UCLA 101: Jekyll and Hyde

WILL UCLA's STARTING QB be able to play? Will UCLA be "up" coming off two huge victories? UCLA looked more than a little vulnerable two weeks ago, starting out 0-2 and going scoreless at the hands of Stanford. But then came back-to-back big wins over ranked opponents Houston and Texas. Will the Bruins pick up where they left off last week, or can WSU come out and seize an early advantage?

Cougars (1-3) vs Bruins (2-2)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
12:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
The Rose Bowl (98,200)

TELEVISION:
FSN-NW (Note for Dish subscribers below)

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
UCLA by 27

LAST MEETING:
UCLA won in Pullman last year 43-7.

THE SERIES:
UCLA Leads 37-18-1.

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 24, Bruins 20

TV NOTE: Dish Network subscribers saw all their FSN channels fade to black on Friday morning, a result of Fox pulling the channels due to the monetary impasse between Fox News Corp and Dish. At press time, a resolution appeared far off with indications by the media who cover TV programming that the FSN channels on Dish would, at the very least, likely not be back on the satellite provider before Saturday's college football games. You can read more here.

THE BRUINS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Kevin Prince, QB: The sophomore is either questionable or doubtful depending on which source you read. He had his knee drained Sunday, hasn't practiced this week and has experienced pain and swelling. Rick Neuheisel has said Prince will be a game time decision, which looks to be code for ‘He won't play but we want to keep WSU preparing for him plus our other guys.' Prince is fleet-of-foot, but has an inaccurate arm. The Bruins offensive strategy has largely been to minimize the damage by avoiding passing altogether – he threw a mere eight passes against Texas. He has completed just 48 percent of his throws this season, with only two touchdowns and four interceptions on the year.

Richard Brehaut, QB: The sophomore gets the nod if Prince can't go. He completed five of nine passes for 42 yards against Stanford and appeared in six games off the bench last year, connecting on 11 of 17 passes for 124 yards and one interception. Word this week has been that he's struggled in practice.

UCLA may also give Darius Bell some snaps.

Johnathan Franklin, RB: Far and away, the Bruins best offensive weapon is their running attack. Speedy Franklin is the star. Averaging 6.2 yards per rush over the past three weeks, he and the ground game should be WSU's primary concern.

Overview
WSU fans familiar with Norm Chow and Rick Neuheisel offenses will find little resemblance in this year's version. The Bruins are operating out of the pistol formation and are a run-first group.

Strategy
The Bruins do only one thing well on offense. And so for the love of God, do what Texas could not do, and stop the run. Texas even knew what was coming, and still could not stop it -- will Wazzu suffer the same fate? Unfortunately for Cougar fans, the one thing WSU's defense has struggled with most – stopping the run. Creative measures may be called for, adding 1-2 more men to the box. Converting a big offensive lineman over to d-tackle. And, of course, better execution, getting off blocks and wrapping up are all required. But anything and everything should be on the table this week, because if WSU can't stop the run, then just like Texas and Houston when they played UCLA, it's going to be a long day for the Cougs.

THE BRUINS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Akeem Ayers, OLB: Has turned into a beast of a playmaker. The All-America candidate leads the team in sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries and tackles for a loss.

Overview
With Ayers the only returning member of the front seven, teams were questioning the strength of the Bruins up front this year. Not anymore. UCLA's defense, if anything, remains one of the more underrated groups in the country. The Longhorns, at home, managed just 85 rushing yards last week. And Washington State has struggled mightily to mount an effective rushing attack.

Strategy
Jeff Tuel looks his best when he is in attack mode. Spread the field with five wides more often than not. Roll Tuel out more often to give him time. The o-line providing the same, or close to the same, pass protection as they did against USC, a more surprisingly stout effort than many envisioned, would be huge. WSU can't abandon the run or UCLA, as teams have done the past two years, will blitz and send more people than you can block, but they should look to pass first and run second. Intermediate throws, finding the soft spots in the Bruins' defense, especially over the middle, will likely determine if WSU is successful on offense.

THE BRUINS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Kai Forbath is about as good as they come. Punter Jeff Locke is averaging 45.6 yards per punt.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There is almost certain to be some kind of letdown by UCLA – no matter what the players and coaches have said all week, the tendency for college kids is, when facing a heavy underdog and coming off a couple of huge wins, to look past the task at hand. The question will be if the letdown is so slight as to be almost imperceptible, or if it's a workable amount that WSU can exploit.

The good news is that the Cougs are improving in certain areas, particularly in the passing game. Jeff Tuel is averaging a very respectable 7.2 yards per pass and is completing 58 percent of his throws. He needs to do a better job of recognizing when time is running out, and he cannot make the pick-six kind of mistakes he made last week, nor can the offense gift wrap six points through a turnover on the first play as WSU did earlier this season.

The bad news is WSU is giving up a horrid 6 yards per rush attempt. There is no way to cover, or strategize around, that kind of weakness. That, above all else, must be fixed before any chance at victory emerges.

WSU has had a good, bordering on very good, week of practice on defense. But they need to carry it over to Saturday. And if the Bruins are in ‘we can just show up' mode, and/or if the Bruins of Weeks 1 and 2 show up, and if WSU plays to the level they're capable of -- then Washington State can walk out of the Rose Bowl with a huge upset win. So will any of those things happen? We find out in about 24 hours.


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