The Bruins have their work cut out for them Saturday.
UCLA football (0-4, 0-1 Pac-12) will return to the Rose Bowl to host No. 10 Washington (4-1, 3-0) in its first home conference matchup of the season. The Huskies have won four-straight contests after losing their season opener to then-No. 9 Auburn and currently own the 10th-ranked defense in the nation.
Coach Chip Kelly praised the work of Washington coach Chris Petersen on Monday, and said UCLA will need an all-around effort to have a chance at pulling off an upset this weekend.
“There’s really no weaknesses,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to come out and play a 60-minute game if you’re going to play against a Chris Petersen team.”
Sustained effort has been a problem in recent weeks for the Bruins, however.
Despite trailing by two points or less in the second half of its last two contests, UCLA ended up losing both games by over 20 points. The Bruins were outscored 46-10 during the second half in those games and outgained 524-208 yards.
Kelly said his team is not faltering late in games due to fatigue, but rather to a lapse in focus.
“I think it’s mental fatigue, so we’ve got to be able to play consistently – and that’s what this team has to do,” Kelly said. “We can do it in spurts but we have to be able to put it together for an entire game, and we haven’t done that yet.”
Redshirt freshman cornerback Elijah Gates echoed similar sentiments as his coach but said UCLA should not worry about changing anything pertaining to its game plan – only elevating its energy levels.
“Just energy,” Gates said. “Keep the energy and the momentum through the whole four quarters. I feel like we shouldn’t change anything – we’re playing well.”
One area that has improved for the Bruins is the run game.
Redshirt junior running back Joshua Kelley broke out in UCLA’s loss to Colorado last week, picking up 124 yards on the ground on just 12 carries. Kelley did so after failing to record a single rush attempt in the game prior.
Despite Kelley’s big day, the Bruins have been rotating running backs all season and have typically gone with the “hot hand,” meaning nothing is guaranteed.
Kelly said he enjoys having the healthy competition among running backs because it forces all the players involved to elevate their performance for playing time.
“We’ve still got a couple of days of training this week and we’ll adjust it on the run,” Kelly said. “But the good thing is we have competition at that position and when you have competition, I think it brings out the best in everybody.”
While UCLA’s coaching staff decides who will get the carries Saturday, it will also have to find a way to slow down Washington’s star running back – Myles Gaskin.
Gaskin is averaging 87.6 yards per game this season and has three touchdowns. In the Bruins’ visit to Seattle last season, Gaskin gashed the Bruins’ defense for 175 yards and a touchdown in the Huskies’ 44-23 victory.
UCLA 10th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense this season, allowing 135.8 rushing yards per game.
Washington might be the highest-ranked team UCLA faces all season, but redshirt junior Tyree Thompson is ready for the challenge.
“If you watch the film, we’re close,” Thompson said. “Regardless of what everybody says outside of the facility, we’re close to being great. You just gotta keep pushing.”