UCLA begins Pac-12 gauntlet with No. 15 Washington
UCLA is working overtime to prepare for a Friday night date with No. 15 Washington in Pasadena.
Coach Chip Kelly has the Bruins at 4-0 for the first time since 2015, but to stay perfect UCLA will need to be on point — and points — as it begins a rugged stretch of Pac-12 contenders.
Washington is No. 5 in the nation in total offense at nearly 531 yards per game. The Huskies scored an average of 44 points in each of their victories.
Those are the kinds of numbers that drew the Bruins onto the practice field Sunday to put Kelly’s think-fast, act-fast plan into motion against the Huskies.
“Your conditioning is going to be tested,” Kelly said, adding that he’ll roll back the depth of the game plan. “What can the players handle?”
Handling the Huskies is a tall task.
Washington beat Stanford 40-22 last week in the Pac-12 opener as Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. completed 22 of 37 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. The 309 passing yards was the lowest total in a game this season for the nation’s leading passer.
Penix’s 347 passing yards per game outpace Mississippi State’s Will Rogers by less than a yard, but the Washington quarterback has stacked up his totals with 46 fewer attempts.
The Huskies are using a balanced offensive approach. Washington has 142 rushing attempts and 154 passes.
First-year offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb cited room for improvement Monday, specifically Washington’s red-zone efficiency. The Huskies have scored touchdowns on 64 percent of their 25 trips inside the 20, the No. 72-ranked rate nationally.
“Need a little better second-down efficiency in the red zone. We had too many long opportunities down there, and you just start running out of real estate,” Grubb said. “You have a limited selection on the number of plays you can run down there.”
UCLA (4-0, 1-0) has yielded points in nine of its 10 opponent red-zone opportunities, but allowed a touchdown rate of 60 percent. The Bruins gave up two red-zone touchdowns in their Week 4 romp over Colorado.
The conference-opening win marked the third time this season UCLA scored 45 points, bolstering their 20th-ranked 41.8-point per game scoring average.
The Bruins will aim to continue that offensive success, but want to avoid a shootout against an opponent they know well.
“They’re coached really well,” UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said Monday. “That staff came from Fresno [State], so obviously, we’re real familiar with what they run, and they’re real familiar with what we run.”
Current Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer was at Fresno State when the Bulldogs handed the 2021 Bruins their first loss of the season in a thrilling, 40-37 track meet decided on quarterback Jake Haener’s touchdown pass with 14 seconds remaining.
“It’s a lesson in keep fighting, keep playing,” DeBoer said on Monday. “It’s never over ‘til it’s over. And that game doesn’t really mean anything to this team, but those are things that just continue to give you that fighting mentality as a coach.”
UCLA’s defense enters the week gearing up to make life difficult for Penix and the Washington passing attack. The Bruins are among the nation’s top 24 defenses in sack creation with 11, paced by Laiatu Latu’s five, third-most in FBS.
“One of the strengths, if not the strength of their defense is their front seven,” Thompson-Robinson said of Washington. “I’m still going to go out there and do my same progressions and same reads. If they make some plays, they make some plays. But we’re going to stick to our game plan.”
Just behind Latu is Washington edge-rusher Bralen Trice with 4.5.
A win on a short week can be extra sweet, Kelly noted, especially with what’s coming down the pike. The Bruins face No. 12 Utah (3-1) and No. 13 Oregon (3-1) the next two weeks.
–Field Level Media