-- The Washington State Cougars come to the Rose Bowl Saturday, the game kicking off at 7:15 p.m. It will be televised by Fox Prime Ticket with Bill Macdonald and James Washington in the booth.
-- WSU is having a rough season, to say the least, currently at 1-4, with that one win coming from 1-AA Portland State.
-- Its other four losses have come at the hands of Oklahoma State (39-13); Cal (66-3); Baylor (45-17), and Oregon (63-14).
-- That's an average losing margin of a whopping 41.5 points.
-- UCLA and Washington State have played 54 times since 1928, with UCLA leading the series 35-18-1.
-- Washington State is 5-6 in the Rose Bowl against UCLA, and has won the last three in a row.
-- WSU is the only team since 2004 to have two wins against UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
-- The Cougars, in fact, are going through a successful period in general against the Bruins, having won six of the last seven meetings going back to 2001, and 10 of the last 14 going back to 1992. UCLA beat WSU in 1995 in a wild, overtime win in Pullman, but you have to go back to 1998 for its next most recent win.
-- Last year, WSU beat UCLA in Pullman, 27-7, racking up 545 total yards. In 2006, UCLA lost to WSU in the Rose Bowl, 37-15, and the Cougars gained 516 total yards.
-- The Cougars are third to last (117th) in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 44.4 points per game. If you throw out Portland State, they're allowing 53 points per game, which would make them dead last in the nation.
-- By the way, the state of Washington is truly allowing a huge amount of points this season. Not only is WSU allowing 44.4 points per game but the University of Washington is giving up 40.5 per game.
-- Paul Wulff is suffering through a painful first year as the Cougar head coach. Wulff, a former player at WSU, spent the last eight years as the head coach at Eastern Washington and compiled a 53-40 record. Before that he served as EWU's offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and strength coach. He guided the Eagles to six straight winning seasons, and seven overall during his eight years. Being 41 years old, he's the 12th youngest head coach in 1-A and the youngest in the Pac-10. Wulff is best known for his no-huddle offense.
-- Wulff and UCLA Head Coach Rick Neuheisel are two of 18 coaches across the country that currently hold the head coaching job at their alma mater.
-- The Cougars have had 22 players experience their first collegiate start this season, including 14 on offense and 8 on defense.
-- Washington State has scored in 278 straight games, which is the second-longest scoring streak in the country, going back to 1984. It's also the 4th longest in the history of college football.
-- Either UCLA or Washington State is last in 7 of the 14 team statistical categories in the Pac-10 conference. UCLA is last in Passing Efficiency, Scoring Offense, Total Offense and Net Punting, while WSU takes up the rear in Rushing Defense, Scoring Defense and Turnover Margin.
-- UCLA is ninth in Rushing Offense, Passing Offense, Pass Efficiency Defense and Turnover Margin. WSU is ninth in Passing Efficiency, Scoring Offense, Total Defense and Punt Returns.
-- Even though it's been 100 degrees in Pasadena the last couple of days, it's supposed to cool off to a high of 71 degrees by Saturday, and probably about 60 degrees by game time. There's a 30% chance of showers.
WASHINGTON STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
This could be one of the ugliest match-ups of the season. Perhaps the only one uglier is UCLA's offense versus Washington State's defense.
This is the 96th-ranked offense in the country against the 101st-ranked defense.
In other words, there hasn't been a great deal of quality football played by either one of these units.
The most amazing thing is that WSU's offensive numbers are all inflated because they played 1-AA Portland State. In that game they ran for 277 yards and passed for 361 yards.
If you include PSU, the Cougars are 92nd in rushing offense, averaging 120 yards per game. Without PSU, they're averaging 81 yards per game, which would put them at 114th in the nation. With PSU, the Cougars are 72nd in the nation in passing offense, but without PSU they are 102nd.
The Cougars would, without the Portland State stats, average just 243 yards per game, which would be 118th in the nation, or second to last.
|WSU's Marshall Lobbestael.|
The quarterback is Marshall Lobbestael (R-FR, 6-3, 199), who will be in just his second start of his career and his first road start. He's been forced into playing because the Cougars have lost both Gary Rogers and Kevin Lopina to injury.
Last week against an average Oregon defense, at home in Pullman, he went 22 of 41 for 192 yards and two interceptions, and fumbled once while being sacked three times.
He did throw for two touchdowns, and while there were some flashes, he struggled, particularly in making quick reads, which is completely understandable.
The real problem is that WSU won't be able to take the pressure off Lobbestael with a good running game. If you throw out the rushing stats against PSU, The Cougs are averaging 2.3 yards per carry.
