-- In case you’ve been living in a cave, Washington’s head coach Rick Neuheisel is a former UCLA quarterback that has long been rumored and speculated about coming to UCLA. He’s currently under the most fire of his career, being penalized for recruiting violations his regime committed while at Colorado, and for starting the season 4-4.
-- In the last year or so, Neuheisel and UCLA Head Coach Bob Toledo have mixed words in the press about some recruiting incidents, and both were reprimanded by the Pac-10. Both coaches say that it’s now water under the bridge.
-- UCLA (5-3, 2-2) leads the all-time series with Washington (4-4, 1-3), 31-28-2. Last year, UCLA’s DeShaun Foster rushed for 301 yards at the Rose Bowl and UCLA beat Washington, 35-13.
-- With having a pretty illustrious history of quarterbacks, Washington’s current QB, Cody Pickett is comparatively having a monster season. He’s already set a Washington season record for passing yards, 2,811, and only in eight games.
-- Washington has a winning percentage of .809 in the last 55 years when it has a rusher gain more than 100 yards. The Huskies haven’t had a running back gain more than 100 yards this year since the San Jose State game September 7th.
-- The Huskies have a .842 all-time winning clip within the confines of Husky Stadium.
-- Reggie Williams, Washington’s star sophomore wide receiver, is already fourth in Washington career receiving yards with 1,830, sixth in career receptions with 103, and is currently #1 in career receiving yards per game, averaging 96.3. He’s only 364 yards away from the receiving yard record, and 36 receptions shy of the reception mark.
-- Last week, Matt Moore became the Bruin true freshman quarterback to win his first start since Tom Ramsey did it in 1979.
-- If only the games were counted where tailback Tyler Ebell had a starter’s amount of carries, he’d clearly be leading the Pac-10 in rushing. In the last four games, he’s averaging 146 yards a game, while the Pac-10 leader, Oregon’s Onterrio Smith, averages 126.9 yards a game.
-- Ebell is 72 yards away from setting the UCLA record for most yards by a freshman.
UCLA’S OFFENSE V. WASHINGTON’S DEFENSE
Who the heck knows what kind of performance you’re going to see out of UCLA’s offense? Not only do you have the variable of a true freshman quarterback, as of Friday, you don’t even know which freshman quarterback.
If you’re UCLA and you’re making a game plan, it’s pretty obvious, though, that whichever freshman quarterback gets the bulk of the snaps, either Matt Moore or Drew Olson, they’re going to have to pass to be successful. Washington’s defense isn’t great, but the one thing they do do well is defend against the run. They’re the #1 rushing defense in the Pac-10, giving up an average of just 79.2 yards per game. They’re also second-to-last in past defense, allowing 277.9 yards a game through the air on average. So, the theory that UCLA wouldn’t have to throw much and just hand the ball to Tyler Ebell – like it did last week for the majority of the game against Stanford -- doesn’t seem like a viable game plan.
The challenge, then, is, how to institute a winning passing game plan with a true freshman at quarterback, playing in a loud, hostile, cold environment like Husky Stadium. That’s a considerable challenge. More than likely, the theory would be to try to minimize how much your quarterback has to make a play to be successful, and put the responsibility of success into your experienced talent on the offense, which is your receiving corps. Quite simply, the ball is going to have to get into the hands of Mike Seidman, Craig Bragg and Tab Perry (pictured at right). You put the ball in their hands and you hope they can make a play. If these three playmakers don’t do that – make plays – UCLA’s chances of being successful offensively are slim. Now, with three guys like this, a defense can’t guard all of them. You’d think that Washington would do everything it could to take away Seidman, who is probably the biggest pass-catching and YAC (yards after catch) threat among the receivers. Then, next in the take-away hierarchy would have to be Craig Bragg. He’s such a playmaker that Washington has to do everything it can to control him. Now, if Washington can dedicate some bodies to taking away these two, it’s very unlikely that it can also take away Perry. Perry, through process of elimination, ends up being a big key to this game. He’s big, has good speed, and has had some big games this season, but has been inconsistent. It’s critical for UCLA that Perry bring his “A” game to Seattle Saturday.
If you’re Washington, you have to like your chances of stopping UCLA on the ground, or at least being able to limit them. Washington does well in rush defense because they’re basically strong up the middle, with a solid defensive tackle in Terry Johnson, and probably their defensive leader at inside linebacker, Ben Mahdavi (pictured below). Mahdavi leads the team in tackles with 65, and has 8.5 tackles for loss. One of his specialties is finding the seam, slicing through and catch a ball carrier behind the line. Washington has a total of 67 tackles for loss this season, which has really gone a long way in keeping their rush defense totals down. Washington is solid against the run, but also tends to depend on the big play on defense in running plays, taking advantage of its schemes rather than its talent to get that tackle for a loss. Also holding up the middle of the defense is strong stafety Greg Carothers.
But Washington’s defense is young and inexperienced. On Saturday they’ll start only two seniors, along with four sophomores and one true freshman. And that true freshman, Nate Robinson, is at a hugely key position – cornerback. It’s made their defense susceptible to being out of position, poor tackling, bad decisions – just about everything that comes along with a lack of experience.
Robinson and his cornerback counterpart, sophomore Derrick Johnson, are going through some growing pains. Robinson, too, while, very athletic (in fact he’ll probably be a major contributor at point guard for the Husky basketball team), is only 5-9 and 170. Johnson is 6-0. UCLA presents some considerably matchup problems for them with its big receivers, especially if it uses Marcedes Lewis, which is probably will do, especially in its red zone offense.
