Friday, November 9, 2012
Five things to watch: UCLA vs. Washington State
By Peter Yoon
The UCLA Bruins end the road portion of their regular-season schedule with a difficult trip to Washington State for a 7:30 p.m. game Saturday night that will be televised by ESPN2.
The Bruins (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) have a four-game win streak over Washington State (2-7, 0-6) and have outscored the Cougars, 141-63, during that stretch. Washington State is currently on a six-game losing streak and has lost three in a row at home. The Bruins are 3-1 on the road this season. Here are five things to watch:
Avoid the trap
Coach Jim Mora says he doesn't believe in trap games, but there is no mistaking that this game is exactly that. The Bruins are riding high after a resounding 66-10 victory over Arizona put them atop the Pac-12 South Division and into the BCS standings for the first time since 2006. Not only that, but the Bruins are now the "it" team in Los Angeles as USC struggles with its image and UCLA is ranked ahead of USC for the first time in a decade. The Bruins play the Trojans next week, so there is always the possibility of getting caught looking ahead and add it all up and you have a possible letdown game coupled with a team possibly looking ahead that is playing on the road against a last-place team. In other words, it's a classic trap game.
Weather the storm
The weather forecast in Pullman, Wash., calls for the game-time temperature to be 23 degrees. It looks as if the Bruins will escape the light snow projected for Friday night, but that is not the kind of cold any UCLA players have experienced over the last couple of seasons. It will be the same weather for both teams, obviously, but for a team coming from 90-degree temperatures earlier this week, it will be a major adjustment. The ball will be harder to throw, catch and hold on to, especially with frozen hands. It could be particularly troubling for quarterback Brett Hundley, who hails from Arizona. Still, the Bruins can at least rely on their ground game if passing proves difficult. As indicated in the next item, that is not a luxury the Cougars have.
Nickel and dime them
UCLA will have to play plenty of nickel-and-dime defensive packages against a Washington State attack that is virtually no threat to run the ball. The Cougars have rushed only 179 times this season and are the only team in the country under 200 rushing attempts. When they do run they are averaging a national-worst 1.46 yards per carry and are last in the nation with 262 yards rushing for the season -- a total UCLA has surpassed in four games this year. Look for plenty of Dalton Hilliard and Stan McKay in the "Okie Light" package and plenty of five and six defensive back schemes to combat the Washington State spread that passes the ball on 72 percent of its offensive plays.
What Washington State gives up in the running game, it makes up for in the passing game. The Cougars rank No. 11 in the country in passing offense with 324.22 yards per game and quarterback Jeff Tuel is averaging 318 yards through the air over the last three games. One way to combat the Cougars aerial attack is to apply pressure to the quarterback. Washington State has given up 40 sacks this season -- tied for the most of any team in the country. That's a good matchup for the Bruins, who are sixth in the nation with 31 sacks this season. The Cougars will be without leading receiver Marquess Wilson, suspended for a violation of team rules, which should make bringing pressure even easier for the UCLA pass defense.
Come to pass
Hundley and his wide receiver corps should be looking to have a big game against a Cougars defense that is giving up 266 yards per game through the air and ranks No. 102 in the nation in pass defense. Hundley is third in the Pac-12 with 2,478 yards passing and has 21 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. He has had at least one touchdown pass in every game this season and has an 8-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ration over the last three games. He has plenty of reliable weapons in receivers Joesph Fauria (three touchdowns the last two games), Shaq Evans and Steven Manfro and the corps is only getting deeper with freshmen Devin Fuller and Jordan Payton coming on strong the past couple of games.