Washington Game Preview

Washington and UCLA are similar -- both young and trying to re-build with new coaching staffs. The big factor might not be whether Jake Locker is healthy or not but just how bad the Washington defense actually is...

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- The Washington Huskies come to the Rose Bowl Saturday for a 12:30 kick-off.

-- The game will be televised on various FSN channels, such as Prime Ticket in California and FCS-Central nationwide. Bill MacDonald and James Washington will be in the booth calling the action.

-- UCLA is 3-5 and still looking for its first Pac-10 victory with a 0-5 conference record.

-- Washington is also 3-5, but 2-3 in the conference. In non-conference games they beat Idaho and lost to LSU and Notre Dame. In the conference, they've beaten USC and Arizona at home, lost to Oregon at home, while also losing at Stanford and at Arizona State.

-- The Huskies are 0-3 on the road so far this season.

-- The UCLA-Washington series goes back to 1932, with the Bruins owning the advantage, 37-29-2.

-- UCLA is 23-10-1 against Washington in games played in Los Angeles, and 9-2 in games played at the Rose Bowl.

-- UCLA has won the last six in row against Washington in the Rose Bowl. UDub's last win was in 1995, which makes it Washington's longest losing streak in any venue.

-- The Bruins have a pretty good stretch going against the Huskies overall, having won 12 of their last 14 match-ups.

-- Last year, UCLA beat Washington in Seattle, 27-7. The Huskies were without star quarterback Jake Locker, who was out with a broken thumb.

-- Steve Sarkisian, 35, is in his first year as the Husky head man, with the job being his first head coaching position. Sarkisian, of course, was most recently the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at USC, which makes it pretty sweet for him that he was the team who delivered the annual USC upset this season. Sarkisian, in getting a few wins this season so far after the team went winless a year ago, has captured the imagination of the Husky faithful.

-- Washington is coming off a bye week.

-- UCLA is the first opponent for Washington that has a sub-.500 record.

-- In fact, Washington has played the nation's second-toughest schedule over the first eight weeks of the season, according to the NCAA rankings.

-- Washington's quarterback Jake Locker is nursing a deep thigh bruise that he suffered early on in the Huskies loss to Oregon October 24th, 43-19. He sat out practice last week and has done only limited work in practice Sunday and Monday of this week. Sarkisian and Locker both anticipate that he'll be able to play Saturday, but sources close to the situation question just how healthy he'll be.

-- The game's honorary captain for UCLA is former Bruin quarterback Gary Beban, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1967. In honor of Beban, and the fact that it is UCLA's Homecoming, the Bruins will play in throwback jerseys Saturday similar to the jerseys worn in 1967.

-- UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel, of course, was the head coach at Washington for four seasons (1999-2002). He is 2-0 as a head coach against his former program, and 1-0 as the UCLA head coach.

-- In Washington's 8 games this season, four of them have either been decided in the last minute or in overtime. They are 2-2 in those games.

-- It's supposed to be perfect football weather Saturday in Pasadena, 75 degrees and sunny.

WASHINGTON'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Of course, the biggest factor in this game is whether Washington's junior quarter Jake Locker 6-3, 226) is healthy enough to play.

Locker suffered a deep thigh bruise in Washington's game against Oregon October 24th. He sat out from practice during the Huskies' bye week, and this week has seen only limited action in practice. As of yesterday, whether he played was going to be a "game-time decision." Generally, sources close to the situation believe Locker is definitely a bit limited in his mobility, but a Locker that is limited in his mobility is still more mobile than about 90% of college quarterbacks.

It's interesting because UCLA and Washington are kind of similar in many ways. They're formerly powerful programs that are trying to dig themselves out from a multi-year hole with new coaching staffs.

Quarterback Jake Locker.
The difference is that Washington has Locker, who many project as a top-five pick in the NFL draft. Not to disparage UCLA's quartebacks, but if the Bruins had Locker, there probably wouldn't be too much moaning going on over UCLA's offense.

Locker is third in the league in passing yards per game (246) and first in total offense (271). He very well could be the best throwing/running quarterback in the nation; when he's healthy, he's very fast, running in the 4.5 range, which makes his 6-3, 226-pound body very difficult to bring down. He was previously more of a runner than a passer, but this season he's truly become a complete quarterback, making all the reads and throws, and not just tucking the ball and taking off.

