UCLA football keeps defense, weather conditions in mind ahead of Washington matchup
UCLA football senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is coming off his worst passing game of the season last week against Arizona, throwing for a season-low 82 yards with a 42.1% completion percentage. (Lauren Man/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
By Jon Christon
Oct. 14, 2021 12:24 a.m.
The Bruins will end their first and only two-game road trip of the season in uncharted waters – literally.
A week after its victorious voyage to the desert, UCLA football (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) will play its second consecutive away contest when it heads to Seattle to take on Washington (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday. After six straight games with clear skies to open their campaign, the Bruins will encounter the wet and rainy Pacific Northwest in their first trip to Husky Stadium since 2017.
“We try to simulate it as much as we can in practice, but obviously, we can’t simulate the rain,” coach Chip Kelly said. “We can’t control the environment, but the game is the game – the environment for them is the same environment for us.”
Kelly added that his team has broken out wet ball security drills in preparation for the weather Saturday.
The four years since UCLA’s last visit marks the second-longest hiatus to a conference rival’s home turf, second to its five-year break from traveling to Corvallis, Oregon.
Of the 34 Bruins that played in Seattle four years ago, only three remain on the current roster: senior defensive backs Mo Osling III and Quentin Lake as well as senior defensive lineman Martin Andrus Jr. Despite having limited experience playing at Husky Stadium, UCLA does have two players who have suited up for the purple and gold in the past.
A pair of transfers, redshirt freshman quarterback Ethan Garbers and redshirt junior wide receiver Colson Yankoff, each spent a season with Washington before moving to Westwood after their freshman years.
Senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson said he’s been able to pick Garbers’ mind about Washington’s playstyle ahead of his first career road game against the Huskies.
“I talked to Garbs about it a little bit, and he’s kind of giving me some tips and clues since he was on their scout team going against their 1s defense at his time there,” Thompson-Robinson said.
As the Husky scout team quarterback a year ago, Garbers’ time on Puget Sound coincided with the first season of Jimmy Lake’s head coaching tenure. Lake started with a 3-1 record and a Pac-12 North Division title in 2020 but has since lost three of his first five games to open the new campaign, including a defeat to FCS school Montana.
Kelly said Lake-coached teams are dangerous regardless of what their record says.
“They play a physical brand of football on both sides of the ball. They kind of emulate (Lake’s) mindset, and they’re doing what he wants them to do,” Kelly said. “They have a lot of passion when they play football, and I think that comes from their coach.”
In a year and a half under Lake, the Huskies have ranked atop the Pac-12 in yards allowed per game, and so far in 2021, Washington also ranks second in the conference in scoring defense and first in passing defense.
Thompson-Robinson, who is coming off a season-low 82 passing yards against Arizona, said going against the top-ranked Husky defense presents a similar challenge to the one they faced a week ago.
Arizona was the nation’s 18th-best passing defense entering its matchup against UCLA but now clocks in at No. 6, bested in the Pac-12 by Washington’s tied-for-third-ranked 147.2 passing yards allowed per game.
“(The Huskies) play very sound defense, and so when you play very sound, it’s very hard to take big shots and big (explosive) plays,” Thompson-Robinson said. “They’re going to make you take whatever they give you. … That’s the best way to attack them going into this week.”
While the Huskies pace the conference defensively, they rank 10th in the Pac-12 in yards per game and eighth with 24.6 points per game on the offensive side of the ball.
Unlike 2017, when Washington ran for 333 yards compared to 109 yards passing in its win over UCLA, the Huskies currently gain most of their yards through the air. With the third-highest passing yards to total yards ratio in the conference, 253.2 of Washington’s 357 total yards per game come from the passing game.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Myles Jackson said improvement from the Bruins’ defense – which ranks dead last in the Pac-12 and 126th in the nation in pass defense – starts with the team’s mindset heading into its matchup against the Huskies.
“We have to believe in ourselves first and trust in our teammates,” Jackson said. “We have enough love and belief in ourselves to know that when we execute and do it the right way, we can get it done, no matter what game plan the coaches give us.”
Along with the new climate, the trip to Husky Stadium could also mark the largest opposing crowd UCLA will face all season, as Washington averaged over 66,500 fans over a five-year average from 2015 to 2019 – the highest in the Pac-12.
Thompson-Robinson said he’s excited about playing in a hostile environment, rain and crowd noise included.
“I don’t think there’s really any way you can prepare for that,” Thompson-Robinson said. “It should be a fun atmosphere to play in.”