Greetings! Welcome to Pregame Guesses, the 8th iteration of PGG this season. Your UCLA Bruin football team (4-3, 2-2 PAC 12) travels to Seattle, Washington today to take on the #11/#12 ranked Washington Huskies (6-1, 3-1 PAC 12). It will be the second time that UCLA has squared off against a Chris Peterson coached U-Dub, as the 2014 Bruins beat the Huskies, 44-31, in Seattle in Peterson’s first season. Due to the unbalanced schedule in the PAC 12, the Bruins and Huskies did not play in 2015 or 2016.
Coincidentally, 2014 was the high water mark for UCLA football under Head Coach Jim L. Mora. Since that time, UCLA’s program has been on the decline while the Washington Huskies have been trending up, punctuated by an appearance in the College Football Playoff last season, where U-Dub fell to Alabama, 24-7 in the Peach Bowl. This season, Washington has not played a very difficult schedule so far, and lost to Arizona State 13-7 two weeks ago, a result that shocked most fans in the PAC 12. U-Dub has had two weeks to prepare for the Bruins, coming off a bye last week.
UCLA won a must-win game last week at home against Oregon, 31-14, in which UCLA shut out a banged up Ducks team in the second half. The Bruin defense looked better against Oregon, but that is not saying much considering that the Ducks have struggled mightily and now lost three straight since losing their starting QB. The UCLA running game also looked better, against a solid Oregon rushing defense.
Oregon at home is one thing; Washington on the road is quite another. These apparent gains by the UCLA football program will be severely tested in Seattle this afternoon.
And this brings me to this week’s musical selection. This is my first PGG where UCLA has travelled to Seattle. With so many choices of great bands from Seattle, I originally thought that I would pick something from the early 90s “grunge” movement, which defined my Gen X generation, and was led by Seattle bands such as Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden. But I am going back even earlier to 1987 for a track about Seattle from a band that is from the U.K. Here is “Seattle” from Public Image Limited (a/k/a P.I.L.).
UCLA has a program record of only 15-20-1 against the Washington Huskies in Seattle (although the Bruins have won their last four of six there). As such, I thought that the song’s opening lyrics were appropriate:
Don't like the look of this old town
What goes up must come down
Character is lost and found
On unfamiliar playing ground
Indeed, UCLA could find its character in 2017 with an unlikely win “on unfamiliar playing ground,” or it could lose its character further if it is embarrassed in Seattle.
Washington is second in the nation in total defense; only Alabama is better. But the margin between the two teams is .9 yards per game, with Alabama allowing 236 yards per game and Washington only conceding 236.9 yards per game. Of course, U-Dub has earned this statistic against the likes of Montana, Oregon State, Fresno State, Rutgers, Colorado, Arizona State, and Cal. Not exactly barn burning offenses. That having been said, 236.9 yards per game is a ridiculous number, regardless of opponent. UCLA is ninth in the nation in total offense, with 510.1 yards per game. This should be a great matchup: the immovable object versus the unstoppable force. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 1: Predict the total number of yards gained by the UCLA offense against Washington.
While not as statistically poor at UCLA’s rushing offenses, the Huskies’ rushing offense is in the bottom half of FBS schools, ranked #70 out of 129 teams, averaging 158.9 yards per game. The good news is that, unlike Khalil Tate at Arizona, U-Dub’s QB, Jake Browning, is not much of a threat to run the ball, rushing for only 41 yards on the season. Washington runs more of a traditional offense, without too much read option. Of course, there is always the possibility that, given an extra week to prepare for the Bruins, Washington might incorporate some read option wrinkles, since UCLA has shown no ability to defend the read option whatsoever. UCLA’s rushing defense remains dead last in FBS, allowing 303.4 yards per game, almost 16 yards more per game than the second-to-last team. Ugh. Will UCLA’s defense be able to do better against Washington’s not-so-great rushing offense? Or will U-Dub pad its rushing stats against an inferior rushing “D”? PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 2: How many rushing yards will Washington gain against UCLA this afternoon?
UCLA’s defensive backs have had a really, really rough go of things this season. It seems like every drive is extended by a defensive holding or pass interference call on third and long. Cornerbacks Nate Meadors and Denzel Fisher appear to have regressed, Darnay Holmes is growing into the position, and safeties Jaleel Wadood and Adarius Pickett have had issues in pass coverage. Sophomore Colin Samuel, on the other hand, played last week and made the best play I have seen this season from a UCLA DB defending the pass, intercepting a pass in tight coverage. This third pregame guess has three subparts, the last of which is subjective in nature. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 3: Will UCLA record any interceptions and if so, how many (FYI: Browning has only had three passed picked off so far this season)? How many defensive holding or pass interference calls will UCLA incur in the game? Which UCLA defensive back will have the BEST game among UCLA defensive backs?
I am not optimistic about the game. The Huskies are 17.5 point favorites. I recall, however, a game back when I was in school at UCLA, where the Bruins upset a highly ranked Husky team in what was otherwise a mediocre year for UCLA football. The year was 1990, and the then 4-5 UCLA Bruins, 21 point underdogs, beat #2 ranked Washington in Seattle, 25-22. That’s why they play the games.
Give us your guesses and other thoughts in the comment section.