The back-up, sophomore Ronnie Fouch (6-1, 198) has also been getting reps in Washington's practices this week and, while the coaching staff is saying they have confidence in Fouch, it would be a considerable drop-off from Locker if Fouch had to go most of the way. Last season in UCLA's 27-7 win in Seattle, Fouch went 7 for 22 for 39 yards and two interceptions. Last season, when Locker went down with a broken thumb, Fouch threw 13 interceptions and completed less than 50 percent of his throws, all part of the Huskies' miserable 0-12 season.

With Locker, Washington's offense isn't particularly much. It'd be pretty much about like UCLA's offense, (at least prior to last week's fourth quarter against Oregon State) with very little effectiveness through the air and a very modest running game. The Huskies rank 8th in the Pac-10 in rushing, averaging 119 yards per game (UCLA is 9th with 102).

Washington does have a pretty good running back in redshirt freshman Chris Polk (5-11, 210) who is quick and has a good burst, but they're averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Polk gets just about every carry out of the backfield – well, besides Locker's.

The Huskies have really benefitted from the true freshman receiver James Johnson (6-0, 193) stepping up in his first season. Johnson has 35 catches for the season, and made a name for himself against USC when he caught 7 passes for 72 yards. He's a freshman, so he's dropped some balls at inopportune moments, but he's a good athlete that gets open.

Sophomore Jermaine Kearse (6-2, 198) provides the primary deep threat, and he's having a good season. Sophomore Devin Aguilar (6-0, 184) also has had big moments.

Washington's tight end, sophomore Kavario Middleton (6-5, 253), is starting to live up to his recruiting hype, getting a solid 2 or 3 catches per game.

Washington's offensive line is similar (again) to UCLA's – young and re-building. Sarakisian probably tinkered with it the most of anything in the offense during the off-season and in fall practice. Junior left tackle Cody Habeen (6-6, 295) is probably the best OL on the team. The problem spot is left guard, where a former walk-on has been replaced by a former DL, sophomore Nick Wood (6-3, 273).

UCLA's Akeem Ayers.
UCLA's defense is on bad roll, allowing an average of 471 yards per game in its last three games. Granted, those were against some pretty decent offensive teams in Cal, Arizona and Oregon State, but it's made the Bruin faithful wonder if this is the true Bruin defense, and the one we saw in the first few games of the season was the aberration.

UCLA has really struggled to stop the run, allowing many opposing tailbacks to have big games. It might very well continue this Saturday, with UCLA being without starting defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski, who is a good run stopper, and middle linebacker Regge Carter continuing to nurse a sprained knee which we have learned is more like an MCL tear. Sophomore strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers, ironically, has been playing better recently, having a good game against Oregon State, and he'll have to continue to step up if UCLA hopes to limit Washington's Polk.

Advantage: If Locker plays, it goes to Washington. If he doesn't, it goes to UCLA.

It really all comes down to whether Locker plays and whether he's effective. With Locker, Washington is a decent offense; without him, well, it's ugly. UCLA would be able to key on Polk and try to dedicate more men to stopping Washington's running game and challenge Fouch to beat them. With Locker, you could see he and Polk weaving through UCLA's defense, which has been on its heels in prevent style through its last three games.

Even with Locker in the game, it's actually a decent match-up for UCLA's defense. UCLA's secondary, despite how it might seem recently, has done a good job defending against the pass. It would match UCLA's strength against Washington's strength, and probably wouldn't expose UCLA's rushing defense to more exploitation.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON'S DEFENSE

The Husky defense is a pretty poor one, 9th in the Pac-10 and 105th in the country, allowing 423 yards per game.

It generally hasn't been able to stop anyone. It has either given up massive yards on the ground one week, or huge amounts of yards the next week in the air – or both.

The new defensive coordinator is former Trojan DC, Nick Holt, and he's starting to see just how much elite talent can mean to your scheme.

