With the exception of the USC Trojans, the Bruins are, year in and year out, the most talented team west of the Rockies.
They also have a mysterious hold on what has now become a one sided Pac-10 league encounter. UCLA enters this year's contest winning 8 of the last 9 Husky-Bruin match ups including the last five in a row. The Bruins actually have a 17-9-1 record against Washington since Don James came to town in 1975.
This is by far the best head to head record against the Dawgs of any opponent in modern times - including the Trojans. Added to this history is the fact that Coach Willingham is only 3-5 vs. the Bruins and UCLA is undefeated and coming off a bye.
Teams are always better off to schedule a bye before beginning league play because it gives you a two week window to prepare for the most important game on the schedule.
Note: the world's luckiest Ducks also have a bye this week before traveling to ASU.
Washington has no bye this year, nor does WSU. Go figure.
This year's UCLA team has also had an extreme makeover because Bruin coach, Karl Dorrell added six new coaches to his staff, including a complete revamp of his defensive staff and philosophy. They wanted to toughen up their "soft" perception by the general football public.
They opened up the season with two teams they should have beaten, and did. Utah without Urban Meyer, and Rice, a school that is traditionally the worst football team in Texas, both were played at the Rose Bowl with the Bruins winning 31-10 and 26-16.
By the way, did you notice that UCLA drew only 46,023 for their last game? That kind of shocked me.
UCLA won both games primarily because of their defense that currently leads the Pac-10 in total defense, scoring defense, and rushing defense, a category in which they were last in for 2005. They also have three games by the Huskies to analyze, while the Dawgs only have two Bruin games to study.
UCLA has also been throwing the football with the best accuracy in the conference as their quarterback, Ben Olson, has completed 73% of his passes.
Olson is a transfer from BYU, doing so following his Mormon mission. That means he is older and wiser than his sophomore academic and eligibility status would have you believe. His 172.4 passing efficiency rating is second in the conference and their kicker, Justin Matlock, is 5-6 in field goals with a long of 51 while being perfect on his extra points.
Washington is going to be the underdog again in their own stadium, and probably correctly so, given that the Bruins have won the last five match ups. This is a tough league opener for the Dawgs, but fear not, because these Huskies know they could have won last year in the Rose Bowl and know they can play with this team.
Their victory over Fresno State will give them the confidence to win this game. It won't be easy and the game is likely to go right down to the fourth quarter. I envision it being won by a late field goal. Mike Braunstein, remember that name, even if you can't read it on his jersey.
For Washington to win this game they need to continue to take care of the football (0 turnovers vs. Fresno) as well as create some turnovers of their own. They need to reestablish their running game besides the quarterback and continue to stop the run. Last year the Huskies held the Bruins to 65 yards rushing.
The Huskies are a much better team this year simply because they do two things better – they block better and they have tackled better. They need to control the football by running it at the Bruins (Louis Rankin went for 109 last year) and by eating up the clock. This Husky offense is going to win by winning the field position game and grinding out their wins. They can do this by taking advantage of their great punter, Sean Douglas, and keeping opponents backed up.
The play of quarterback, Isaiah Stanback, will also continue to be a major factor all season long. It is and will continue to be the not-so-secret weapon of the Huskies. Stanback's running is a threat to any defense and when the defenses are trying to track him, it seems to open up the short throws that keep the chains moving. Because of his mobility, Stanback has the potential to end the season as one of the greatest rushing quarterbacks in the history of the school, dating all the way back to Bob Schloredt. "Run to win" seems to be the phrase that best describes this year's Husky offense.
Washington took great strides last week to shore up the back end of their defense against Fresno State by holding the Bulldogs to less than 170 yards in total passing yardage. This area of improvement should only continue to improve with the health of Dashon Goldson who sat out the entire Fresno State game. His return will more than offset the potential loss of EJ Savannah, a linebacker used in passing situations. Savannah suffered a thumb injury vs. Fresno that may or may not take him out of the Bruin game.
When healthy, Goldson is potentially one of the Huskies' best pass defenders and certainly one of their better man to man cover guys.
Washington also really improved their kicking game by tightening up their kick protection. The Huskies now have to tighten up on their kick coverage and continue to be aggressive in their kick blocks. Face it, the Huskies won the last game with their first designed kick block in years.
The addition of Marcel Reece to the passing game is a much needed infusion. He is such a big target and uses his body well when going after the deep ball. Look for his role to gradually increase as the season goes along. He presents such an interesting threat that it is only a matter of time before he becomes a primary weapon. The game is still a lot about match ups.
Of all the areas that the Huskies need to improve in coming out of the Fresno State game, the most obvious is to catch the football. I counted five different receivers dropping Stanback passes that were right in their hands. There is no excuse for receivers not catching the football. That is their primary job and at the very least those would-be catches would have kept three drives alive. This is a very correctable situation and it will be critical that the receivers concentrate throughout the season.
There is nothing more important than winning your league opener. Oregon has already done so by beating Stanford the first week of the season. USC hosts Arizona this week and most likely will win, ASU is at Cal and that will have a great impact on the conference race, and WSU is at Stanford in a game they should win. A win against UCLA would put the Huskies right in the thick of the Pac-10 race out of the gate. It will stop the Bruins five game win streak and it will confirm the renewed confidence of the players in themselves.
They know they should have beaten the Bruins last year and Husky Stadium should be a factor again just as they were against the Bulldogs.
How cool was it last weekend when the fans caused 2-3 delay penalties in addition to forcing Fresno State to use their last timeout during their clock plan? It was vintage Husky Stadium and probably one of the main reasons why I think the Huskies will win this football game. But, then again, what else would you expect from me? I wouldn't want to disappoint.
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