Aspirations to contend in both the Pac-12 North and South collide Saturday at Husky Stadium, where Washington hosts UCLA in a pivotal, cross-division matchup.
UCLA, undefeated away from the Rose Bowl in two tries this season, looks to stay afloat in the Pac-12 title hunt with its first win in Seattle since 2014. The Bruins last visited Montlake in 2017, their final season under then-head coach and Washington alum Jim Mora.
This time marks the first meeting between UCLA and Washington since Jimmy Lake became the Huskies' head coach. The ballyhooed defensive coordinator and recruiter has seen his team struggle in the first half of his first full season taking over for longtime colleague Chris Petersen, but Washington is hardly out of the Pac-12 North chase.
A win over UCLA on Saturday before the Huskies visit woeful Arizona is critical for Washington. UW embarks on a three-game stretch — at Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State — after the next two games.
UCLA at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -1.5
When UCLA Has the Ball
Struggles to run the ball effectively against Fresno State on Sept. 18 forced UCLA to become more one-dimensional than head coach Chip Kelly wants. In the Bruins' subsequent loss to Arizona State, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was forced to become the primary ball carrier, which he did effectively.
But UCLA is at its best offensively when both Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet are rushing efficiently. They punished Arizona last week, and look to attack a Washington defense that has been uncharacteristically porous against the run.
The Huskies rank No. 101 nationally, allowing more than 182 rushing yards per game. Michigan and Oregon State, in particular, battered Washington for 343 and 242 yards, respectively, using multifaceted looks akin to UCLA's.
Washington has struggled to get into the backfield with preseason All-American linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui sidelined, but he returned to practice during the Huskies' bye. His availability for Saturday is doubtful but could be a storyline to watch.
When Washington Has the Ball
The most serious issue for Washington in recent years has been its inconsistency on offense. That concern has reached a head in 2021 with games of seven, 10, and 24 points.
Quarterback Dylan Morris is averaging just seven passing yards per attempt and completing 58.9 percent of his throws. He's also been intercepted nearly as often (six times) as he has touchdowns, the latter of which mostly came against Arkansas State.
Whether an ineffective passing game has caused a less effective rushing attack than past Washington teams boasted, or if the run game is struggling independent of passing isn't clear. But at just 3.6 yards per rushing attempt, the Huskies are struggling as much with the run as the pass.
UCLA's primary weakness on defense has been conceding explosive plays, which Washington has looked ill-equipped to produce with any frequency.
Saturday's matchup is about as significant for both teams as a midseason contest gets. UCLA cannot afford to fall an additional game behind Arizona State in the division. Slipping to 2-4 puts Washington in a dire spot for making the postseason with the remaining difficulty of its schedule.
The heightened urgency should be evident early. UCLA needs to force the tempo out of the gate and score on first-half drives. If the Bruins can mount scores on four possessions, they will win.
Prediction: UCLA 28, Washington 14
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