UCLA: Marquess Wilson

What to watch: Washington St. at UCLA

October, 7, 2011
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

When Washington State visits UCLA Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, the Cougars will bring along an offense that is No. 4 in the nation in passing, No. 9 in total offense and No. 10 in scoring.

Imagine how good those numbers would be if they had their starting quarterback.

That could be the case against the Bruins as Jeff Tuel, out since breaking his clavicle in the first quarter of the season opener, has been cleared to practice this week and could make his return.

It's not as if the surprising Cougars have missed him. With Marshall Lobbestael filling in for Tuel, Washington State is averaging 379 yards passing per game, 518.5 yards per game and 44.5 yards a game. Granted, the Cougars have piled up those numbers against a couple of shoddy defenses in Idaho State and UNLV, but San Diego State is No. 9 in the nation in pass defense and Washington State had 368 yards passing in that game.

It's helped the Cougars to a 3-1 start, quite a turnaround for a team that was 2-10 last season and was No. 106 in the nation in scoring.

"Obviously they have stayed the course," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "They’ve let young players grow in the program and now they’ve reached some level of maturity and they’re making plays. So, it’s no accident that good things are starting to happen for them."

Tuel was the main bright spot for the team last season. He passed for 2,780 yards and was expected to break out in this, his junior season. He was ill on opening day and didn't start, but felt well enough to enter the game late in the first quarter, but lasted only one series.

Lobbestael didn't miss a beat. A senior who has spent most of his career as a backup, has passed for 1,353 yards and 13 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He is expected to start against UCLA, according to the Seattle Times, with Tuel questionable for the game.

But whoever is throwing the passes, UCLA will have to contend with a stable of productive receivers. Sophomore Marquess Wilson, a 6-3 speedster and 1,000-yard receiver last year, is averaging 137.5 yards receiving a game to rank fourth in the nation. He averages a staggering 26.2 yards per reception and has five touchdowns among his 21 catches. he leads a group of four receivers with 12 or more receptions.

They will also have to contend with a team looking to prove it's impressive start is no fluke and one that has some momentum. Last week, the Cougars overcame a 27-17 deficit in the final five minutes on the road at Colorado. Against UCLA last season, the Bruins took an early 20-7 lead, but Washington State stormed back to take a 28-20 lead before UCLA began to dominate with its run game and won, 42-28.

"They’re an opportunistic team," Neuheisel said. "And we saw that first hand. We know that these kids are hungry, they’re going to keep playing, they’re going to play all 60 minutes. We just have to make sure that we have the same enthusiasm."



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