What to watch: Washington St. at UCLA

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
7:38
AM PT
1. ROCK LOBSTER
Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, nicknamed "The Lobster," has passed for 1,335 yards and 13 touchdowns and has the Cougars ranked No. 4 in the nation in passing offense at 379 yards a game. One of the best ways to disrupt that would be to get some serious pressure on him. Lobbestael is a senior, but he doesn't have a ton of game experience and can be rattled. The problem is, UCLA has only three sacks this season--fewer than all but three teams in the country. The Bruins may have to blitz more in order to create problems for the Cougars. Washington State is giving up 2.5 sacks per game, so the Lobster can be had.

WSUUCLA2. LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
UCLA's secondary will be stretch to its limits by Washington State's spread offense, which uses four receivers in its base package. The Bruins are thin back there with cornerback Sheldon Price out for the second consecutive game with a knee injury, safety Alex Mascarenas sidelined with a concussion and safety Tony Dye limited by a neck injury. They will get Vanderbilt transfer Jamie Graham more involved, which is good because the Bruins will need all the bodies they can muster. Expect to see a lot of nickel packages and even some dime against a Cougars' receiving corps that feature three receivers with 19 or more catches and five with 100 or more yards receiving. Leader Marquess Wilson is fourth in the nation with 137.5 yards per game.

3. POUND THE ROCK
It's no secret that the Bruins will try to establish the run game as they do every game, even more so against a Washington State team that gave up 437 yards rushing against the Bruins last season. Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman each had career bests in rushing last year against the Cougars, Franklin with 216 yards and Coleman with 185. It was the only time in UCLA history two backs had 180 or more yards in the same game. It won't be easy to repeat such success, but Washington State is inexperienced along the defensive line, so the Pistol's zone reads could give the Cougars problems. Of note, however, is that former UCLA defensive line coach Todd Howard is now at Washington State so he might have some helpful hints on stopping UCLA.

4. GET AN EDGE
The Cougars are sure to remember that thrashing they took on the ground last year and will surely try to prevent a repeat by stacking the box with eight and nine players. That will open up things on the outside and it might behoove UCLA to throw some quick outs, screen passes and swing passes to playmakers such as Jordon James, Josh Smith, Shaquelle Evans and Randall Carroll in the flats. Another weapon the Bruins can use is size. Receivers Nelson Rosario (6-5) and Taylor Embree (6-3) and tight end Joe Fauria (6-8) will tower over the Washington State defensive backs. Cougars Strong safety Deone Buchannon is the tallest at 6-1 and the other secondary players are 5-10 or 5-11, so fade routes and seam routes could be quite effective.

5. THIRD DOWN IS THE CHARM
Opponents have been shredding the UCLA defense on third down to the tune of a 54.79 percent conversion rate. that ranks No. 119 out of 120 FBS teams in the nation. It doesn't matter if it's third and one or third and 12, the Bruins have found a way to allow most opponents to convert. That number is a whopping 64.29 percent in UCLA's three losses this season. It drops to 41.93 in the Bruins' two victories, a number that would rank 75th in the nation if it were their season percentage. Washington State enters the game converting 46 percent of its third downs, which is a respectable 35th in the country, so the Bruins are going to have to hunker down on defense, stop some third down plays, stall some drives and get off the field.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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