 9th in the Pac-10.  UCLA was hoping its offense could improve this season, but it was relying on the defense to be good, which it simply hasn't been so far.  Many could make the case that Ben Olson has been UCLA's biggest disappointment so far this year but, given expectations, you'd have to say that UCLA's defense takes that dubious distinction.

UCLA is dead last in pass defense among Pac-10 teams, allowing a whopping 333 yards per game, which gets the unit ranked 112th among 119 teams in 1-A college football.

You can say that opponents have gone to the air since it can't find room on the ground (UCLA is allowing just 72 yards per game on the ground, 14th in the country), but the pass defense hasn't discouraged anyone.

UCLA's pass defense didn't look great against Stanford and BYU, and then really broke down against Utah's spread last week.  There were receivers running free in UCLA's secondary.  And here they go again, facing another spread offense this week in Washington. The UCLA players this week said the defensive scheme was sound last week against Utah, that the players were missing their assignments.  No matter, UCLA's pass defense will have to improve for it to stop Washington's offense on Saturday.

What was also worrisome was how Utah's beleagured offense was also able to run decently against UCLA's defense. It was very evident that UCLA missed starting defensive tackle Brigham Harwell, and that Utah ran right over the hole created with him out. Jess Ward was his replacement and he'll have to improve on his performance from last week. UCLA got some good news that Brian Price, the talented true freshman defensive tackle, was certified as eligible by the NCAA and will be able to play this week.  He's one of the most talented players on the team, but he's very young and missed all of fall practice. He could get some reps, though, out of desperation that UCLA can't find anyone to shore up Harwell's position.

UCLA also has starting linebacker, veteran Aaron Whittington, out this week, and will start long-time back-up Kyle Bosworth in his place. 

Against a team like Washington, that will have four and maybe five receivers in the pattern, with Locker tucking and running, it's a tough match-up for UCLA, having looked poor in its pass defense and missing two starters.

Advantage: Even.  It's the battle of the bottom-dwellers here, with the worst-ranked offense and the worst-ranked defense in the Pac-10 facing off.

Locker is going to be tough to contain.  UCLA will need to stop the big plays, which it hasn't been able to do in its first three games, and just concede short passes and runs to the Huskies.  Watch for UCLA to go almost exclusively to a nickel package against Washington, especially after the coverage lapses last week against Utah's spread.  Watch for Washington to dedicate itself to running the ball, making UCLA's nickel package have to stop Locker and Rankin on the ground.  While you might think it would be smart to blitz and pressure the inexperienced Locker, UCLA might not want to over-commit defenders and keep them in front of Locker. The weakest aspect of his game is looking down the field to throw, and perhaps the best thing to do against him is force him to do it, and not allowing the easy 8-yard run. 


Washington's defense has been pretty good, and has really been the difference in making the Huskies far better in Washington's first three games of this season rather than Willingham's first two seasons.
What was thought to be the strength of the entire team going into the season was the defensive line, with it returning three guys who were starters, and one who started most of last season. And the DL has lived up to its billing.

Washington's defensive ends have been good, with Greyson Gunheim ((SR, 6-5, 265) having the biggest expectations coming into the season since he was supposed to be entirely healthy after injury issues in 2006. So far, he has 2.5 sacks. On the other side is returning starter Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (JR, 6-4, 260), who has two sacks himself and really was all over the field against Ohio State last week. Caesar Rayford (SR, 6-7, 250) is also getting playing time and has looked very active. Inside is returning starter Jordan Reffert (SR, 6-6, 295) who has been a tough guy to move out of the middle, and also has already blocked two field goals in three games. Wilson Afoa (SR, 6-3, 290) started most of last season and has been solid so far this year.

Linebacker E.J. Savannah.
The linebackers have been a nice surprise for Washington. The known quantity was returning starter Dan Howell (SR, 6-1, 225) at the strongside position. He sat out last week against Ohio State with a knee injury and the word is that he's not 100%.  The guy who has really stepped up is E.J. Savannah (JR, 6-2, 228), the weakside linebacker. The new starter has really taken advantage of his opportunity, leading the team in tackles with 27, and making plays all over the field.  The middle linebacker spot has been shared by Donald Butler (SO, 6-1, 240) and Trenton Tuiasosopo (SR, 6-2, 240), and both have been very good. If you combine their production, it's very impressive, in fact. Between the two of them they have 35 tackles. 

The back four is led by cornerback Roy Lewis (SR, 5-11, 187) who, so far this season, has looked like an All-Pac-10 player. At the other corner is true freshman Vonzell McDowell (FR, 5-9, 176), who opponents have tried to pick on in Washington's first three games.  The Huskies are waiting for Byron Davenport (formerly Byron Velega and a transfer from UCLA) to recover fully from injuries to both hamstrings. He's apparently okay to play this week, but McDowell is expected to get most of the playing time.  At strong safety, Mesphin Forrester (SR, 6-2, 205) has played well, while free safety Jason Wells (JR, 6-2, 210), a JC transfer, is improving.

