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UCLA Football Preview: Can Bruins Stop Washington State’s Air Raid Offense?

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UCLA has had very little success with the pass rush under Chip Kelly. Will Washington State hang just as many points as Oklahoma?

NCAA Football: Washington State at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

There is a whole lot of buzz surrounding the questionable direction of the UCLA football program. Chip Kelly is on the hot seat after only 15 games, but it’s no surprise after what has materialized on the field.

Back in 2018 at Pac-12 Football Media Days, Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach was questioned about coaching against Chip Kelly. His response was this:

I have two years to obsess over the return of Chip Kelly. Some people only get to enjoy it for one. I get to enjoy it for two.

It looks like Leach has nothing to worry about because, while the Cougars have certainly turned around their program, UCLA definitely has not. In fact, it looks as if the program is worse off than when Jim Mora left it in 2017.

Overall, the Washington State offense is stacked with upperclassmen, all groomed to perfection for Leach’s offense. Washington State had not seen success in football for years but, when Leach arrived, he worked with the personnel he had and really turned the program around. At the same time, UCLA has a stubborn coach and an offense that was clearly not tailored for the players that are on the team. The result? Three wins in 15 games.

Nevertheless, the UCLA Bruins are taking on the Cougs on Saturday in a 7:30 pm #Pac12AfterDark game. Here is a breakdown of the famous “Air Raid” offense that the UCLA defense will have to work against.

Quarterback

Redshirt senior quarterback Anthony Gordon will be at the helm for the Cougars, although in their first two games, they were able to bring in backups during garbage time. Gordon was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after their 31-24 win over Houston Saturday night.

Across three games, Gordon is 96 of 122 for a 78% completion percentage and he has thrown for 1,324 yards and 12 touchdowns. He actually has more yards and touchdowns in the air than Jalen Hurts at this point, but that is a hallmark of the pass-happy Air Raid offense Leach runs. To further illustrate Leach’s style, Gordon is the fourth-leading rusher on the team, and he only has 19 yards. This does not bode well for UCLA with a complete lack of a pass rush since it seems the only thing the UCLA defense can do is stop the run and sometimes that doesn’t even happen.

Offensive Line

Most of Wazzu’s offensive line is upperclassmen and they are definitely all about creating time for their quarterback to throw. The line is anchored by senior center Frederick Mauigoa, and he’ll have sixth-year senior transfer Robert Valencia and redshirt junior Liam Ryan on his left. Valencia is actually playing on a sixth year of eligibility, but is only in his second year of consistent playing time. As a redshirt junior, he participated in spring practices but did not suit up for a game. Mauigoa is on the Rimington Trophy Watch List for the second year in a row as well as the Wuerffel Trophy Watch List. He is on his third year starting every game at center. So, the Mauigoa/Gordon combo is definitely solid.

On the right, redshirt junior Josh Watson will start at guard and redshirt sophomore Abraham Lucas will start at tackle. Watson has been playing guard since his freshman year, and started in 12 games as a sophomore at the same position, missing only the Alamo Bowl with a hand injury. Lucas was named to the Outland Trophy Watch List and Preseason All-Pac-12 Conference Second Team. Last year, he was on the USA Today Freshman All-America Team and he was also named to All-Pac-12 Conference Second Team. He can’t be missed at 6’7” and 324 pounds.

This offensive line personifies “lines win games.”

Receivers

Skilled receivers are the crux of a successful Air Raid offense and this unit is no exception.

Washington State has six receivers already in the triple digits with senior Brandon Arconado leading the pack with 23 receptions for 308 yards. Seniors Easop Winston Jr., and Dezmon Patmon are also favorite targets for Gordon. Each has over 200 yards and they have scored six touchdowns between them. Junior Davontavean Martin and redshirt sophomore Travell Harris are both closing in on 200 yards and have also caught the rock in the endzone.

The bottom line is this: if UCLA cannot amass some kind of pass rush between now and Saturday night, the score might be just as ugly as the result against Oklahoma, if not uglier. While Washington State is not exactly in the playoff picture yet, Leach clearly has a good thing going and his offensive style is exactly the type that UCLA cannot defend.

Running Backs

Even with the pass heavy offense, Washington State has still put together more yards on the ground than UCLA with a team total of 273 to UCLA’s 234. Topping the list is sophomore Max Borghi, who has 26 carries for 202 yards. Other than Anthony Gordon’s 19 yards, only two Cougars, Deon McIntosh and Clay Markoff, have added yards on the ground. However, it doesn’t seem as if Washington State is going to rely too much on this unit, although Borghi has punched in four touchdowns in three games.

Analysis

With the inability to get a pass rush going, Saturday’s game could be just as bad as last weekend against Oklahoma for the Bruins. When you couple the Cougar offense with the fact that UCLA never plays exceptionally well in Pullman and fans might find themselves turning the channel and finding something else more pleasant to watch on Saturday night.


Go Bruins.