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Pick Six: Is Washington’s Defense as Good as Advertised?

This week’s edition asks one of the most important questions of the season.

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NCAA Football: Oregon at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

1) First off, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that based on tradition, UCLA’s road woes will likely end before the season is over. In nearly 100 seasons, the Bruins finished winless on the road 13 times. Twelve of those years were between 1920 and 1945. The last time it happened was 1968.

Okay, now for the bad news. UCLA might not end its troubles on the road this weekend against a ranked Washington crew.

The Bruins didn’t have to face off against one of the Huskies’ best squads in school history last season. While this year’s club hasn’t gained as much hype, it’s still a formidable team that possesses a robust offense and defense.

This could be UCLA’s toughest road test. More than 1,100 miles north, Huskies fans will continue to fill up the stadium to do their best impression of the fan corps that make up the 12th man.

Maybe history will back the Bruins in the matchup though and allow them to claim their first win away from the Rose Bowl in 2017.

2) Washington’s defense gets a lot of praise.

The Huskies don’t give up many yards, allowing just an average of 237 yards per game. That seems legit – they rank second in the nation in that category – except for one thing.

A majority of Washington’s opponents against own lackluster offenses.

Rutgers, under inspiring offensive coordinator Jerry Kill, averages just 301 yards per game. Montana plays against primarily no-name teams, as they play in the Big Sky, a conference that doesn’t get very much attention. Let’s just say it’s not as entertaining as any of the major conferences.

Of the Huskies’ seven opponents, Fresno State boasts the best offense based on numbers. The Bulldogs’ defense is sturdy, compared to what it was earlier this season, but the offense is superficial. They scored 66 points against Incarnate Ward – yes, it’s a university – and more than 30 points against New Mexico and Nevada.

And then you have three teams in the Pac-12 that aren’t known for their offense in Arizona State, California and Colorado.

Yes, numbers can lie. Washington’s defense will probably give offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch fits on the offensive end, but don’t be surprised if UCLA can find some chinks in the armor.

3) One way people measure the effectiveness of a team’s defense is through turnovers. That’s just one reason why this year’s defensive unit is abhorrent.

Last week’s performance is still up in the air. Some argue that the Bruins’ defense didn’t improve at all, while some believe its moving in the right direction.

If takeaways are the deciding factor, then it is an improvement. Of course, that is just one piece of the perplexing puzzle.

Last week against Oregon, UCLA managed to nab an interception and recover a fumble, increasing its takeaway load a promising 40 percent. The Bruins still have a long way to go to match even its lowest total under Mora – 16 in 2014.

Let this be seen an interesting factor to consider. Ironically, last year’s squad forced more turnovers than it did in 2014 and 2015, when UCLA garnered an 18-8 record.

The two takeaways recorded last week could be a sign that the Bruins’ defense will reignite back into a solid defensive corps. Only one can hope.

4) The Huskies’ offense doesn’t run itself. It’s not a well-oiled machine.

Thus, maybe the Bruins’ defense won’t be embarrassed as it has time and time again this year.

But there are still some weapons other than Browning that could harass Jim Mora and company on the field. Primarily, Miles Gaskin garners attention, as he leads the team in touchdowns, other than Browning, with eight.

Then there’s Dante Pettis, who’s one of the main contributors on the offensive end.

Pettis isn’t a primetime playmaker. He doesn’t frequently break out for 40-yard receptions or tack on an extra 30 yards after contact.

But in the red zone, he’s a menace.

Pettis leads the team in receptions with 44. Then next highest number on the team is 21. He also leads the receiving regiment in touchdowns with six.

He doesn’t accumulate a copious amount of yardage. Yet, if the game is on the line and the team needs a critical catch, expect Pettis to have a bullseye on his chest.

Since UCLA’s secondary has struggled this season, like the defense in general, that can be an issue.

5) Here’s more good news. UCLA has done relatively well against teams from Washington since 2000.

Okay, the team’s record against Washington and Washington State is a solid 15-11, which isn’t extraordinary. But it’s much better than how the Bruins have performed against the Ducks and Stanford Cardinal since the turn of the decade.

This is the first season since 2010 that the UCLA plays both teams. Unfortunately, the Bruins didn’t claim two victories in those bouts.

With the Cougars’ and Huskies’ formidable teams this year, it would be an incredible feat to record two upsets against the Washington teams.

Anything can happen.

6) Josh Rosen. Jake Browning. Who ya got?

After last weekend’s bout against Oregon, one of the Pac-12 commenters explained who he considered to be the top-five quarterbacks in the conference.

I can’t remember how the order went exactly, but I do remember that Rosen sat at the top of the list, and Browning made it as well.

It’s unfair to compare the two based on their season totals, as Rosen has compiled a significant amount of garbage time yardage. That’s one of the differences in being on a team that doesn’t fall behind by double digits before the start of the fourth quarter.

But looking at each player’s quarterback rating, which measures slingers’ contributions to their teams touchdowns and wins, could be a worthy statistic.

For what it’s worth, Browning ranks 20th in the nation in the category, while Rosen ranks 31st. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield ranks first overall.

Rosen is one of the most talented playmakers in the nation and likely the first quarterback drafted next year. But he’s not perfect, and he has plenty of doubters going against him.

7) Extra Point!

It’s interesting to think of how mascots would face if they were pitted against one another. Or at least which animal or person is considered more dangerous.

Bruins and Huskies will probably get more points for being adorable than threatening. The two mascots are somewhat uncommon as well, as only a few teams in the entire FBS are either the Huskies and Bruins.

Which is the cooler mascot, with an unbiased opinion – I understand that’s asking a lot.

Would it be the same if UCLA had a live bear instead of Joe Bruin?