Four weeks ago we started our first "Thursday Gameday" of this season with a sense of dread and anticipation of total Bruin annihilation on national TV. At the time some of you were not all that happy with striking such a hopeless and "negative" tone on a gameday getting everyone's spirits down. Well we all know what transpired in Eugene that night and it didn't have anything to do with us being overly negative. It was just a matter of being pragmatic given the realities around our team.
Well the realities around our team and the matchup heading into tonight, IMHO are on the positive side for our Bruins. We know Steve Sarkisian is going to pull out all the stops by trotting out his injured senior superstar (who should have probably sat out rest of the season, get his cracked ribs healed and get ready for a bright future in the NFL) and pulling out the Steve Lavin's "black uniform" gimmick, hoping and praying that the senior day emotion will carry the night for Huskies on tWWL. However, when it comes to talent, Bruins have the advantage on both sides of the field (and in special teams).
4 true freshmen - Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Jordan Zumwalt, Cassius Marsh, and Anthony Barr - are going to be in our starting lineup tonight. Yet as Jon Gold notes at this point "there are no more wide eyes":
Nine games into the season, there are no more rookies.
The freshmen have played - including defensive starters linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, defensive tackle Cassius Marsh and defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa - and they've matured.
"The good part of it is, there's no shock," Dye said. "We're not going to be, `We've got to do this, let's all rally together!' The game gets too big for younger guys. But no, we've all been here.
"The initial shock is gone."
I fully expect UCLA's coaching staff to have our boys prepared, withstand whatever initial emotional thrust the Huskies come out with at Montlake, and pull out an important win on the road. UCLA players should be getting after tonight with their hair on fire fighting for a bowl berth, while the coaches in Rick Neuheisel's staff should feel the urgency of having their careers on the line.
I am really excited to find out how the Bruin offense responds in rowdy road game tonight. This game IMO huge opportunity for Richard Brehaut to break out as a complete QB. He has now shown that he has the wheels to keep the chains moving. He clearly has the arm and better technique than Kevin Prince. The issue is now for UCLA coaches to come up with a game plan that is balanced, unpredictable and keep the Husky defense off balance all night. ESPN Ted Miller notes in his game write up about Brehaut getting better each game:
Speaking of quarterbacks, there's also UCLA's Richard Brehaut, who's been surprisingly effective running the Bruins pistol offense and has breathed some life into a once moribund passing game. It's taken some time, however, for Neuheisel and -- particularly -- offensive coordinator Norm Chow to develop confidence in Brehaut. Their hands were forced when starter Kevin Prince was lost for the year with a knee injury.
"Richard is kind of a swashbuckler who can get in there and throw the ball around and make it look really easy," Neuheisel said. "Then all of a sudden, when the defense is coming from a lot of different places, is he really aware of what's happening and remembering all the nuances that go with playing quarterback? He wasn't as advanced [as Prince]. Now that he's having to do it, he's learning and getting better very quickly."
Brehaut's role is going to be huge. All week we have heard about how the key is UCLA being able to run the ball. From Bob Condotta (who I think is probably the best college football beat writer covering any team in the West coast) of the Seattle Times:
The keys for the Huskies to stop UCLA will be holding their own up front and quickly identifying who has the ball. As UW players stated this week, a key to identifying who has the ball is reading the movements of the guards. The Pistol is based in part on deception (one reason the Bruins went to it, worried a little about their offensive line), and UW hasn't always been great against deceptive offenses.
UW was better at that against Oregon, but coaches said all week there wasn't a lot of commonality between the two offenses to make that experience matter much. And frankly, I wasn't necessarily among those who was raving about UW's defensive performance against Oregon. UW still gave up 53 points and it felt like Oregon had its share of self-inflicted wounds early that helped slow the Ducks in the first half.
Well there is no question that the Bruins will try to ram it down their throats. The game plan is so obvious (at least on paper) that even a boob like Chris Foster made a decent football related observation in the LA Times in this matchup:
While you don't need a GPS system to navigate the Huskies defense against the run, Washington has Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa. Foster is second in the nation in tackles and Aiyewa is fifth in tackles for a loss.
Both are outside linebackers.
Those yards must be coming up the middle.
That all makes sense. However, as we have said time and again the Bruins are going to get burnt if they keep doing the obvious. Bruins are going to need to be aggressive to take this crowd out of the game. That is not going to happen if they keep slamming the ball up middle against an 8 men front with the crowd shaking the stands.
Chow will need to show some trust in Brehaut and get him and our other skilled athletes to make plays in not so obvious passing downs. Rolling Brehaut out on second/third and long and looking for wide receivers don't really count. Similarly no one is going to be falling for any ridiculous play action calls like we have seen in some obvious passing situations this year.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Bruins are preparing for Locker:
"He can hurt you in many ways," UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers said. "He adds another dimension to their offense because of his speed."
Locker has run for more than 100 yards once this season. He has had two solid games against UCLA in his career.
He had 92 yards rushing and 216 passing as a freshman in 2007. He missed the game as a sophomore because of an injury, but threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns last season. [...]
"He's so versatile that you have to expect all things," Moore said. "You never know what you might see. He might line up in the wildcat and take off running. You just have to lower your shoulder into him and get him down."
Locker has never beaten UCLA and let's hope Bruins make sure he ends with the same career record against UCLA as Rob Johnson. The Washington faithful are not all that impressed with the UCLA defense:
UCLA is not a good defensive team, either, allowing 427 yards per game in Pac-10 play, ranking eighth against the run and seventh in pass defense efficiency (a better stat than pass defense, which measures just yards allowed, which is skewed because if teams can run on you, why bother passing?) Given the weather and all, running the ball seems to make sense. But I'd imagine that against a UCLA secondary that isn't that great at playing the ball --- the Bruins have just one interception in Pac-10 play while every other team has at least five --- taking a few shots downfield seems to make sense, as well.
Can't really blame them for being unimpressed. Numbers don't lie. Chuck Bullough hasn't really gotten it done this season. That said Bruins do have the talent to inflict serious damage on the Huskies. Bruins have enough young weapons on their defense to bring pressure on Locker from all directions, disrupt his rhythm early and take him out of any kind of comfort zone. However, Bullogh comes out and takes a relaxed approach by sipping a caramel machiatto, and coast through with his base D, Bruins will once again suffer the usual death by thousand cuts.
This is another game which Bullough needs to approach with ramifications on his coaching career. He doesn't really have a lot of legit game highlights to bolster his resume. His only Thursday night appearance was a complete debacle. So if he wants to continue on as a DC in the college football ranks, tonight is a good opportunity for him to show that he can get creative and aggressive, instead of the old, stale "bend-don't-break" approaches from last two seasons.
For more general primer on tonight's game here is the AP writeup. Nothing earth shattering there but it is amusing to read AP call out Sarkisian for his "gamesmanship-and evasiveness" wrt his "comical handling of Locker's status" last few days. I will end with this note from Condotta writing about the possibility of UCLA "upsetting" the Huskies (emphasis added):
The oddsmakers regard this game essentially as a toss-up, UW favored essentially due to the homefield advantage. If UCLA gets its running game going out of the Pistol, then the Bruins can definitely pull it off. UW hopes the return of Locker and the emotion of Senior Night and the rarity of a Thursday night ESPN game will stave off the Bruins.
Again Washington is hoping to win just hoping to ride out with emotion. That is all they have at this point. It is up to Rick Neuheisel and the Bruins to get this done and come out with another victory in Seattle.