UCLA 101

THE FIGHTING COUGARS enter this weekend's game with a bowl trip on the line. If WSU is going to extend its streak of consecutive post-season appearances to four, the Cougs need to run the table with three games left on the season. Their improbable quest starts in Pasadena against the heavily favored Bruins, who are 5-3 and one victory away from being bowl eligible.

When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: The Rose Bowl (98,000 capacity)
TV: No live coverage
Last Meeting: 2003, WSU won 31-13
The Series: WSU has won three straight; four of the last five; and six of last eight
Line: UCLA by 14
Forecast: High of 69, rain

THE BRUINS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know:
Maurice Drew, RB: The second-leading rusher in the conference, averaging 111 yards on the ground per game and an impressive 6.8 yards per attempt. A quick, scatback type runner, Drew is also dangerous as a receiver and kick returner. He surpassed Reggie Bush as the conference leader in all-purpose yards with an impressive game against Stanford last week.

Drew Olsen, QB: Olsen's interceptions plagued the team last year and left him in a quarterback controversy with backup Matt Moore (not me). With Moore transferring to Colorado State, Olsen was handed the starting role by default and seems to have improved in a lower pressure environment. He still throws his share of interceptions, but has learned to better utilize the talent around him.

Marcedes Lewis, TE: Lewis is a tall, athletic tight end who causes a lot of mismatch problems for defenses. He has very soft hands and has emerged as the leading receiver on the Bruin offense. Olson frequently looks his direction in the redzone and the two have hooked up for six touchdowns this year.

Overview: With former Idaho coach Tom Cable serving as coordinator, UCLA's offense has been one of the bigger turnarounds in the Pac-10 this year. Ranked dead last a year ago, the Bruins have made dramatic improvements and are now ranked third behind Cal and USC in the conference. They run a basic pro-set and are effective on the ground and through the air. The line is very experienced, and they have a lot of playmakers at the skill positions.

Strategy: If Drew is running the ball well, the Bruins won't stop feeding it to him, so stuffing the run gets top priority. Pressuring Olsen should be the other focus. He still throws plenty of interceptions, and the Bruins have had a lot of struggles with WSU's blitz packages in recent years.

THE BRUINS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know:
Spencer Havner, LB: Havner leads the Pac-10 in tackles with 98. He plays sideline to sideline, leading the team in both tackles for a loss (7.5) and interceptions (2).

Ben Emanuel, FS: The Bruins' weakness up front has resulted in a lot of tackles by the safeties. Emanuel is a hard-hitter, but hasn't been free to pick off passes as much as he'd like because of his necessity in run defense.

Jarrod Page, SS: Like Emanuel, Page is being used much more heavily in run defense but can still defend slot receivers and tight ends well on intermediate routes. Quarterbacks key off Page's proximity to the line of scrimmage to decide when to start trying the deep ball. The Bruins actually used this against Trent Edwards last week and it resulted in three interceptions.

Overview: This defense looked great last week shutting out Stanford, but it looked awful the two weeks prior, giving up 93 points to ASU and Cal. UCLA ranks dead last in total defense by a considerable margin. They surrender an average of 434 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play. This is UCLA's Achilles Heel. If the Cougars stand a chance of winning they must dominate this defense. The Bruin defensive line is young and a bit undersized, they can be run on. Their secondary also gets burned easily when the safeties get concerned about the running backs.

Strategy: Run the ball. If it doesn't work initially, keep working at it until the Bruins get tired. They are not experienced or deep on the defensive line, so the Cougars need to get physical with them. If the Cougars can establish the run, the Bruins will start to get off balance and then surrender long touchdown passes off play action.

THE BRUINS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Bruin special teams are among the best in the conference. Justin Medlock has nailed 9 of 11 field goal attempts this year, his longest coming from 52 yards. Punter Chris Kluwe is averaging 42.5 yards per kick. The Bruin kick coverage teams are outstanding, surrendering just 4 yards on punt returns. Maurice Drew is a threat to score whenever he touches the football.

INJURY REPORT
WSU: QB Josh Swogger (out for the year, broken foot), DE Matt Mullenix (out for the year, knee), RB Chris Bruhn (unlikely, knee sprain), TE Cody Boyd (probable, shoulder), RB Allen Thompson (questionable, shoulder), WR Greg Prator (questionable, hip), TE Troy Bienemann (probable, shin), CB Alex Teems (questionable, neck).
UCLA: LB Danny Nelson (out, broken collarbone), Center Mike McCluskey (concussion, doubtful), Linebacker Justin London (ankle, probable), DE Justin Hickman (knee, probable), RB Manuel White (leg, probable)

FINAL THOUGHTS
UCLA hasn't beaten Washington State since 1998 and has lost seven of the last ten meetings. Some teams just have the other's number and the Cougars have owned the Bruins over the past 16 years. The Cougars better hope their system continues to provide the same chronic problems for the Bruins because they are less athletic and less experienced than UCLA.

It remains unclear just how good the Bruins really are. They have no wins over teams with a winning record and no losses to teams with a losing record, indicating they are little more than a .500 ball club. The Bruins are beatable, but unfortunately the Cougars just haven't shown they have the firepower to attack a team like this. The Cougar rushing offense has lacked consistency and their pass defense hasn't contained anybody over the past month. Both will need to show dramatic improvement to keep this game close.

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