UCLA's offense, on the other hand, didn't look very improved last week against Utah.  Perhaps the worst aspect of its performance was the five turnvoers - three interceptions and two fumbles.  Utah converted those into 17 points. With UCLA's offense not having a great deal of margin for error, if UCLA turns the ball over again like it did last week the Huskies will be walking out of the Rose Bowl a winner.

Patrick Cowan.
Much is being made of Patrick Cowan more than likely starting the game because of Ben Olson's lingering concussion-like symptoms. Olson hasn't practiced yet this week, even though he said he felt okay yesterday. Even if he practices today, it's expected that Cowan will get the start.

Cowan is returning from being out for four weeks due to a hamstring injury.  In practice this week, he looked like he could move fairly well on the hamstring, but did look rusty, as you would expect. 

Will this be the week when UCLA decides to give Kahlil Bell the majority of the carries over Chris Markey?  Bell has clearly out-played Markey so far this season, but the UCLA brain trust continues to divide up the carries among the two.  UCLA's offense is decidely more effective in moving the chains with Bell in the backfield.

A big hole to fill for UCLA's offense is at guard, with pre-season All-Pac-10er Shannon Tevaga sitting this week with a sprained knee. Long-time reserve P.J. Irvin will be in his place.

Will this be the week when UCLA actually utilizes its talented tight end, Logan Paulsen? Paulsen, who was thought to be one of the best at his position in the Pac-10 coming into the season, has only three catches. 

The UCLA coaches also said that other guys will be getting opportunities against Washington, with Terrence Austin and converted quarterback Osaar Rasshan projected to get more playing time at receiver.  Marcus Everett, one of UCLA's starting receivers, is out for the game.

Advantage: Even. UCLA's offense looked feeble last week. Not only did Olson have a poor game and couldn't find or hit his receivers, the offensive line had perhaps its worst game in a long time.  It allowed five sacks on Olson and he was hit throughout the game, hard enough that he's sitting out this week with a headache.  That doesn't bode well against Washington, with a front seven that is good rushing the passer. 

Pat Cowan comes into this game with probably far too much expected of him. With Olson having faltered, Cowan is expected somewhat to be the savior of UCLA's offense, and that's unlikely. Cowan, before he was injured in fall camp, looked just about the same as he did last season, which is just adequate.  And throw into that how rusty he'll be having been off for four weeks.  Cowan does do one thing, though: He gives UCLA the threat of scrambling. While UCLA has been horrible in coverting third downs (30%), you can probably expect Cowan to scramble for a couple of first downs. That's if his hamstring is recovered.

Watch for Washington to load up the box and try to stop UCLA from running the ball. The Huskies have a pretty decent rush defense to begin with, but if they can shut down UCLA's running game altogether and make UCLA's out-of-sync passing game have to carry the offense, then they're clearly in the advantage.  And again, Washington would love to get its pass rushers unleashed, too.

On special teams, Washington isn't anything special. It has a no-name kicker, Ryan Perkins, and punter, Jared Ballman. While UCLA's Aaron Perez is getting some hype, he shanked a punt last week against Utah that gave the Utes great field position at a critical time in the game. UCLA's freshman kicker Kai Forbath was one of the few redeeming highlights of last week for the Bruins, nailing a 52-yarder.  As stated previously, Washington has blocked two field goals so far this season.


Is it a matter that UCLA is, actually, a top-25 team and last week was an aberration?  It really didn't look like one particularly against Just Stanford or BYU.  Could it be that the team we've seen in the second half of BYU and against Utah is truly the UCLA team of 2007?

Did everyone just about puke when reading that?

The thing is, UCLA needs to prove it isn't true, because most of the prevailing evidence supports the theory.   UCLA's offense is the same as it was a year ago, and it's defense looks like it's getting scouted out, and it's been much worse that last year. And, remember, UCLA went 7-6 last season. Could it be that expectations for UCLA this season were inflated because it beat USC and returned 20 of 22 starters?

Again, UCLA will have to start countering the mounting evidence. And this is the first game it needs to do it.

It truly is a must-win for UCLA. Coming off the loss against Utah last week, if UCLA loses against Washington, at home, the season could spiral. 

You have to give credit to Ty Willingham, because his Husky team is playing fairly well - and they're doing it without much talent.  On offense, the Huskies have average skill players, and a talented but young (and thus limited) quarterback.  On defense, they have a solid defensive line, but a defense without any real elite stars.  Special teams are, well, not special.

Willingham has made the most out of his talent, taking advantage of the team's overall experience, and combined that with a playmaker in Locker to go beyond expectations so far in his first three games. On the other hand, you could make a case that Syracuse is among the worst teams in college football, Boise State was way over-rated when it played the Huskies, and Ohio State is from the Big 10, the home of over-rated.

More than likely, you won't get any definitive answer to most of the questions posed above in this game.  In other words, you won't come away thinking, "Wow, UCLA really proved itself against Washington." More than likely, with UCLA having such an edge in games played in the Rose Bowl under Dorrell, you can expect the Bruins to edge the Huskies in a fairly close - but inconclusive - game.

UCLA  23
Washington  20

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