So, it’s pretty obvious why Washington has been burned in its passing game. Not only has it struggled in coverage, it’s struggled to tackle receivers once they caught the ball. Washington, to offset this, will have to be aggressive and put pressure on the young UCLA quarterback.
Advantage: Washington. It goes to the Huskies because of the combination of a strong rush defense, the green UCLA quarterbacks, and the Husky Stadium crowd. UCLA’s young quarterbacks won’t completely melt down and could actually have some good moments, but it would be a Herculean effort for them to really be able to have the poise, presence and pure talent to overcome their inexperience in this environment. UCLA will try to keep as many blockers back as it takes to give its quarterbacks time to make decisions and throws, but that then limits how many receivers it has in the pattern. There are just too many factors going against UCLA here.
WASHINGTON’S OFFENSE V. UCLA’S DEFENSE
Washington’s offense is the mirror image of its defense: Its defense leads the conference against the run, and its offense leads the conference in passing. The Huskies average 356.8 yards a game through the air.
Husky quarterback Cody Pickett (pictured at right) is having a stupendous year, and is breaking many UDub records. Washington receiver Reggie Williams is also on track for a record-breaking season. On top of that, Washington has a deep stable of receivers, including converted running back, senior Paul Arnold, sophomore Charles Frederick and tight end Kevin Ware.
Washington’s running game, though, is pitiful. It’s second-to-last in the Pac-10, averaging just 79.5 yards a game. In its last two games – against USC and Arizona State – it’s averaged 18.5 yards per game on the ground. Against the Pac-10 so far this season, it’s gaining only 40 yards rushing per game.
Such an unbalance offense has really been the primary reason why Washington has gone 1-3 in the Pac-10. It’s proven that, even with a potent passing game, without any kind of threat from its running game, Pac-10 defenses have been teeing off and keying on the running game. Washington has continued to get good yardage passing in the Pac-10, but a lot of the yards have been amassed when Washington was trailing and defenses were in prevent. The last two losses in a row have really exposed Washington’s offensive limitations in particular, when its last two opponents had pretty decent passing defenses and pressured Pickett.
The Washington brain trust has to realize that it needs a balanced attack to be successful. While UCLA’s running defense has been solid, especially in its last several games, the Huskies will do everything it can to gain yards through its running game. It’s running backs are good, featuring starter Rich Alexis, but thin due to injury. The problem has been almost exclusively run blocking, with its young but seemingly experienced front line struggling. With only one senior, guard strongside guard elliot Zajac, Washington fields a junior, two sophomores and a redshirt freshman. But four of them were returning starters. The line has been slowed by injury, though.
UCLA, though, has been playing good interior defense recently. Its defensive line responded recently with Rodney Leisle hurt. Steve Morgan has been playing particularly well at defensive tackle, as has Ryan Boschetti. It seems like it’s been a while since a UCLA defensive lineman has been among the leaders in sacks in the Pac-10, but there is Dave Ball, among the conference’s leaders with 7 on the season.
UCLA’s linebackers have been the biggest key to its defensive success, and they’ll have to be especially good in making sure the Washington running game remains shut down. Marcus Reese is having an all Pac-10 year and freshman Spencer Havner has proven he’s a potential star. Strongside backer, Brandon Chillar (pictured at left), though, has been stellar also, coming off one of his best games last week against Stanford where he was in the opponents backfield, running down quarterbacks and ball carriers all over the field.
Perhaps the best unit matchup in the game is Washington’s receivers against UCLA’s defensive backfield. It’s the #1 passing offense against the #1 passing defense in the conference. It’s the battle of the sophomore titans, Reggie Williams versus Matt Ware. Ware is coming off a great performance against Stanford’s sophomore titan receiver, Teyo Johnson. Williams is coming off perhaps his worst game of the season, where he caught only three balls for 68 yards. He’ll be pumped to get back on track in front of the hometown crowd.
Advantage: UCLA. If Washington can go over 100 yards rushing for the day, then the advantage goes to the Huskies. I’m betting they can’t. It seems like UCLA’s defense has gained confidence in recent weeks. With the pressure on them because of a freshman-led offense, they have stepped up and responded. Washington, with its passing game, is going to get its yards through the air. Williams will have his way at times with the UCLA secondary. But UCLA’s defense, with all three units gelling and playing so well lately, won’t let Washington’s offense dominate this game.
PREDICTION: It’s close to a toss-up. Washington isn’t playing very well and, when watching them this season, just doesn’t seem very talented beyond a few positions. USC, a couple of weeks ago, just out-talented the Huskies. UCLA has a lot of talent in many positions. If Cory Paus were flying up to Seattle healthy for this game, you’d have to give the clear advantage to UCLA. But with two freshman quarterbacks in a hostile environment, their first time really playing on the road while still learning the offense and one coming back from an injury, that’s worth almost two touchdowns. Washington, for a one-dimensional team – on both offense and defense – isn’t really a great matchup for UCLA. The Bruins, with their quarterback situation, would prefer to run the ball, and that’s Washington’s defensive strength. And on defense, so far this season, they haven’t really been tested too much against good passing teams. The two best passing teams – Oklahoma State and Oregon – averaged 305 yards through the air against UCLA.. And neither of those teams pass the ball as well as the Huskies. Washington is down this year and struggling, but coming back to Husky Stadium after losing to ASU on the road, with a winning record on the line, their embattled coach needing a home win, and with UCLA having to make up for freshman quarterbacks, Washington has the intangible advantage. UCLA should struggle to get in the endzone, kick at least a few field goals, and probably get one touchdown from defense or special teams, but it won’t be enough.