UCLA (4-2) at Washington (2-3)
5:30 p.m. Saturday, Husky Stadium.
TV: FOX. Radio: SportsRadio 950 KJR.
Latest line: Huskies by 2.
UW key players
RB Sean McGrew: 188 rushing yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns
TE Cade Otton: 13 catches, 138 receiving yards, 1 TD
LB Edefuan Ulofoshio: 41 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 pass breakup
DL Sam “Taki” Taimani: 26 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 quarterback hit, 1 fumble recovery
UCLA key players
QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson: 1,236 passing yards, 57.1% completions, 11 pass TD, 2 INT, 242 rush yards, 4 rush TD
RB Zach Charbonnet: 566 rush yards, 6.4 YPC, 7 rush TD, nine catches, 111 receiving yards
DB Qwuantrezz Knight: 39 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble
LB Bo Calvert: 22 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QBH
Establishing an identity
What does Washington’s offense do well? We asked that question in a story last week, and we’re still waiting on an answer. Through five games, the Huskies rank 10th in the Pac-12 in rushing offense (116.6 yards per game), 11th in rushing yards per carry (3.58), eighth in yards per pass attempt (7.0), ninth in pass efficiency rating (123.09), ninth in interceptions (6) and 10th in completion percentage (58.4%). UW may have found something on the ground in the second half against Oregon State, as a pair of sixth-year seniors in Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant ran for 104 yards and 84 yards, respectively. Last Monday, UW head coach Jimmy Lake said that “we need to be able to run the football, and we need to be able to give our quarterback a clean pocket to pitch and catch and get the ball out to our athletes, because we have some really good players outside.” Still, to this point, the Huskies have proven that’s easier said than done. After assessing the film, UW needs to find a winning formula against UCLA.
Stuffing the run
It’s the same old story. In the 27-24 loss against Oregon State, UW surrendered 242 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry and three rushing scores. And in the 31-10 loss at Michigan, UW surrendered 343 rushing yards, 6.1 yards per carry and four more scores. If the Huskies stop the run, they usually win the game. If they don’t … well, they don’t. And in a 4-2 start, UCLA ranks second in the Pac-12 with 217.3 rushing yards per game (behind only the aforementioned Oregon State). The key contributor is Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet, who has posted 566 rushing yards with 6.4 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns in six games. Redshirt senior running back Brittain Brown has been equally effective, and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a legitimate dual threat weapon as well. With all that said, if UW’s defense contains UCLA’s rushing attack (as it did to some degree against Arkansas State and Cal), the Huskies win the game. If they don’t … well, they don’t.
It’s no secret that UW has struggled to contain dual threat quarterbacks. In a 31-24 overtime win over Cal, Golden Bears quarterback Chase Garbers completed 73.2% of his passes and threw for 319 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, while running for 71 yards and another score. And while the Huskies mostly neutralized Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan, backup Jack Colletto entered the game to run for a 5-yard touchdown as well. UCLA senior Dorian Thompson-Robinson brings the same intangibles, but with inconsistent results. He has completed just 57.1% of his passes but thrown for 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. And on the ground, “DTR” has added four scores as well. Last week was a particularly perplexing case, as Thompson-Robinson completed just eight of 19 passes (42.1%) for 82 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but ran for two scores in a 34-16 win over Arizona. If Thompson-Robinson is clicking, the UCLA offense is as well.
One wild card to watch for in this game is the possible return of UW All-American outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui, who has been upgraded to week-to-week after suffering a torn Achilles tendon six months ago Saturday. The Huskies could certainly use Tupuola-Fetui’s persistent pass rush and muscle in the run game. But even if he does return — and that’s far from a guarantee — ZTF won’t be able to singlehandedly carry the UW defense. In his absence, that defense has done little to suggest it can stop the run against an effective run-first offense. The Huskies were obliterated at Michigan and faded down the stretch against Oregon State. Even if UW’s offense continues to improve, it won’t keep pace with Charbonnet, Thompson-Robinson and Co. A couple forced turnovers could turn the tide, but without them, it’s hard to imagine UW gets back on track on Saturday.
Final score: Bruins 27, Huskies 24