Chris Petersen didn’t come into Saturday’s game expecting to run the ball 58 times, but the Washington coach did want to test UCLA’s run defense.
“The plan was to run the ball to see how that would go,” Petersen said
It went well for Washington, as it has for nearly all of UCLA’s opponents this season.
The Bruins (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12), who entered the day allowing the most rushing yards per game in the country, surrendered another 333 yards on the ground – even more than their average – in Saturday’s 44-23 loss to the No. 12 Huskies (7-1, 4-1).
“We had some problems today,” said defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. “Not tackling well enough, obviously getting cut out of gaps again.”
Washington typically employs a balanced attack on offense, but upon seeing the success of their ground game, the Huskies all but abandoned the pass.
Their 12 pass attempts were the fewest by a Washington team since Nov. 14, 1981 – a rainy day on which the Huskies won a 13-3 game.
Saturday’s game was different – Washington ran the ball not because the conditions or game circumstances called for it, but because it was working so well.
“I was pretty shocked they didn’t try to throw the ball more,” said UCLA redshirt junior defensive back Adarius Pickett. “But I mean, why would you? You’re having success on the ground.”
Coach Jim Mora attributed the defense’s struggles against the run, as he has throughout the season, to poor tackling.
“We missed tackles – that was the problem,” Mora said. “Guys were fit up, we just missed tackles. It was nothing schematically at all.”
It was a step back for a defense that seemed to show improvement Oct. 21 against Oregon, holding the Ducks under four yards per carry. The Huskies gained 5.7 yards per rush, with each of their top three running backs averaging over six yards.
“It was tough coming off a game like Oregon and taking a loss like this,” said redshirt freshman defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa. “I don’t think they did anything that we hadn’t seen before. We’ve just got to work on our execution and tackling.”
Odighizuwa is one of several young players who have taken on larger roles in the UCLA defense as a result of injuries, especially in the front seven.
Junior linebacker Josh Woods is out for the year with a shoulder injury, senior defensive lineman Matt Dickerson is possibly done for the season after collarbone surgery and redshirt sophomore lineman Rick Wade has missed the past two games with a sprained knee.
The injury to Woods has left the Bruins short-handed at linebacker, forcing redshirt sophomore Keisean Lucier-South to attempt a midseason transition from defensive end to a linebacker spot.
“No excuse, (but) we have obviously some newer guys playing positions,” Bradley said. “We’ve lost some guys in there for a longer stint than they’re used to, but we’ll be better for the experience of going through this.”