WSU Preview

The Washington State Cougars are in a bad place, both figuratively and literally. Pullman is supposed to be very cold Saturday, and the struggling Cougars' are not very talented, young and injured. Can UCLA's offense continue to improve?

FACTS AND FACTORS

-- UCLA travels to Pullman, Wash., on Saturday to play Washington State. Kickoff is 2:00. -- Fox College Sports will air the game nationally with Steve Physioc and Yogi Roth in the booth. There is some uncertainty whether the game is available for Direct TV or cable users, something that should be clarified soon. It will also be re-televised at 7:00 on Prime Ticket.

-- UCLA is 4-5, halting a five-game losing streak last week when it beat Washington, 24-23. It was UCLA's first Pac-10 victory of the season.

-- Washington State is 1-8 and 0-6 in the Pac-10.

-- UCLA owns a 36-18-1 edge in the all-time series with the Cougars, which dates back to 1928. UCLA has a 15-9 edge in games played in Spokane, Wash., or Pullman, Wash.

-- Recently, however, UCLA hasn't done that well in "the Palouse." The Bruins are 1-5 in games going back to 1994. The only win came in 2005, a dramatic, overtime victory, 44-41.

-- Last year, in the Rose Bowl, UCLA beat WSU, 28-3. Kevin Craft had one of his better games of the season, throwing for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

-- Paul Wulff is in his second year as the Cougar head coach, and the program is struggling. He's 3-19 so far, with just one conference win, against Washington in overtime last season. He's responsible for the 2-11 record of 2008, which is the worst football season in school history. Wulff, a WSU grad, coached last at Eastern Washington, where he was considered an offensive guru.

-- Washington State has started 12 different freshmen this season, which is the most for the Cougars in the last decade.

-- This season so far, 21 Cougars have made the first start of their career, seven on offense and 14 on defense. This follows the 2008 season when 26 players made their first start.

-- So far this year there has yet to be two games that the Washington State coaches have started the same players on offense and defense.

-- Washington State has also been hit by the injury bug, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. The five players who started the season on the offensive line have missed a total of 17 games due to injury, while the defensive line starters have missed 16.

-- WSU has played five of their last six games on the road. -- The Cougars have only scored 3 points in the first quarter so far this year.

-- How bad WSU is statistically is astounding and highly unusual. The Cougars are 10th in the Pac-10 in every statistical team category but passing offense (9th) and kick-off returns (8th).

-- WSU is worse than 100th in the nation in nine categories: rushing offense (115), passing efficiency (108), total offense (117), scoring offense (119), rushing defense (115), pass defense (118), pass efficiency defense (115), total defense (119), scoring defense (117), and kick-off returns (102).

-- The weather could be a factor on Saturday. It's projected to be 35 degrees and slightly cloudy, with a 20% chance of precipitation. Friday night, there is a 40% chance of snow.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON STATE'S DEFENSE

The Cougars have the 119th-ranked defense in the country. That's the second to worst among 120 FBS teams. The worst defense is owned by Western Kentucky, which is giving up 513 yards per game. WSU is giving up 506.

They just aren't very talented, lack experience and have had some injuries. Not a great combination.

When an offensive coordinator draws up a game plan for a specific defense, he'll look at where the defense is most vulnerable. Will he be able to run better or pass better?

That's a tough question for UCLA's Norm Chow this week. WSU is giving up 228 yards on the ground per game, and 278 through the air.

Decisions, decisions.

Xavier Hicks.
The Washington State defensive line has had 10 different starters this season. Dan Spitz (6-6, 268), a redshirt freshman, has started at three positions, both d-end spots and at tackle.

Interestingly, perhaps their most effective DL has been a true freshman, defensive end Travis Long (6-4, 247), who leads the team with five tackles for loss.

They lost probably their best DL at the beginning of the season when Kevin Kooyman suffered a knee injury.

In other words, the front four is a makeshift operation that seemingly changes from week to week, mostly depending on who is healthy enough to play. For the last two weeks, WSU will actually have its two true starters at defensive tackle, junior Toby Turpin (6-5, 284) and junior Bernard Wolfgramm (6-3, 291).

