The UCLA Football team plays their last home game of the season against the Washington State Cougars, a team they have not faced since 2012, which makes this a very intriguing match-up.
If all goes right, this last home game of the season may not be the last time UCLA Football plays at the Rose Bowl for the season. Not too look too far ahead, but with this being one of the last games of the season, postseason talk will mostly likely have started and the Bruins are gunning for the Pac-12 and/or the Rose Bowl Game.
This will be an important game that UCLA cannot look past (because the following games are on the road at Utah and at USC) so the Bruins must play this game against Washington State as if it is their last. Though the Cougars have been unable to climb out of the Pac-12 North cellar, that does not mean they will not go down swinging.
The Washington State Cougars
Nov 1, 2014; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars coach Mike Leach runs onto the field before the game against the Southern California Trojans at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Head Coach: Mike Leach, 4th year
2014 Record: 3-9 overall, 2-7 Pac-12
So it has been three years and Washington State has not been able crack the top four of the North Division. That does not mean Washington State has not been making improvements. In fact, they have had one of the most potent passing offenses in the nation under head coach Mike Leach.
In 2014, the Cougars lead the nation in passing yards with 5,732, almost one thousand more yards than the second best passing teaming the NCAA. But most of that was because of gunslinger Connor Halliday, but he is no longer with the program after graduating.
If Washington State can replicate that kind of awesomeness from last year’s team, they should once again be very good on offense. Defense is another story.
The Washington State Offense
With Halliday gone, the Cougs will look to sophomore quarterback Luke Falk for leadership. In six games, he threw for 1,869 yards and 13 touchdowns, starting the last three games. Not only does he know the offense, but he is pretty good at orchestrating it as well.
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Washington State is not what you would call a “running team”. The Cougars passed three times as much as they ran and gained twelve times as many yards through the air as they did on the ground. Their primary running back Jamal Morrow returns, but as a dual-threat. He was not only the team leader in rushing yards, but second in receiving yards among all returning WRs.
Speaking of WRs, the Cougars lose their top two targets from last season but have a ton experience returning. Along with the aforementioned Morrow, River Cracraft, Robert Lewis and Dom Williams who collectively had nearly 1,800 receiving yards.
Whether WSU is 0-6 or 6-0 in conference by the time they meet UCLA, they will still give the Bruins trouble. The Cougars are going to test the UCLA linebackers and secondary, which means the Bruins have to get to the QB often to take him off his game. Yes, this is a simple perspective of the game and not a game plan, but if UCLA can essentially limit the Wazzu offense, they will be in good shape because they might not have that much trouble with the defense.
The Washington State Defense
September 7, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Tre Madden (23) is brought down by the Washington State Cougars defense during the first half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Kind of how Washington State is not a “running team”, they are also not very much of a “defensive team”. In the Pac-12 last year, the Cougars were 10th in scoring defense, 11th in passing defense, and though they had a decent rushing defense, they were the 9th best overall defensive team in a conference of 12. That means new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has a lot of work to do this season.
The defensive line is thin and needed to convert players, there might only be 2 (possibly 3) linebackers on the field because of the nickel scheme and the defensive backs are young. Not to say that the Cougars are going to have a bad defense, but it seems that they really need to overhaul that entire side of the ball if they want to see any progress from last year, which is probably what Grinch had planned since landing the DC position.
The Washington State Vs. UCLA Outlook
With this being the last home game of the regular season, expect the Bruins to come out swinging. It will be especially important for UCLA football to go into a two-game road trip with a victory so already there is so much riding on this game.
Likewise, this will be the last contest of a tough four-game stretch for Wazzu, so if they cannot get a victory against Arizona, Stanford or Arizona State, you know they will be looking for a win against UCLA.
The Way-Too-Early Prediction
Washington State 28 – UCLA 42