Dwight Tardy (JR, 5-11, 201), who had a huge day against UCLA last season (214 yards, 2 TDs), has had little running room so far this season, and he's getting a great deal of his yardage on his own, averaging 50 yards per game. The tailback position is deep, however, and if you combine the yardage from all of WSU's tailbacks, which include Chris Ivory (JR, 6-0, 225), Chantz Staden (JR, 5-10, 200) and Logwone Mitz (FR, 6-1, 219) they're averaging 128 very well-earned yards per game.
The best individual performer on WSU's offense is clearly wideout Brandon Gibson (SR, 6-1, 200) who has 30 catches on the season, averaging about 80 yards per game receiving. He's responsible for 43% of all of Wazzu's receptions, and inexperienced Lobbestael went to him often against Oregon last week, with Gibson hauling in 10 catches for 103 yards. Jeshua Anderson (SO, 6-2, 186) is another target, mostly on shorter throws, and tight end Devin Frischknecht (SR, 6-3, 251) has been effective, especially because he's a pretty wide body and physically can exploit match-ups against smaller LBs and DBs.
So often in college football, it's about the quarterback and the offensive line, and Washington State's OL has vastly struggled, due to a lack of bodies and injuries. The center position is definitely the anchor, with Kenny Alfred (JR, 6-2, 300), and the right side has been fairly steady. But the left side has had little continuity, with the line trying to make up for the pre-season, career-ending injury of Dan Rolands. Even the guys they've been using to patch some holes, like Vaughn Lesuma (SR, 6-5, 329) and Andrew Roxas (SO, 6-1, 295) have been unavailable for a few games due to injury.
|Brian Price and Reggie Carter.|
It's not a coincidence that the more UCLA goes to its nickel and dime packages, the more it becomes vulnerable in its run defense. That's logical, too, but it's been overly vulnerable, like it never was in Walker's first two years as defensive coordinator.
While Brian Price and Brigham Harwell have been getting hype and playing pretty well, opposing offenses have double-teamed them often, effectively neutralizing them and leaving it up to others on UCLA's defense to make the play. Really, the only guy capable so far this season of doing that has been Reggie Carter, who has been a one-man wrecking crew, among the Pac-10 leaders in tackles. But when your defensive tackles can be neutralized, it's really up to your defensive ends to pick up the slack and apply pressure, but UCLA's D-ends have been very poor in doing that.
In the back, as Walker said in his video interview on BRO, Bret Lockett has struggled in pass coverage, particularly against good-catching tight ends. He's been good against the run, averaging 10.3 tackles per game (which actually leads the conference), but getting burned in coverage. Walker said he's going to try to do some different things this week to compensate.
Advantage: UCLA. There isn't much to go on here to give it to the Bruins. But there is really less available to give it to the Cougars.
This is the worst OL UCLA has faced this season, so it should help in loosening up some of UCLA's D-ends to get pressure on the quarterback.
However, WSU's offense is the type that Walker's defense has traditionally stuggled against, the type that spreads it out with 4-receiver sets. The Cougars go to a single back quite a bit and sometimes and even an empty backfield, and a no-huddle. These have been concepts that have pretty much killed Walker's D in the last three years, and particularly this year.
Walker knows that he's been getting beat badly on third down, and it's mostly since UCLA goes to its nickel and sits back, sometimes with a three-man rush and no pressure, allowing quarterbacks far too much time to pick apart the secondary. Watch for Walker to attempt more pressure, especially with the inexperience of Lobbestael, in an effort to rattle him and force him into mistakes.
While UCLA's defense hasn't done well against spreads generally, it's done fairly well against bad spreads, especially those with inexperienced quarterbacks that Walker could rattle.
Expect Washington State's poor offense to be able to move the ball, both in the running game and passing, but UCLA's defense will get enough stops to hold an edge here.
UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON STATE'S DEFENSE
This is not the Battle of the Titans.
This is perhaps the worst combination of two units going up against each other in recent memory. UCLA's offense is 114th in the nation in total offense and WSU is 106th in total defense (but, again, if you throw out the PSU stats, it would be 115th).
As we said above, the Cougars are third to last (117th) in the nation in scoring defense, allowing an average of 44.4 points per game. If you disegard Portland State, they're allowing 53 points per game, which would make them dead last in the nation.
The 63-point margin in the loss to Cal was the worst in Washington State history.
This very well could be the worst defense of a 1-A school that we've seen in many years and in many years to come.
|Middle linebacker Greg Trent.|
Cougar fans are scratching their heads about it. Could it be the new coaching staff? It very well might also be that last year's defense was probably just as bad, but WSU's fantastic offense kept them the defense off the field.
The Cougs did go back to a 4-3 from last season's 3-4, mostly to shore up the loss of some solid DLs from last season, but it hasn't worked. It didn't help when defensive tackle Andy Roof was thrown off the team after being implicated in a campus fight.
