UCLA football (0-3) faces No. 19 Washington State (3-0) at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington on Saturday. The Cougars come into the game with the nation’s top passing game, a week after the Bruins were tasked with defending a likely Heisman contender, meaning the defensive backs will have their work cut out for them once more. Here is this week’s scouting report by Daily Bruin staff writer Jack Perez.
Washington State’s offense
Base formations: Air Raid
Run-pass percentage: 27% run, 73% pass
Strength: Passing game
Weakness: Running backs
X-factor: QB Anthony Gordon
The Cougars win or lose by the air.
Coach Mike Leach has formed an offense that throws and throws and throws and throws. The team has successfully recruited quarterbacks who can throw the ball quickly and accurately, as new NFL starters Gardner Minshew II and Luke Falk have shown in recent seasons in Pullman.
This year is no different for the Cougars. They currently lead the nation in passing yards per game with 476 yards per game, almost 40 more than second-place LSU.
Gordon is the new leader in the clubhouse, taking over for Minshew and carrying the load for the Cougars throughout their nonconference schedule. The redshirt senior has 1,324 passing yards and 12 touchdowns through three games in his first year as a starter.
This bodes well for Washington State and not so well for UCLA. The Bruins have allowed 279 yards through the air per game and gave up 302 last week to Oklahoma.
The one downside of the Cougars’ offense is their lack of a running game. The running backs have combined for just 40 rushes and 281 yards on the ground, even though they have had large leads in their opening two games of 2019. While they do have a 5.1 yards per carry average, it does not mean much given they run the ball fewer times than almost any other team in the nation.
The Bruins’ defense – especially the defensive backs – are going to have a long day no matter what the score is and they should be expecting the pass on almost every single snap.
Washington State’s defense
Base defense: Speed D (4-2-5 or 3-3-5)
Blitz tendency: Medium
Strength: Pass rush
Weakness: Rushing defense
X-factor: Defensive line
Luckily for sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and the Bruins’ offense, they will face a very similar defense to the one they faced last week.
Alex Grinch – the new defensive coordinator for Oklahoma – ran his speed defense as the defensive coordinator for the Cougars from 2014-2017. Coach Tracy Claeys took over for Grinch as defensive coordinator in 2018 and kept the same general setup.
This system has helped Washington State get into opposing backfields early and often this season. The team has 17 tackles for negative yardage and six sacks, and they may add to this those totals as the Bruins’ offensive line has struggled at times this year.
However, the speed defense has brought the Cougars mixed results as a whole. On one hand, the team is 20th in passing defense – best in the Pac-12. On the other, they rank 102nd in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game, despite the fact that they have consistently held large leads.
This leaves a lot of pressure on the defensive line. The unit has been able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks but have let running backs through with little resistance if they avoid the first tackle.
This is a big test for UCLA’s running game. Coach Chip Kelly will want to control time of possession to keep the ball away from Gordon and the Cougars’ offense or the score may get out of hand quickly.