Last week, UCLA improved to 2-2 in conference play after its win against Oregon – taking its overall record to 4-3.
However, the Bruins face the No. 12 Washington Huskies this week. Washington head coach Chris Petersen took this team to the coveted college football playoffs last season – saved for the top four ranked teams at the end of the year.
Coach Jim Mora’s bunch will have their work cut out for them Saturday. The Huskies are coming off a surprise loss to Arizona State on Oct. 14, which dropped them seven spots in the rankings. That loss coupled with a week of rest could make for a hungry team and a serious challenge for the Bruins.
Here’s a breakdown of Washington’s offensive and defensive schemes heading into Saturday’s matchup in Seattle.
Base formation: Spread
Run/pass ratio: 53/47
Strengths: well-balanced mix between run and pass
X-factor: wide receiver Dante Pettis
All the talk coming into this season was about quarterback Jake Browning and the spectacular season he had last year. That talk has subsided in recent weeks due to the Huskies’ upset loss to the Sun Devils.
That being said, Browning is actually on pace to mirror his results from last year, if not improve them. He completed 62 percent of his passes last season for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns, and only nine interceptions. Seven games into the 2017 season, Browning has completed 69 percent of his passes for 1,605 yards and 14 touchdowns to three interceptions.
Browning also doesn’t pose the type of superior athleticism UCLA has seen from opposing quarterbacks this year, nor does he boast a huge arm like that of Bruin junior quarterback Josh Rosen. Yet, he makes throws when they’re needed and displays great decision making in the pocket.
Watch this check-down on 4th and 3 against Arizona State on Oct. 14.
Add Browning’s veteran ability to an offensive line that brings back three starters from last years playoff team, and the result is a potent offense that provides consistent pass protection and well-executed run blocks.
Speaking of running the ball, Washington also returns tailback Myles Gaskin from last year’s squad.
Gaskin rushed for over 1,300 yards in his first two seasons at Washington and already has 626 rushing yards seven games into the season . That comes on six yards per carry and eight touchdowns. Gaskin might be the most valuable player for this offense, as a great deal of their production rests on his shoulders every week.
Still, the real game-changer for this offense is wide receiver Dante Pettis. Many thought the senior would forego his last college season to opt for the draft last year, but Pettis chose to come back and is having the best season of his career so far.
Last year, he hauled in 53 catches for 822 yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns. Enter 2017, and the senior already has 44 grabs for 472 yards and six touchdowns.
However, Pettis is arguably most lethal on special teams – as he is currently the football bowl subdivision record holder for most punt return touchdowns in a career with eight. Three of those eight have come this season. He averages 24 yards per return with a long of 77.
Check out Pettis tie the NCAA record against Fresno State on Sept. 16 with his eighth career punt return touchdown.
With so many offensive weapons on a veteran team, UCLA will have to play a disciplined defense and stick to their assignments in order to avoid a fast start from this Washington offense. The Bruins will also have to find ways to mirror the success ASU had against their offensive line, as Browning was sacked five times in the loss in Tempe, Arizona.
Base formation: 3-4
Blitz tendency: medium
Strengths: stopping the run
Weaknesses: inexperience at corner
X-factor: safety JoJo McIntosh
A lot of analysts thought this defense would fall off after losing safety Budda Baker to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. The Huskies also lost both their starting corners from last year along with their strongest pass rush option in Elijah Qualls – currently playing for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite all that, this defense has looked scary all year.
Sure, they lost to Arizona State on Oct. 14, but that game was really the offense’s fault since this unit only gave up one touchdown and two field goals in the 13-7 loss . In fact, Washington defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s bunch has limited opponents to just one touchdown five times this season.
Overall, they’ve held opponents to just 10.57 points a game and just 1,658 yards of total offense. For perspective, Josh Rosen has thrown for over 2,000 yards himself this season – so for the Huskies to hold seven different teams to under 2,000 yards of both passing and rushing is pretty remarkable.
What makes this defense so stout is its communication up front. The front seven have held opposing runners to an astounding 511 yards in seven games. Defensive linemen Vita Vea and Greg Gaines return from last season and pose a strong pass rush under a three-lineman front.
One player to watch out for is safety JoJo McIntosh – somewhat of a pseudo-Budda Baker. This guy loves to hit and can bring pressure down on the run. He’s posted 25 tackles at the safety spot and even became an internet sensation for laying out Oregon running back Royce Freeman – who stands at 238 lbs. – with a huge hit.
Check out the clip below.
In order to win this game, UCLA’s offense is going to have to be the best it’s been all season. They’ll need to create explosive plays in the air and also establish consistency on the ground. Washington is one of those teams that really plays like a group of 11 guys on the same page at all times.
The Bruins will have to rely on big-time performances from their star players and superior athletes to see success against such a veteran and skillful bunch.