UCLA 101: Avoiding the Blues

THE BRUINS PLAYED outstanding football last week at Notre Dame, but somehow, this team is struggling. Having a fourth quarter lead at South Bend is an exhilarating experience, as Cougar fans can tell you, and a little piece of history was there for the taking by UCLA. But the offense stalled, the clock ground to a halt, and a big play robbed the Bruins of what should have been a marquee victory.

Consecutive Bruin road losses at Oregon and Notre Dame were disastrous, likely ending any hopes for a major bowl game. They still have a winning record at 4-3 but all four victories were against the likes of Utah, Rice, Arizona, and Stanford; and all came at home.

This week the Bruins entertain a WSU squad with a similar record but an entirely different state of mind. Coming off their biggest win in recent memory, the Cougars are flying high and looking to become bowl eligible with a win in Pasadena.

Cougars (5-3) vs Bruins (4-3)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
4:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
The Rose Bowl (97,600)

TELEVISION:
Regional coverage on ABC

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

THE LINE:
UCLA by 1

LAST MEETING:
2005 in Pullman, UCLA won 44-41 in overtime.

THE SERIES:
UCLA leads the series 35-16-1

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 28, Bruins 24

THE BRUINS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Pat Cowen, QB: His game is comparable to Stanford's Trent Edwards. He has all the physical tools, but can wither under a good pass rush. He offers more mobility than Olsen does, but he hasn't moved the offense much better since coming in against Arizona after Olsen went down with a knee injury.

Marcus Everett, Junior Taylor, Brandon Breazell, WR: The Bruins have lacked big plays in their passing game this year, but they don't lack in targets. Everett, Taylor, and Breazell and a solid trio of receivers. The coaches have struggled to get them the ball, especially for long yardage.

Chris Markey, RB: Markey has run well this year, averaging 5.2 yards per rush and 89 yards per game. The Bruin running game weakness has been punching it in at the goal line. UCLA has scored touchdowns in the red zone 45 percent of the time and Markey has just one rushing touchdown this year.

William Snead, TE: The earlier scouting report was that the Bruins were about out of tight ends. They recently converted Snead from defensive lineman and he responded with a 36-yard touchdown catch against Notre Dame. While a blocker on most plays, the Cougs can't forget about him or they could get burned. Overview
UCLA operates out of multiple formations, but have struggled to move the football consistently this year. Losing Olsen didn't help, but Cowen has filled in fairly well at the quarterback position. They've got a decent running game but it isn't good enough to work when the passing game is not. Their linemen can be overwhelmed with blitzes. Overall, this isn't a group that scares you like some other units might. They have lacked in big plays, and lack the playmakers they had last year.

Strategy
With all the injuries WSU has up front, run defense could be a concern. If the Bruins get their ground game going, the offense could thrive, but without it, production will be very sporadic. Keeping Markey contained and forcing Cowen to beat you under pressure could be the way to go here. He has struggled against the blitz and Mkristo Bruce should be anxious to reclaim his status as the nation's sack leader. UCLA's offensive line hasn't enjoyed overwhelming success, and has looked downright slow at times.

THE BRUINS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Justin Hickman, DE: One of the top defensive linemen in the country and a great pass rusher. His three sack outing at Arizona last week allowed him to surpass Mkristo Bruce, and he now has 10.5 sacks on the season. Possessing tremendous upper body strength and great speed to boot, he is UCLA's best defensive player.

Bruce Davis, DE: If you focus too much on containing Hickman, you'll get burned by Davis on the other side. Smaller and faster than Hickman, Davis has 6.5 sacks already this year. The combination of these two gives the Bruins decent pressure even when they only rush three. Overview
UCLA had one of the worst run defenses in the country last year and appeared to make that Priority One this off-season. New defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker has over-emphasized controlling the line of scrimmage and it has made a huge difference. The Bruins will commit 7-8 men to the box any time they smell a running play and also a large percentage of the time on first downs. As a result, UCLA now sports one of the top run defenses in college football, surrendering just 2.5 yards per rush attempt. In obvious passing downs they quickly change gears, sending just three or four rushers and dropping plenty of men into cover-three pass defense. The presence of Hickman and Davis makes third-and-long a bleak offensive scenario for quarterbacks.

Strategy
This defense is for real and they are good enough to beat you on their own if you get careless with the football. The Bruins will commit to shutting down WSU's running game early and they have the players to do it. As a result, they could be most vulnerable to passing on first downs. If they appear to be over-committing to the line of scrimmage, some quick slants or a short seam route to the tight end may go for excellent yardage. The key will be sound decision making by the Cougs and by Alex Brink. Take what the defense gives you and maintain the high percentage throws that have proven to be successful this year. Most of all, the Cougs must avoid turnovers for easy points.

THE BRUINS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Kicker Justin Medlock broke a string of 14 straight converted field goals against Notre Dame but he is normally very accurate inside of 50 yards. The Bruins have been solid in all other facets of special teams.

INJURY REPORT

WASHINGTON STATE
Out - DT Fevaea'i Ahmu (9/30 stress fracture, foot), DT Aaron Johnson (10/21 elbow sprain), DE Mike Graise (10/14 hamstring strain), WR Chris Jordan (9/22 knee surgery), RG Andy Roof (10/21 heel bruise/right ankle sprain), DT Ropati Pitoitua (10/21 MCL sprain), TE Ben Woodard (10/7 MCL sprain)
Probable- CB Tyron Brackenridge (10/21 hamstring strain), Cody Boyd (10/7 high ankle sprain)

UCLA
Out – Ben Olson (QB)
Doubtful –Kahlil Bell (RB)
Probable – Aaron Wittington, (LB), Chase Moline (DT)

FINAL THOUGHTS
UCLA blew a golden opportunity last weekend and they know it. There is an obvious risk of them suffering a hangover but it is not a forgone conclusion. After losing to Notre Dame in similar fashion in 2003, Washington State shelled Colorado in Boulder 47-26 the following week.

And there is also the risk of a WSU hangover, with the Cougs coming off a tough, emotional win — there have been a number of college football teams who have simply not come out sharp the week after a big victory this season. The other news is that some in the UCLA fan base are really distraught and the Bruins may not enjoy a huge home-field crowd. Calls for coach Karl Dorrell's head are being heard, and some are already looking forward to basketball season. With TV coverage on ABC to boot, the turnout at the Rose Bowl may be well below this year's average of 60,000.


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