The linebacking crew has been far more stable, and is actually the best unit on the defense. Senior strongside linebacker Andy Mattingly (6-4, 249) could start on most Pac-10 teams, and sophomore middle linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis (6-1, 233) is having a good year. Their most promising linebacker, sophomore Louis Bland, injured his PCL in spring and tried to play this fall but couldn't.

The back four have suffered injuries and just aren't very deep. Easily the standout defensive player on the team is senior free safety Xavier Hicks (6-0, 219), who will be considered for post-season Pac-10 honors. The Cougars' strong safety, junior Chima Nwachukwu, has been out with an ankle injury from last week's game and hasn't practiced. Redshirt freshman Jay Matthews (6-1, 205) will fill in, like he did last week, even though he's recovering from a dinged shoulder.

The corner spots have been problems, with junior Brandon Jones (5-9, 183) and redshirt freshman Terrance Howard (6-1, 186) having struggled. They've lost one corner, Daniel Simmons, to a broken leg, and Nwachukwu is actually a cornerback filling in at safety.

Personnel-wise, UCLA's offense has some guys back healthier but then, on the other hand, is having issues at one offensive line spot.

Milton Knox.
Running back Johnathan Franklin, who has been hindered by an ankly injury, looked quite a bit quicker in practice this week.

The Bruins are now onto their fourth-string right guard, with Darius Savage looking like he's going to step in and take most of the snaps on Saturday.

The most promising news for UCLA is that quarterback Kevin Prince looks like he's experiencing no ill effects from a concussion he suffered in the first half against Washington last week. He had a very good week of practice last week and looks even better this week, which has the program buzzing a bit.

Back-up running back Milton Knox made a splash last week in the Wildcat, and you can expect the Bruins to utilize it again, and try to exploit Knox, who looks explosive, in other ways.

Advantage: UCLA. Well, there probably isn't an offense in the country that wouldn't get this edge so it's not saying much. Washington State's defense is so bad you do feel sorry them.

What will Chow do? With his passing game blossoming, and Washington State being particularly bad against the pass, with the worst pass rush in the Pac-10, you'd think he'd definitely go to the air. On the other hand, if the weather makes it difficult to throw, you'd think he'd want to go right at WSU's poor rushing defense.

More than likely you're going to see Chow attempt, at least, to have a balanced offense Saturday. In the last couple of weeks, UCLA emphasized its throwing game, mostly because Chow perceived vulnerability in the passing defenses of Washington and Oregon State. He'll probably choose to run more against Washington State, to be able to hold on to the ball and keep it away from the Cougars. The UCLA coaches probably wouldn't love anything more than to have its running game go for over 200 yards against WSU. Also, WSU has been susceptible to the big running play, so UCLA will be dedicated to getting one of its running backs loose.

Turnovers have been UCLA's bugaboo, making the Washington game closer than it should have been last week. Fumbling has been Franklin's issue, with two lost fumbles last week.

If UCLA can hold onto the ball, they should be able to put up a good amount of points against the Cougars, even if the weather makes it difficult to throw. WSU is giving up an average of 38 points per game.

Expect to see WSU stack the box and try to take away UCLA's running game, and make the redshirt freshman QB, Prince, have to beat them.

WASHINGTON STATE'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

WSU's offense could be worse than its defense.

And might be without its starting quarterback.

Man, it would be tough being a Cougar fan these days.

The Cougar rushing attack is averaging 74 yards per game, and 2.4 yards per rush. It has a good running back in senior Dwight Tardy (5-11, 204), who is averaging 4.4 yards per carry personally and has torched UCLA in the past, but he's just not getting the blocking he needs.

WSU's offensive line has had 11 different players start sometime this season. Only two guys – junior right tackle Micah Hannam (6-4, 290) and senior center Kenny Alfred (6-3, 289) -- have started every game. Alfred is considered a good one.

Quarterback Jeff Tuel.
The OL, though, overall, already lacked talent, but then it's been hit by injury. Starting left tackle Tyson Pencer is out, and sophomore Steven Ayers (6-4, 311) will step in. Ayers started a couple of games this season, but has been recovering from an ankle injury himself.

Junior running back James Montgomery, who transferred from Cal, has been out since September for a leg ailment that required surgery. Sophomore Logwone Mitz (6-1,229) comes in for short-yardage and a change of pace.