Middle linebacker Donald Butler.
The linebackers are actually pretty good, but it's a considerable hit that senior E.J. Savannah is probably out this week with a hand injury that will need surgery. The Huskies are led by junior middle linebacker Donald Butler (6-1, 235), who is third in the Pac-10 in tackles per game (8.1) and outside linebacker, junior Mason Foster (6-2, 244) is also putting in a good season. Senior Josh Gage (67-2, 225) will probably replace Savannah.

The defensive line, though, has really struggled and been hampered by injury. Senior defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (6-4, 263) is easily the best DL, collecting five sacks so far this season, but after him there hasn't been much production. The other defensive end spot has been a problem, with the Huskies really unable to find one guy to nail it down. Inside, junior Cameron Elisara (6-3, 275) has been out with a stinger but is expected to return to action Saturday.

Two weeks ago, Oregon running back LaMichael James cut up the Huskies, who have been very susceptible to the big running play from scrimmage. If you want to talk about poor angles, pursuit and tackling, Washington makes UCLA's defense look like the Denver Broncos.

The pass defense isn't much better, ranked 101st in the country. The Huskies are extremely young, and they've been trying to find the right combination and dealing with injuries, leading to the Huskies starting nine different players in the secondary at sometime this season, and six different starting lineups in 8 games.

Three true freshmen are slated to start this Saturday, cornerbacks Adam Long (5-10, 166) and Desmond Trufant (6-0, 172) and free safety Nate Fellner (6-1, 198). Trying to hold down the middle has been junior safety Nate Williams (6-0, 221).

Cornerback has truly been a problem. Five different players have started at the position and the UW coaches are so desperate they've been working a wide receiver, Anthony Boyles, in at cornerback this week during practice.

Kevin Prince.
The UCLA offense, on the other hand, is coming off perhaps its best half in the 20 games under Neuheisel. Kevin Prince looked like a real quarterback, making good decisions and accurate throws, and UCLA found some guys who can make plays at the receiver spot in Nelson Rosario and Taylor Embree.

This week Prince and the passing offense continued to look sharp in practice.

Tailback Johnathan Franklin has been good, given the amount of carries he's had, and you'd have to think he'll find quite a bit more running room against the Husky run defense. Watch for back-up Milton Knox to get utilized quite a bit more this week.

Advantage: UCLA. For the first time this season, the Bruin offense gets the nod here. There are just too many indicators going in that direction – with Prince coming off his best game, Washington not being a great pass-rushing team (only 13 sacks on the season), and UCLA's receivers gaining confidence you'd think that the UCLA passing game is poised to put up some numbers. And Washington has really struggled to defend against the run, and Franklin is now 100% healthy after nursing a tweaked ankle for the last couple of weeks.

Of course, we've said this before, but this week we really believe it: Watch for UCLA's offense to open up quite a bit – not just throwing the ball down the field more, but with more imaginative play-calling. The staff is now more confident in Prince and willing to do more.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Washington's special teams aren't great. After last season, the coaching staff basically scrapped everyone, started over and went with players that had no game experience. It's affected Washington's kick-off and punt return coverage, and particularly it's kick-off returns, which have consistently put them in an offensive hole.

Punter Will Mahan has been solid, but did have one punt blocked. Field goal kicker Eric Folk is accurate within 40 yards, but is iffy beyond, and doesn't have a big foot. Washington generally won't attempt a field goal beyond 47 or 48 yards.

Prediction

Again, easily the most critical factor is Locker.

But even if Washington does have Locker, and a relatively healthy one, UCLA has a bit of an overall advantage in this one.

The best thing Washington has going for it is that it's coming off a bye, so it has a number of guys who were nicked up now closer to healthy.

But the Huskies haven't done well on the road, losing all three of its road games so far this season. It makes sense; young teams struggle on the road, with young players in hostile environments.

Washington is also a sloppy club, racking up a decent amount of penalty yardage every game, which UCLA definitely took advantage of against Oregon State last weekend.

But even though Locker is the big factor, the thing that really tips the scales is Washington's poor defense, not really having a semi-strength against the run or the pass. UCLA's offense, in practice this week, has been looking the best it has all season. It's generally done well against defenses that can't mount a pass rush, since Prince gets more time back there to make decisions.

This has all the makings of UCLA having a semi-break-through offensive game and stopping that miserable five-game losing streak.

UCLA 27
Washington 20


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