UCLA 101: Strange Bruins

THE COUGARS ARE double digit underdogs but don't expect the Bruins to take them lightly. UCLA followed up an emotional, season opening win over Tennessee with three straight losses and still remembers the trouncing the Cougars gave them last year. And UCLA has been asked all week about the fact that they've lost six of the last seven to the Cougs, including the last three in L.A.

Rick Neuheisel's Bruins have had almost as many consistency problems as the Cougars have had in the early going. A Bruin meltdown on the offensive or defensive side of the football against WSU wouldn't be a complete shock for the Bruin faithful -- UCLA is last in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency, scoring offense and total offense and the normally stout Bruin D of recent seasons has not been present the last three games.

THE BRUINS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Kevin Craft, QB: It seems like every team in the conference has suffered through quarterback injuries, and UCLA is no exception. Craft is a third string transfer and has had to learn on the fly. He looked more comfortable in his fourth start last week, but still looks green at times.

Kahlil Bell, Chane Moline, and Derrick Coleman, RBs: For the second week in a row the Cougars face a stable of running backs. All have the kind of size and power that could wear down the Cougar defense.

Terrence Austin, WR: Better known for his kick return ability, Austin is a dependable receiver as well. He leads the team with 20 catches for 180 yards.

Overview
Both Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow would like to be passing more but they've tried to keep things more ground oriented for Kevin Craft. They also have been and are expected this week to be without the services of deep threat Marcus Everett, so don't expect the Bruins to try and throw excessively unless the Cougars stop the run.

Strategy
The Cougs are short in the run stopping beef department. Only three defensive linemen are listed as larger than 265 pounds, two linebackers more than 224 pounds, and two defensive backs listed over 196 pounds. Teams are pushing them around. Adjustments can help, but the coaches cannot teach the players how to be bigger and stronger in between games. The Cougars need to do more of what they did the first three quarters against Oklahoma State, where the d-line did enough to allow the linebackers to run free and make sure tackles. WSU won't be successful if their opponents are allowed to maintain such a conservative game plan on the ground.

Cougars (1-3) vs Bruins (1-3)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
7:15 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Rose Bowl (97,500)

TELEVISION:
FSN-NW, FCS

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

THE LINE:
UCLA by 17

LAST MEETING:
2007 in Pullman, WSU won 27-7.

THE SERIES:
UCLA leads the series 35-18-1

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 21, Bruins 20

THE BRUINS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Brian Price, DT: Price has emerged as one of the top young tackles in the conference. He's a sophomore, but has good power and speed for a 300 pound player.

Reggie Carter, MLB: Carter is the center of the Bruin defense and seems to get in on every play. At 220 pounds he is a bit undersized for a traditional middle linebacker role but speed counts for a lot in the college game, and he has great speed which increases his impact area.

Overview
The Bruins use a very generic 4-3 defense. After some solid success his first two years as defensive coordinator, Dwayne Walker is finding plenty of struggles in his third season. UCLA is giving up 38 points and 416 yards per game. Team speed remains good,but they have failed to get pressure on the quarterback and force turnovers.

Strategy
The Cougars have to get off to a better start, both in-conference losses saw the Cougs get in a deep hole within minutes after kickoff from which they never recovered. The running backs and the wide receivers need to get more yards after contact, particularly for the playmakers on the team like Brandon Gibson, who is averaging just 13 yards per catch. Keeping Gibson lined up against struggling left corner Michael Norris could be the Cougs' best bet to free him up for the deep ball.

THE BRUINS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Bruins have been outstanding on special teams. Kai Forbath is a solid kicker, Aaron Perez is a great punter, and Austin is a dangerous kick returner. The Bruins have also blocked two kicks and one punt in the first four games.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Wazzu defense should look better this week with the UCLA offense nowhere near as proficient as Cal's or Oregon's. But WSU will still be hard pressed to keep the score below video game levels if they can't clamp down on the run. Washington State played with more speed on defense in the opener than they've shown since -- they need to get back to that if they are to pull off the upset. On offense, the Cougs need to establish a running game -- quick hitters up the gut, mixed in with some misdirection, might find success on Saturday night. The Cougars are not scoring many points and if they are to change that, they need to take care of the ball. Each and every scoring opportunity needs to be realized when WSU gets into Bruin territory. UCLA played their most complete game of the season on offense last week and Washington State's defense would be well served to set the tone early by staying in their gaps up front and making sure tackles.


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