Chip Kelly knows exactly what Mike Leach is going to do Saturday night.
“(Leach) is going to throw it no matter what,” Kelly said. “Whether it’s weather, whether it’s 12 guys on the line of scrimmage – he doesn’t care.”
UCLA football (0-3) will travel to Pullman for the first time since 2016 to face off against No. 19 Washington State (3-0) in its Pac-12 season opener. Leach, the Cougars’ coach, ran the air ride offense for 10 seasons with Texas Tech before bringing the scheme to Pullman in 2012.
Redshirt senior linebacker Josh Woods said defending the air raid isn’t easy, but the Bruins’ game plan is simple.
“Cover, pass rush – they’re 90% pass,” Woods said.
In the 92 games since Leach took control of the offense, the Cougars have averaged 383.8 passing yards per game and have failed to break the 200-yard threshold through the air just once.
UCLA sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, on the other hand, posted a season-high 201 passing yards Sept. 14 against No. 5 Oklahoma and is averaging 185.3 per game in 2019.
Fresh off his season-high 132.6 passer rating against the Sooners, Thompson-Robinson said he and the offense feel prepared to face a familiar-looking defensive scheme Saturday night.
“I think we’re pretty much going to see the same defense we saw against Oklahoma, so getting a look at that, I think we’ll be more comfortable with the looks,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I think they’ll add in a few wrinkles that we have to be prepared for too.”
The former four-star recruit put up season-highs across the board against the Sooners despite the 34-point loss. Thompson-Robinson posted his second two-interception game of the season but said he took a lot away from playing such a highly-ranked team.
“I really don’t think we’ll see – at least talent-wise – a team like Oklahoma for the rest of the year,” Thompson-Robinson said. “So that was definitely a really good test for us and to see where we match up.”
Washington State’s high-powered offense would typically welcome a shootout, but this year’s Cougars boast the strongest secondary of the Leach era.
The Cougars have allowed 162.7 passing yards and 183.7 rushing yards per game so far in 2019, likely setting up a high-volume game for redshirt senior running back Joshua Kelley and redshirt junior wide receiver Demetric Felton rather than a busy day for Thompson-Robinson’s arm.
Regardless of who shoulders the offensive load, Kelly’s plan isn’t to keep pace with Washington State in a high-scoring affair, but rather to win one-on-one defensive matchups.
“It’s still going to come down to individual battles,” Kelly said. “How well do we cover their wideouts and how well does our defensive front generate pressure on their quarterback? How well does their offensive line not allow us to generate pressure?”
Despite failing to post a winning percentage over .500 in Leach’s first three seasons, the Cougars have now gone bowling four years in a row for the first time in program history. The Bruins, meanwhile, are on track to miss the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 1989-1990.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at Martin Stadium.