This is a tough game for me to call. Looking at the advanced metrics - and even just the standard ones - you'd come to the conclusion that Washington's defense is roughly the equal, if not slightly superior to UCLA's, while Washington's offense is definitely better. But UCLA's special teams are quite a bit better than ours, and they are at home. I don't have to remind any Husky fans that visions of getting rolled on the road by good teams come easily to mind.
When I think about the various matchups, the obvious ones are the lines. Both teams have iffy play on the OL when it comes to pass-protection, though the Bruins at least have the excuse of three true frosh being pressed into duty due to injuries. Surprisingly, Washington has been much better at getting sacks than UCLA despite the obvious physical talent on the Bruin side (Anthony Barr especially). If our OL can give Keith Price 3 second windows to look downfield, I like the chances of our offense having a strong game. As it is, I also expect Bishop Sankey to top 100 yards again, and I like the potential matchups for Austin Seferian-Jenkins against UCLA - do they go with a safety and risk his size overwhelming them, or put a LB on him and risk having that player taken away from the box if ASJ is split out in the slot or out wide?
On the other hand, with Jordon James back and the possibility (probability?) of Myles Jack seeing time in the backfield, the Bruins have the potential to put together a good game on the ground. As well, I'm not terribly optimistic about our front 7 containing Brett Hundley and keeping him from breaking tackles and popping some big gains when we flush him from the pocket. I'm also concerned about our secondary being able to contain all of their receiving threats, from Shaq Evans to Jordan Payton to Devin Fuller to Thomas Duarte - there's only so much Marcus Peters can do, so Greg Ducre, Will Shamburger, Sean Parker and Tre Watson will all have to step up.
And of course special teams is a concern. We thoroughly outplayed Stanford on the road on offense and defense, but terrible special teams play allowed Stanford to escape with the win. UCLA owns a distinct edge here.
Ultimately I think this game comes down to turnovers - I think Washington has to win the TO battle to win the game. They are coming off a big 3rd quarter against Colorado, but it's one thing to do it against the Buffaloes and a whole 'nother thing to do it against the Bruins.
All this said, I still don't have a good feel for this game. I could see anything from another game that spirals out of control for the Huskies to a strong, 2-score margin of victory. I'm going to choose to be optimistic on this one and say that the Huskies pull out a close one: UW 31, UCLA 27
As was the case last week, I'm already on record for predicting that the Huskies will win out and, accordingly, my prediction for this game should not be surprising. However, were you to strap me to an aluminum chair and put me under the glare of a 1000W spotlight, I would freely admit that this game is nothing more than a pick 'em.
On paper, the Huskies look to be in a better overall position than the Bruins, despite this being a road game. My observations include the following:
1. The Huskies are in undoubtedly a better overall health situation, in particular to key players. The Bruins are struggling in that department such that three true freshman offensive linemen are starting and defensive players are getting regular reps on offense
2. The Huskies continue to be one of the better teams in CFB in generating a pass rush while the Bruins continue to be one of the worst in preventing it.
3. The Huskies up and down rush D is meeting an inefficient rush offense.
4. The Huskies top tier pass offense is meeting one of the less effective pass D's in the Pac 12
5. Against common opponents, the Huskies average score is 37-22 while the Bruins is 27-25
The confounding factor, of course, is the mental aspect associated with playing on the road. But, what kind of home advantage are we talking about for UCLA in the Rose Bowl? The stadium, which is far away from the UCLA campus, is designed to hold 95,000 soccer fans and, on a good night, is no more than half full. Considering the fact that those who do intend to go to the game will most likely be stuck in Friday night rush hour traffic, it is conceivable that the stadium could be no more than 1/4 full at kickoff. All this implies that the factors that affect homefield advantage for a team like Oregon or even WSU may not actually be present in Pasadena until well after the Huskies have taken a lead.
Thus, my prediction is that the Huskies will indeed take advantage of a sparse early game crowd to seize momentum from a talented but young UCLA team. Look for the Huskies to get a couple of early scoring drives on the board before the UCLA D adjusts to the Huskies speed and starts getting some punts. Defensively, I don't see the Bruins being able to consistently move the ball out of their base sets. They'll generate some plays with Brett Hundley breaking contain and improvising to keep the game close. I also think that we will see the Myles Jack offensive package which will result in a big penalty for the Bruins D in the fourth quarter when the Husky play count starts getting into the high 70's.
The Huskies will pull this one out and break the Rose Bowl curse. Call it: Huskies 33 - Bruins 24
I think the Huskies are better than the Bruins on both sides of the ball. Now they have to go prove it. On the road.
The good thing is that the Rose Bowl isn't a tremendous home field advantage, and will probably be even less so early with a 6:00 pm kickoff during Friday night Los Angeles traffic. If even 40,000 fans are there at kickoff, that stadium is going to feel pretty empty.
The Huskies just need to play their game. Get Bishop Sankey involved early. Be content to take what's available in the passing game without feeling the "need" to get certain players involved early. Throw the ball on first down some, but be content to pick up 4 or 5 yards on 2nd and 10 on the ground if it's incomplete. Defensively, be fundamentally sound attacking the QB and the running backs. Don't go for the hero play, just get the ball carrier to the ground. Hit Hundley as hard as possible every chance you get, especially early. As my old high school coach used to say, play with emotion, but not emotionally.
I picking the Huskies here. I think they get a solid win against a good team on the road. Dawgs win, 31-23
The Huskies start out quick on offense as Mickens and Ross will each touch the ball multiple times on the first two drives. Sankey will also start hot. The Dawgs early lead will force Hundley to pass. Shaq will force a turnover that will lead to points.
An early lead will hold on. Sankey will have another 167 yards. KP will not turn the ball over. UW 34 UCLA 24
Do I go with my head, or my heart? My heart always gives the Huskies a fighting a chance, and thinks they'll win this game. My head tells me that the Huskies don't play great on the road against good teams. Outside of USC in 2009, I can't think when the Huskies beat a good team on the road. Utah in 2010? Eh. I actually think UCLA matches up quite well against Washington, with their O line being young and banged up, I like the thought of Kikaha and Shelton going up against them trying to keep Hundley "in the cage." We still have to deal with Brett Hundley's legs, which will cause Washington problems, as most duel threat QBs over the years have. In addition, UCLA's front seven has some playmakers and really big and athletic D lineman (Eddie Vanderdoes and Ellis McCarthy come to mind). Bishop will get his yards and a couple TDs, ASJ will make some huge catches, but I don't know if our offensive line has shown me enough this season against real quality opponents to think they'll keep Keith upright all night. Anthony Barr and Myles Jack coming off the edge scares me. I'm sorry folks, but I just don't see UW pulling this one out. I think like nearly every game this season they have every chance in the world to win, and against common opponents UW has looked slightly better, but I just think (as much as it pains me) UCLA takes this one 27-24