"It's a marquee match up," said Husky Head Coach Rick Neuheisel, "as is usually the case when these two teams get together."
Health is one area of concern for Washington, as injuries continue to mount.
This week the team will likely be without starting quarterback Cody Pickett, who separated his shoulder in Saturday's win. Neuheisel termed his availability as "questionable-to-doubtful" for UCLA. Even so, he still will probably make the trip to Los Angeles and keep his duties as the team's holder on field goals, a job that doesn't put strain on his shoulder.
Meanwhile, REB Kai Ellis had minor surgery on both of his knees late last week and will be out a minimum of one more week. Omare Lowe also dinged up his shoulder in the USC game, but the head coach says he'll likely be able to play this weekend.
"I'm a little concerned about the health of our team given the injuries that we've sustained, but we're not going to make any excuses," Neuheisel said. "I'm expecting a great match up, a great game, and a great crowd. It's going to be a fun Saturday."
Even without Pickett the team has a very capable backup in Taylor Barton, and Neuheisel says that going to Barton won't change the strategy or aggressiveness of the offensive game plan.
"We'll discuss how to attack UCLA rather than how to protect our quarterback (this week)," he said. "You can't play scared. You have to go in there and play your game. You knock on wood that your quarterback can stay healthy and make it through a game, but if you're not fortunate enough to have that happen than you have to have someone step up and play for you in a back-up capacity."
And if Barton does go down this week, if Pickett can't answer the bell the next in line will be true freshman Casey Paus, according to Neuheisel.
Ideally the team would love to redshirt the highly-touted quarterback from Illinois, but they'd have to put those plans aside if Barton is forced out of the game for one reason or another.
"Casey's got a scholarship here, we think he's a big-time player, and if the big-time needs to be this weekend then so be it," Neuheisel said.
In the past, the backup quarterbacks have worked exclusively with the second-team center during practices each week. That will change this week after the struggles on the quarterback-center exchange that Barton and center Kyle Benn experienced against USC. Neuheisel admitted that it was a mistake he'd made, and that Paus will get snaps with the first-team center this week to ensure that it won't happen again.
One factor that could help take pressure off of Barton in his first career start this week is the Husky running game. If the Huskies can manage to mount a rushing attack it will be able to chew up the clock and limit what UCLA can do. Last week against USC the offensive line gave Willie Hurst room to run for over 100 yards - the first time that had happened all season - and also prevented the Trojans from getting to the either Pickett or Barton. They'll need a repeat performance this week to keep the Husky winning streak alive.
"We are excited about the development of our running game against USC last week," Neuheisel said. "They'd held Kansas State to zero points in the second half. Oregon didn't have much success against them in the second half up until the last drive of the game. Stanford scored no points in the second half. So for us to be able to run the ball as effectively as we did certainly was a positive sign in the development of our young offensive line."
It sounds like a simple task to run the ball, but against a team with monster defensive linemen and a quick linebacking corps like the Bruins possess, it likely will be a lot to ask from the inexperienced offensive linemen to dominate the line.
Neuheisel explained his concerns about the Bruin defense. "DE Kenyon Coleman is a dominant defensive lineman," he said. "DT Ken Kocher is a gifted player. DT (Anthony) Fletcher is a gifted player. And I think Robert Thomas might be the best linebacker that we've seen. They've always got great skills in the secondary so they're just playing great as a unit."
Offensively, UCLA comes at their opponents with a smash-mouth running game. Senior tailback DeShaun Foster is one of the nation's best, and currently leads the conference in rushing yards per game (128.0). He already has over 500 yards on the season, and will be the workhorse on Saturday.
The Huskies got a flavor for what it will take to stop Foster last week when Sultan McCullough rushed 32 times. McCullough's performance might go a long ways in helping the Washington defense prepare this week for the explosive Heisman Trophy candidate.
"(Last week) was definitely a good taste and certainly a wake-up call to our defensive front that we need to be pretty stout against the run if we want to stay in the conference race," said Neuheisel.
"I would say DeShaun Foster will have every bit as many carries this week," the head coach said, envisioning a similar game plan to USC. "He's as good of a running back as there is in this country. He's physically blessed and certainly competitive, and has all the tools that you look for when you're trying to come up with the prototype running back."
There seems to be one constant with the 2001 Washington Husky team: they'll never blow anybody out, and they'll never get blown out. Despite an early 10-point spread in UCLA's favor for Saturday's match up, the Huskies will look to continue their trend of close games against the Bruins.
"We'd like get our running game going so we can stay in the game until the fourth quarter," Neuheisel said. "That's a place where we've had success."
More hardware: Two more Huskies won Pac-10 player of the week honors after
their performances against USC. Linebacker Ben Mahdavi was named Defensive Player of the Week after his 15-tackle effort that included a sack and a fumble recovery, and kicker John Anderson got the Special Teams Player of the Week honor after drilling a 32-yard game winning field goal.
On the Tube: The UW-UCLA game will air to a regional audience on ABC television. Keith Jackson, Tim Brant, and Todd Harris will provide the call.
The Ultimate Jinx: Washington currently has the third-longest winning streak
in the nation at 12 games. Only Oklahoma (18) and Miami (13) have longer streaks, and Toledo (12) is tied with the Huskies. Washington's win streak is the longest since the team won 22 straight from 1990-1992, which was snapped by Arizona in week nine of the '92 season.
No Quarterback Controversy: No matter how well Taylor Barton plays against
UCLA, Neuheisel said there's no doubt who'll be the starter once Cody Pickett returns to full-strength. "Cody Pickett is our first-team quarterback," he said. "If Cody is ready and able, he'll go back in there. Taylor won't blink an eye. He just wants to play and win, and he will be ready."
Neuheisel's Monday Press Conference
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