UCLA’s 2018 season has some similar themes to UW’s 2014 season. As Husky fans saw first-hand, it takes time to learn good habits and unlearn bad habits. While Sark did some good things for UW, his teams always seemed to come up short on technique and discipline against top opponents. Chip Kelly is going through the same growing pains now, and UCLA might have an even shallower talent pool than UW did in Petersen’s inaugural season.
UCLA has not done much well so far this year. The team’s biggest weakness might be its passing offense. Against the Huskies’ secondary, that promises to make the Bruins very one-dimensional, which is a game plan Jimmy Lake should be able to exploit. The Husky offense has also shown significant progress over the last two weeks. It will be instructive to see whether the offensive line can consolidate its gains away from the friendly confines of the Greatest Setting (tm).
One element to watch closely in this matchup is the kicking game. The Huskies have been an uncharacteristic mess on special teams the last few weeks. It’s one thing to miss FGs, but bad punt coverage and muffed returns are the sort of simple mistakes that we rarely see. While those soft spots might not swing this game, they could be a harbinger for back-to-back ranked opponents on the horizon.
Washington 34, UCLA 17
Coming into the season there was a lot of consternation that UCLA could be the ultimate trap game. With the road contest against Oregon looming, there was a chance that the Dawgs might look past this one. Well, if you were worried about Washington taking their eye off the ball back then, you’re probably much more worried about it now that we know the truth. UCLA is not good at playing football, which is unfortunate for them since they will be required to play football against Washington on Saturday.
Even if the Huskies do get caught looking ahead, I can’t see any way they don’t emerge from the Rose Bowl with a victory. UCLA has some great athletes still but there’s no way that this offense led by a clearly overwhelmed true freshman and a sieve of an offensive line will be able to move the ball with any consistency against the Washington defense. If they score a touchdown it’s because (like in the previous two games) the Huskies turned it over deep in their own territory.
I expect the offense to struggle a little more than we may like against this quality of opponent. The Huskies haven’t looked nearly as sharp on the road, but to be fair, they played two of the better defenses in the country. In the end, just like last week, Washington dominates although without any jaw-dropping highlights for SportsCenter.
Washington 38, UCLA 3
Usually in games where the Dawgs are favored I’m still at least a little bit nervous. Not this time.
For one, Washington’s running game has finally started to pick up steam and that’s exactly the opposite of what UCLA wants a team to do; their run defense is what one would call “pretty darn bad, boys and girls.” This is exacerbated by the fact that they’re still unlearning the bad tackling habits from the Jim Mora era. This team arm tackles frequently and doesn’t get low enough, which a slippery back like Gaskin can exploit. Couple that with an inconsistent pass rush, and the few times Browning drops back to pass, he should look much more like BYU-ASU Jake than Auburn-UND Jake. The Huskies probably won’t throw much—I’d guess 20 passes max—but that part of the offense should be efficient when they’re called into action.
Then on the defensive side of UW’s game, I can’t imagine it being anything short of a bloodbath. UCLA has the talent to be fun in the coming seasons, and has shown flashes of improvement already—but this Saturday won’t be anything close to it.
Washington 45, UCLA 9
I can’t believe I’m about to say this about a Chip Kelly-coached offense, but I would be legitimately surprised to see the Bruins hit double digits in this one.
Just like any other reality-based college football observer, I fully expect the Huskies to have this one wrapped up by halftime. Thanks to a horrid 30.1 percent third-down conversion rate, UCLA’s only real hope of keeping this one close is by hitting explosion plays—a task that they’re singularly unqualified to do against Washington, considering that UW has given up just seven plays of 20 yards or longer (trailing only Georgia’s five nationally) while the Bruins have generated just 12 such plays on the season, worse than every Power Five program not named Rutgers.
I don’t expect UCLA’s defense (5.5 yards per play) to generate many stops, but if/when they do, Joel Whitford’s leg is capable of setting the Bruins up with 80- to 95-yard fields all day. If that happens, there’s basically no chance that the Bruins offense will sustain drives against the Death Row defense, meaning that UCLA’s best chance of scoring in this one will be on flukey defensive or special teams plays.
Unless things go horribly awry—I’m talking “at Arizona State 2017” awry—the visitors should have this one sewn up by the start of the third quarter, with Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant taking handoffs between the tackles for the final 20 minutes of the game. As long as the Dawgs don’t take this one for granted and get caught looking ahead to Oregon, don’t expect to see anything at the Rose Bowl resembling actual drama.
Washington 49, UCLA 6
The Huskies are due for a win in the Rose Bowl. Not unlike Oregon 2016, this feels like the week it’s going to happen, and I’m not talking in just a small way. Washington is going to handle business handily.
UCLA is in full rebuild mode no matter what Chip Kelly says about playing the guys who give them the “best chance to win” (which, by the way, is always uttered by a coach when he’s doing the exact opposite). The Bruins have gotten young everywhere including in the middle of the O-line, tailback, defensive secondary, and of course, quarterback.
In the meantime, Washington is surging. Offensively, they are coming off a week when every single one of their drives crossed the 50-yard line (consider that for a minute) and their multiple offense kept a good BYU defense guessing all day long. Combined with UW’s D, which I expect is about to uncork a pass rush as it builds up to midseason form, the Huskies look like a safe bet to cover easily.
Washington 45, UCLA 3
Washington- 5, UCLA- 0
Against The Spread (UW -21)
Washington- 4, UCLA- 1
Washington- 42.2, UCLA- 7.6