UCLA finally seems to have found their footing under Chip Kelly. They aren’t great, but they do a couple things really well and have a clear identity. Offensively, it’s all about the run game which has generated 750 yards in the past three games, lead by the physical duo of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown. At quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson helps lead an explosive passing attack averaging 8.8 YPA and more than 15 YPC. He isn’t always the most efficient completing just 57% of his passes, but he is quite slippery in space when running the ball. He has also improved his decision making en route to 11 touchdowns and only 2 INTs this year. If Zion Tupuloa-Fetui is back and firing (however unlikely) it could make for a very intriguing ZTF vs. DTR battle-of-the-acronyms in the backfield.
This offense is ultimately built around the ground attack, but does rely on Pac-12 receiving TD leader WR Kyle Phillips, and the athletic TE Greg Dulcic in the pass game. Phillips is used in all sorts of ways, but I generally like the UW secondary against just about anyone. Washington’s defensive line seems to be getting better but the linebackers still have to prove they can stop the run all game. I expect UCLA to do what most teams have done against UW this year - run the ball successfully.
Defensively, UCLA can be exploited. Their pass defense has been poor all year while Washington has shown plenty of signs of being able to throw the ball around the field, albeit for only a half at a time. Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze, and Jalen McMillan should be as healthy as they have been all year. Not to mention Cade Otton providing a boost to all areas of the offense. There are no reasons Washington shouldn’t unleash them and have a pass first mentality all game. Actually, there are two reasons: Jimmy Lake and John Donovan. Who knows what to expect from the UW offense anymore, so I won’t even try to predict anything.
Both teams can view this as a must-win. For Washington, while it seems unlikely, there is still a path to the Pac-12 North title but it probably requires a win vs. UCLA. For the Bruins, they need a victory to stay in Pac-12 South contention after losing to Arizona State. As much as I want to pick a UW victory, I have a hard time trusting this team, especially against a strong run game and mobile quarterback. Kyle Phillips will convert some frustrating third downs.
Washington- 24, UCLA- 28
This is a tough prediction to make, between UW and UCLA. Both teams are somewhat Jekyll and Hyde, in that when they play well they can beat anyone but they also have stretches of bad play and are capable of losing to anyone. I think the determining factor in this game will be if UW can stop UCLA from running the ball, while also being more balanced on offense themselves. UW hasn’t really shown that they can stop the run and I worry that UCLA’s front 4 will pressure Morris throughout the game.
Washington- 24, UCLA- 31
On paper, without knowledge of how the season has gone for each team, you can make a pretty good case for the Huskies as the favorites in this game. The Dawgs are coming off a bye while UCLA has its second straight road night game. The most explosive part of UCLA’s offense has been its deep passing game, which plays into the primary strength of UW’s defense. For the trouble UW has had sustaining a productive offense, UCLA’s defense has been consistently below-average. While UCLA has four wins, they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record (and the big win over LSU at the start of the year looks a lot less impressive now).
Unfortunately, the full context of the match-up tells a very different story. The bye week should help UW prepare, but I’m not entirely confident that the coaching staff will have used that time to make the improvements needed to turn the season around. I simply haven’t seen enough evidence that the coaches can diagnose what’s wrong and make the necessary adjustments, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Additionally, despite UCLA’s impressive 8.83 yards per pass attempt, the team prefers to run the ball with Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet. In fact, it’s the dedication to the internal run game that has opened up the outside for deeper passes, which is a strategy that could pose problems for UW. Lastly, UCLA’s run defense has been good against everyone except Arizona State, and UW’s passing has one game in which it was good from start to finish.
Adding it all up, this game feels like another one where UW will have trouble getting the opposing offense off the field. Between Charbonnet and UCLA’s excellent offensive line, the attack will feel a lot like Oregon State with a more competent passing option. Just to shake things up, it would be nice to see UW put enough defenders in the box to force DTR to throw more consistently- I have a lot more faith in Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon in one-on-ones than I do in most of the defensive front. Is it possible for Dylan Morris to lock in with a healthy Cade Otton, Terrell Bynum, Rome Odunze, and Jalen McMillan for a full game against a questionable secondary? Sure. But I’m not going to predict it until we see it work for a full game against a decent opponent.
Washington- 21, UCLA- 30
There’s no question that Washington could really use a win in this spot. I mean like really, really use one. And despite an opponent who is clearly capable of coming in and decisively beating the Huskies if they play their ‘A’ game, the circumstances favor the Huskies. UCLA is playing their second consecutive road game while Washington was on a bye last week. This is the same scenario that applied to UW’s last road trip to Eugene which ended with the Dawgs losing in OT as favorites (sorry for bringing that up).
It’s a good thing that the rest advantage favors the Dawgs because this is certainly a worrisome matchup at least when the Bruins have the ball. UCLA is one of the most dangerous running teams in the country with the 3-headed monster of QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson (242 rush yds, 4 rush TDs) and RBs Zach Charbonnet (6.4 YPC, 7 TDs) and Brittain Brown (6.3 YPC, 4 TDs). The only time they’ve really been stifled on the ground was in a loss to Fresno State in which they still scored 37 points. The loss to ASU is the only other time they’ve been without a 100-yard rusher but DTR and Charbonnet each ran for 89+ yards and they still ran for 200 total.
Washington hasn’t exactly been great at stopping the run this year and I’m skeptical they’ll devote the resources to the box necessary to have any chance against this rushing attack. DTR has had some serious accuracy problems this season but has taken advantage of stacked boxes to average 15 yards per completion as multiple UCLA receivers have 75-yard touchdowns this season. However, it also wouldn’t shock me to see this be another game where the opposing QB ends up with fewer than 100 passing yards and the Huskies end up catching some of those inaccurate throws.
On the other end UCLA is a boom or bust defense that loves to blitz (5 or more on nearly 39% of rushes) and regardless of the offensive game plan I don't love the chances of UW’s O-line holding up against it given what we’ve seen from them so far. If Washington has hot routes set on every play then the UW receivers are absolutely capable of killing UCLA after the catch. The Bruin defense has given up at least 24 points in every game against an FBS team with at least a pulse on offense so even with UW’s struggles I think they should at least get to that point. Washington absolutely has to throw the ball early and often to win this game.
Provided no one got hurt this week in practice this should also be the healthiest UW has been all season with likely every contributor other than Ja’Lynn Polk and ZTF (maybe?!?) available. If this team wants to salvage anything from this season it needs to result in a W tomorrow. I can’t envision a Husky blowout without some fortuitous fumble/special teams luck but given the health/rest advantages a narrow Dawg win is certainly possible.
Washington- 27, UCLA- 24
THE FINAL TALLY
Straight Up: Washington- 1, UCLA- 3
Against the Spread (UW -1.5): Washington- 1, UCLA- 3
Average Score: Washington- 24.0, UCLA- 28.3