Starting quarterback, true freshman Jeff Tuel (6-3, 207), is questionable for Saturday, not practicing Wednesday. Tuel's left kneecap popped in and out when he was sacked in the Arizona game. Tuel took over the starting duties earlier in the season when sophomore Marshall Loebbestael (6-3, 214) was faltering. Tuel is a good athlete (well, before the dislocated knee cap), who is a threat to run, and mobile in the pocket. After looking good in fall practice, WSU's intent was to redshirt Tuel, but then they decided the future was now. He had one big game against Cal where he threw for 354 yards, but hasn't done much else.

Loebbestael has been taking the snaps in practice, and he reportedly has looked better than he did earlier this season when he completed less than 50% of his passes.

Either way, if it's a dinged up Tuel or Loebestael, it doesn't much matter.

Easily the bright spot for WSU's offense this season has been the surprising play of freshman receiver Gino Simone (5-11, 174), who leads the team with 28 catches. Sophomore Jared Karstetter (6-4, 205) has also had a bit of a coming-out season. Junior Johnny Forzani (6-1, 197) has emerged as a playmaker and deep ball threat.

Senior starting tight end Tony Thompson (6-2, 239) is questionable with a concussion.

Brian Price.
UCLA's defense played better last week against Washington since, well, it was against Washington.

The Bruins are still operating at a deficit with middle linebacker Reggie Carter a shell of the player he was, greatly limited by a knee injury UCLA won't call an MCL tear.

The primary difference in the UCLA defense last week was in the playcalling, with DC Chuck Bullough perhaps calling more blitzes against Washington than he had in all of the previous games this season combined. UCLA sent pressure from its linebackers, safeties and corners. Defensive tackle Brian Price wreaked havoc, jumping into the backfield a number of times.

Advantage: UCLA. Washington State's offense is woeful, and could be even worse given its quarterback situation. Tardy is a good running back, and he will probably gain a decent amount of yards against the Bruins, since UCLA hasn't had much success limiting rushing attacks since the beginning of the season.

But if Bullough follows last week's script, he should attempt to put a lot of pressure on the WSU QB, and hurry him into bad throws like the UCLA defense did against Washington's Jake Locker. But if he does, indeed, follow his usual script, he probably won't do that until halftime. Luckily for UCLA, Washington State hasn't scored much in the first half this season, and only scored 3 points all year in the first quarter.

Washington State has been notorious for getting itself into 3rd-and-longs this season, and then not being able to get a first down. They're converting on less that 1/4 of their third downs.

The Cougars do turn over the ball a good amount, and you can expect that to be a factor.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The guy who gets the biggest workout on the Washington State team is perhaps its punter, Reid Forrest, who has punted 65 times this year, 16 times more than any other punter in the league. Luckily for WSU, he's a good punter, averaging 43.6 yards per punt.

The field goal kicker, Nico Grasu, is fairly shaky, from just about anywhere on the field, and hasn't hit anything longer than a 44-yarder this season.

Where UCLA could get some easy points is by exploiting WSU's kick-off and punt coverages. Both are among the worst in the conference, and they've given up 4 touchdowns this season.

Prediction

Washington State returns home after playing five of its last 6 games on the road, which should help with their effectiveness. The weather is projected to being in the 30s, with no snow, but that should still keep the score down some.

Washington State also has a good running back in Tardy, and UCLA hasn't done well against the run in the Pac-10.

In the minds of the Cougars, with Oregon State next week and then playing Washington in Seattle, they have to be thinking this is perhaps their best chance to get a Pac-10 win this season. The UCLA coaches have been warning their players that Washington State is going to be pumped up for this game.

That's enough right there to keep this game from being a blow-out.

But it's another stretch to think that WSU has a decent chance to win it.

UCLA's defense is good enough to keep Washington State's poor offense out of the endzone; their offense is only averaging 14 points per game.

WSU is a highly-penalized team, prone to turnover and giving up the big play. It's also plainly not very talented, very young, inexperienced and beset by injury.

UCLA could get a couple of scores from special teams and turnovers, and field goal kicker Kai Forbath will deliver anytime UCLA gets with the 37-yard line. That's good for enough scoring to win the game right there. Then, if UCLA's isn't in rhythm offensively, on the road in bad weather, it will probably still eke out a touchdown or two.

UCLA 27
Washington State 14


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