The Washington State DL, to put it simply, has been getting pushed around. Perhaps the Cougars's best DL, D-end Kevin Kooyman, was out for the Oregon game with a high-ankle sprain, and is questionable for this Saturday, and that compounded the problem. A former linebacker, Andy Mattingly (JR, 6-4, 251), is at the other D-end spot. There just isn't very much talent on the DL anyway.
It then got worse at linebacker. The Cougars have had injuries to two veterans, Cory Evans and Kendrick Dunn, and they're not 100% for this weekend. That has left middle linebacker Gary Trent (SR, 5-11, 230) relatively alone, with vastly inexperienced players on both sides of him. Trying to step in have been Louis Bland (FR, 5-10, 203) and Myron Beck (SO, 6-0, 207) who are both very under-sized to go along with that inexperience. Beck is a walk-on safety.
The front seven has pretty much been a sieve.
In the back it's a bit better, but not dramatically. The Cougars got some help when free safety Xavier Hicks (JR, 6-0, 196) returned from suspension last week. The inexperienced cornerbacks, Romeo Pellum (SO, 5-10, 179) and Tyrone Justin (FR, 5-11, 157) have been getting burned, mostly by bigger, stronger receivers.
UCLA's offense found some running game last week against Fresno State, but it's a bit of Fool's Gold since Fresno State's DL was not very good and depleted by injury. The delusion of a good running game will almost certainly continue this week against Washington State, whose rush defense is worse than FSU's.
UCLA's tailback position might be in the best state it's been in yet this season. Senior Kahlil Bell is thought to be even closer to healthy this week, and freshman running back Derrick Coleman's experience from last week will only give him more confidence. Raymond Carter is supposed to be close to healthy and freshman Aundre Dean, now also closer to healthy, will probably get a chance against WSU.
|Nick Ekbatani and Kevin Craft.|
UCLA's offensive line, coming off perhaps its best performance, will have another poor front seven to beat up on this week. Moving Jake Dean into the starting center position has seemed to stabilize the group some, and the surprising emergence of Jeff Baca at left tackle, beating out veteran Micah Kia, has really contributed to the OL's improvement. They did well creating holes in the running game against Fresno State, and while WSU will try to stack the box, it should be downhill running for UCLA's tailbacks.
Advantage: UCLA. While the Bruins' offense isn't very good, it's clearly better than what is perhaps the worst defense in all of 1-A football.
There was a play last week in the Washington State/Oregon game that many Cougar fans are talking about that typifies the state of WSU's defense. Oregon had a 4th-and-6 at the WSU 33. That's a 4th-and-6. Oregon was so confident and knew the Cougar defense was so bad, the Ducks went for it and scored on a 33-yard touchdown pass.
While UCLA's offense surely isn't Oregon's offense, WSU's defense really is that bad. Where they've been particularly bad is not being able to force turnovers. The Cougars are -13 in turnover margin, which is second to last in the nation. They not only can't stop you on defense, their defense has commonly had to start with its back against the wall after the Cougar offense coughed up the ball. And the defense hasn't been able to counteract that with creating turnovers, getting only five so far in five games.
Watch for UCLA to go back to relying on its running game, and then trying to get Craft to open up the passing game and go down the field more than he did against Fresno State. The WSU secondary is vulnerable, especially on the edge with its smallish, inexperienced corners, and UCLA does have some big, strong receivers to exploit that.
Perhaps the best match-up of the day in terms of units is UCLA's kick-off return team against Washington State's kick-off coverage. Both have done well this season, with UCLA's Terrence Austin looking more and more like a consistent threat. Washington State is allowing just 24 yards per kick-off return. Washington State's punt returns have been abysmal, which is good news for a UCLA punt coverage unit that hasn't been stellar.
Both defenses should yield yards and points. UCLA's defense is capable of getting a few more stops against WSU's offense. That's really about it in a nutshell.
You hate to discourage interest in the game, but if you're a college football purist, this isn't a game you'd really want to watch. There just plainly won't be a great deal of good football being played on the Rose Bowl field Saturday.
If you're a UCLA fan, there are some things of interest. First and foremost, UCLA has to win this game. It's the one game on the remaining schedule in which UCLA will clearly be favored. If it lost it would be disastrous, causing many of the fans still following the team this season to possibly jump ship. It could very well cause the team to spiral the rest of the season. So, for UCLA, this game has easily the most pressure of any game it's played so far, and probably the most pressure for it to win of any game remaining on the schedule.
Also of interest will be the continuing development of quarterback Kevin Craft. Having continued to improve, going up against this bad WSU defense will give him an opportunity for some real success.
There's always interest in watching a Norm-Chow-called game. This one might be the most entertaining of the season since it will give Chow the best opportunity to use a more wide open playbook.
It's also a chance for the UCLA defense to shore up some of its holes, and get its young players more experience, which it will need desperately as it faces Oregon and Cal in two of the next three weeks.
But make no mistake, this is perhaps the biggest game of the season for the Bruins. It's a must win.
Washington State 24