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Scouting Report: UCLA football vs. Washington State

By Gavin Carlson

Oct. 5, 2023 12:56 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 5 at 9:05 p.m.

After its bye week, UCLA football (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) will be back in the Rose Bowl on Saturday to host No.13 Washington State (4-0, 1-0). The Bruins are two weeks removed from one of their worst offensive performances and best defensive showings of the season in their 14-7 loss at then-No. 11 Utah, while the Cougars had their own bye week after a three-point win against No. 15 Oregon State. Here’s this week’s scouting report of the contest between well-rested squads from sports staff writer Gavin Carlson – who can’t wait to watch the quarterback matchup from the press box on Saturday.

Washington State’s Offense
Offensive scheme: Air-raid
Run-pass percentage: 53.4% pass, 46.6% run
Strength: Explosive passing offense
Weakness: Running game
X-Factor: QB Cameron Ward

Washington State is undefeated and boasting a top-15 ranking.

Both are quite surprising.

Its passing offense being the team’s greatest strength, on the other hand, is nothing out of the ordinary. The Cougars passed the ball at a higher rate than any other team for eight straight seasons from 2012 to 2019, and have been in the top 30 in passing rate in every season since 2011 in contests between FBS programs.

But in 2023, Washington State’s pass-heavy offense has reached true elite status.

Behind quarterback Cameron Ward, the Cougars’ 405.8 passing yards per game is the second-highest in the country, and the team ranks in the top five in the nation in both total offense and points per game as a result.

Ironically, the air-raid Cougars are succeeding more than ever before while relying on the run game – and a poor one at that – more than normal.

Despite averaging an abysmal 2.7 yards per carry against FBS teams – which ranks 119th in the country – Washington State ranks 28th in passing play percentage against FBS schools, its lowest ranking in that metric since the 2010 season.

While relying more on the run game has not directly led to success on the ground, it has resulted in a more efficient and mistake-free passing attack.

Ward is the only quarterback with no interceptions who also ranks in the top 14 nationally in passing yards per game. He’s also completing 74.5% of his passes, which ranks tied for ninth in the country and has accounted for 16 total touchdowns.

The junior has shown massive improvement since 2022, as he has increased his completion percentage by more than 10 points and his yards per game by nearly 100 yards.

And Ward has weapons all over the field.

Wide receiver Lincoln Victor leads the receiving corps in receptions and yards, but after hurting his ankle during the victory against Oregon State, he is unlikely to play in Saturday’s contest.

Washington State’s second-leading receiver, 6-foot-1 Josh Kelly, showed off against Oregon State with eight catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Kelly had a pair of phenomenal one-handed grabs and a 44-yard catch and run in which he evaded multiple defenders.

Wide receiver Kyle Williams – the team’s No. 3 receiving option – actually led the Cougars with 174 yards in that game, adding seven catches and a touchdown of his own. Williams and Kelly showed the pair can be successful even with Victor not on the field.

In summary, Washington State has several weapons for its talented quarterback, and its offense is thriving as a result.

UCLA’s defense should have its hands full with Washington State’s passing attack on Saturday.

Washington State’s Defense
Defensive scheme: 4-3
Strength: A few standout players
Weakness: Lack of depth
X-Factor: Edge Ron Stone Jr.

Washington State had a solid defense in both 2021 and 2022, with the unit giving up fewer than 25 points per game in each of the two seasons.

This season’s defense is hovering around 25 points allowed per game – 25.5 to be exact – and appears to be far removed from the poor defensive program that gave up more than 38 points per game in 2020.

That being said, this defense is still far from elite.

That 25.5 points allowed per game figure ranks 70th in the nation, and the team’s two Power Five opponents thus far – Oregon State and Wisconsin – are both average offenses that rank outside the top 30 in points per contest.

Washington State ranks 99th in passing yards allowed per game at 250.5, and still is just 59th against the run despite frequently generating early leads that force opponents to rely on the pass.

UCLA’s top-20 rushing attack could have a field day.

If the Cougars do succeed in stopping the Bruins, taking advantage of the latter’s offensive line struggles may very well be why.

While Washington State is still outside the top 70 in the nation with just two sacks per game, edge Ron Stone Jr. is an elite pass rusher that could change the complexion of the contest.

Stone has three of the Cougars’ eight sacks this season and has forced two fumbles. Freshman quarterback Dante Moore and his offensive line will need to be aware where Stone is lining up on every offensive snap if they want to avoid the costly turnovers that plagued them against Utah.

In addition to Stone, the defensive back duo of Sam Lockett III and Jaden Hicks is worth noting. Lockett leads the team with 26 total tackles and has grabbed an interception, while Hicks plays all over the field and has 24 total tackles, four pass breakups, 2.5 tackles for loss and an interception of his own.

While Washington State’s defense has lacked in some areas, it has been good enough to help the Cougars outscore opponents 112-33 in the first halves of games thus far.

Meanwhile, UCLA’s offense has started slow in its most recent FBS games against Utah and San Diego State, so the first few drives being poor for the Bruins could be a concern.

Nonetheless, expect a high-scoring day between these two teams at the Rose Bowl.

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Gavin Carlson | Sports staff
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
Carlson is currently a staff writer on the football, men's basketball and women's basketball beats. He was previously a reporter on the softball and men's golf beats.
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