Know Your Opponent: UCLA vs Washington State


UCLA has three regular season games left on the schedule and control of its own destiny. If the Bruins win their final three games, they are going to the Pac-12 Title Game. First up is surprising 6-3 Washington State. The Cougars visit the Rose Bowl for a late 745 PM Saturday night kickoff. Here is your Washington State Preview.

Series Match-up

UCLA has a 40-18-1 series advantage over Washington State. The Bruins have won the last 5 games against the Cougars, but the teams have not faced each other since 2012. (the Bruins won 44-36).

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As mentioned above, the Bruins currently control their own path to the post-season. Although UCLA has dominated the series, the Cougars have spoiled the Bruins hopes and dreams on occasion.

Most memorably, fans of the Cade McNown Era remember that Washington State knocked UCLA out of the Rose Bowl in the first game of the season when Bruin running back Jermaine Lewis couldn’t convert a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line. The teams ended the season in a tie for the Conference Championship, but the Cougars went to the Rose Bowl. The Bruins have dominated the series recently, but the Cougars won 6 of 7 against the Bruins from 2001 to 2007.

"Did You Know: Washington State Coach Mike Leach is credited as one of the creator’s of the Air Raid offense. He developed the system as an assistant coach under Hal Mumme at Valdosta State (Georgia) and Kentucky."

Washington State Offense

It’s a given that Mike Leach coached teams will pass the ball, and this year’s Cougars are no exception. Washington State is 1st in the conference in passing yards (417 YPG), attempts per game (57), completion percentage (69.3%), and touchdowns (33).

Cougars QB Luke Falk has been named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week three times this year, and Washington State is the only Power 5 team that has three receivers on the Biletnikoff Watch List (Gabe Marks, Dom Williams and River Cracraft). Marks will likely break the WSU all-time reception record against the Bruins (he needs three to catch Michael Bumpus’s record of 195).

UCLA Bruins
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UCLA Bruins

The Cougs also spread the ball around by throwing to Williams (54 catches for 779 yards and 8 TD’s) and Cracraft (48 catches for 552 yards and 4 TD’s) regularly. The strength of the Washington State offense is to utilize all the space on the field and distribute the ball to multiple receivers and backs. Falk has racked up huge numbers doing just that.

There is no accusing the Cougars of having a consistent running game, but this year’s team can run the ball when they need to. WSU has rushed the ball for at least 100 yards in 4 different games in 2015. The Cougars had only four 100 yard rushing games in the previous 3 years. The Cougar offensive line is much improved this year with all of last years starters returning and averaging over 300 lbs a person.

As a result, WSU has been able to run the ball a lot better in 2015. Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks, and Keith Harrington split carries for Washington State. Those three backs have racked up 838 yards and 5.9 yards per carry. Due to the negative rushing stats from all of the sacks, Washington State’s 3.5 yard per rush average is worst in the Pac-12, but it’s a huge improvement over the 1.97, 2.86 and 1.38 yards per carry averages of the last three years. Almost respectable is all the Cougars need to keep defenses honest in Leach’s system, and this year they are far exceeding that.

The Bruin defense had some Air Raid exposure last month when they faced Cal. That game marked the 2015 unveiling of a few defensive line stunts (mostly twists) and a couple amorphous defensive fronts (with 2 or less players putting their hand in the ground). UCLA limited Cal to 295 passing yards and 24 points and frustrated QB Jared Goff through most of the game. Expect the Bruins to begin with similar tactics against the Cougars. Ideally, the UCLA front four will be able to get enough pressure to bother Falk without blitzing, so the Bruins can keep plenty of defenders in coverage.

As with Cal, we will probably see the Bruin defensive backs press the recievers more, so pressure from the defensive line and extra pass defenders to guard deep throws will be imperative. Falk has been excellent at exploiting the blitz this year. Against both Stanford and Arizona State, virtually every time the defense sent more than four defenders on a pass rush, Falk found an open receiver for at least 8 yards. If the Bruins have to blitz more than occasionally, it will probably mean the game is not going their way.

"Did You Know: After a tough year against the run one bonus for the Bruin defense is that back to back games against Oregon State and Washington State will do wonders for their rush defense stats!"

Washington State Defense

Washington State will never be mistaken for a defensive juggernaut, but the Cougars have performed well on occasion. The Cougars proved to be a stiffer test for Stanford a couple of weeks ago than the Bruins managed, and after getting behind 14-0 against ASU the following week, Washington State held the Devils to 10 points over the final three quarters and came back to win the game.

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That being said, the Cougars run defense is atrocious. They give up an average of over 5 yards per carry on the season, and only Cal and Wyoming were limited to less than 4.8 YPC so far this year. As with the Bruins, the outright putridity of the run defense has inflated the stats of the pass defense. Washington State currently has the 2nd ranked pass defense in the Pac-12 in terms of yards per game (211 YPG), but they give up substantially more yards per pass (6.9 yards) than the Bruins (5.5). Washington State has produced 22 sacks on the year (2.4 per game) and they are 2nd in the Pac-12 and 10th in FBS in tackles for a loss (8.1 per game).

Expect the Bruins to get what they want from the Cougar defense. The key will be avoiding big negative plays (sacks and turnovers). The Bruins should be able to dominate time of possession for a second week in a row. The responsibility of keeping the UCLA defense fresh and ready to go will once again fall on the Bruin offense. If Falk and the Cougar offense are on the field too much, it will be a sign that the Bruins are in trouble.

Washington State’s “Special” Special Teams

UCLA and Washington State are at opposite ends of the statistics in many of the special teams areas, and it should be an X-factor in this game. UCLA has had one of the best field goal units in the conference this year with Ka’imi Fairbairn (15/16 made), and Washington State’s kicker has been pretty good as well (14/18 made). After that, the Bruins have a decided advantage.  Despite the ongoing search for consistency at punter for the Bruins, UCLA is still the best in the Pac-12 at defending punt returns (only 2 returned for an average of -.5 yards). The Cougars are the worst in the conference; they have given up an average of about 17 yards on 10 returns, and they are the only team in the Pac-12 to have given up 2 punt return TD’s this season. Washington State punts under 4 times a game, so UCLA had better take advantage of their opportunities.

The Bruins are 1st in the Pac-12 in kickoff touch-back percentage (73%). Although they have given up a few big returns (27 yards per return), they have not allowed a kickoff return for a TD and they allow less than 2 returns per game on average (1.8/game). Washington State’s touch-back percentage is only 28%, so the Bruins should have plenty of opportunities to get good field position. The Cougars allow 20.5 yards per return and have also given up 2 TD’s on kick returns. Obviously, if Washington State is kicking off the ball a lot, it means they are also scoring a bunch of points, but big return plays can cause huge momentum swings. Things have been so bad for the Cougars on returns that Leach has decided to squib kick a bunch, which almost always yields better field position to the opponent. If the Bruins aren’t making some hay on special teams one way or another, they will be squandering a huge opportunity.


Washington State has been the surprise team of the Pac-12 North this year, and they should test the Bruins into the late evening this Saturday. With that being said, with both offenses bringing a maximum of firepower to the table, the difference in this game should be the advantage for the Bruins on defense and special teams. The UCLA defense is as healthy as its been all season (knock on all of the wood everywhere), and they match-up better against the Cougar offense than most teams in the Pac-12. Although Washington State has proven competent at running the ball, its not likely that the Cougars will be choose to (or be able to consistently) exploit the Bruin’s weak run defense. With the advantage that UCLA should enjoy on special teams, the Bruins should be able to get enough stops and make enough big plays to tame the Cougars for another year.

UCLA 42 – Washington State 27

Go Bruins