Defending Pac-12 champion Washington went into its bye week with a sour taste left in the Huskies' mouths. Aiming for a return to the conference championship game, and possibly the College Football Playoff, both paths were complicated on Oct. 14 with a stunning loss at Arizona State, 13-7.
Will a week stewing on the result be a positive or negative for the Huskies?
"We don't have a choice, so we use it as a good time to work at the things we weren't good at, and improve," head coach Chris Petersen said.
Petersen and his staff have no control over the schedule, but they do on getting prepared for UCLA.
The Bruins head to Husky Stadium on the weekend legendary Washington head coach, the late Don James, will be recognized with the unveiling of a statue. Washington alum and former James pupil Jim Mora brings a team with some positive momentum after having played its best game of the season in a 31-14 win over Oregon.
UCLA at Washington
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: Washington -17
Three Things to Watch
1. Washington's offensive approach
The offensive approach at Washington has always emphasized run-pass balance under head coach Chris Petersen's lead. That was the case at Arizona State, though neither was particularly effective.
Quarterback Jake Browning passed 30 times, completing 17 of them for just 136 yards – that's a 4.6-yard per attempt average – with no scores. The rushing attack found sledding no easier, with 31 carries totaling 91 yards; 2.9 yards per carry.
Washington has a capable backfield with Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman splitting the bulk of touches, though the Huskies have not leaned particularly heavy on the duo to shoulder the load. Against a UCLA run defense that comes in ranked dead last in the FBS at 303.4 yards per game allowed, a more consistent dose of the run game could be in order – especially early to force UCLA defensive coordinator Tom Bradley's hand in how the Bruins defensive backs are used, which could be key to freeing up big-play receiving threat, Dante Pettis.
2. Special teams swings
Speaking of Pettis, the speedster is equally dangerous running back punts as he is catching deep balls. Pettis has three punts returned for touchdowns on the season, which is a staggering total when presented in the context of UCLA having exactly zero punt return touchdowns since 2005.
Bruins punter Stefan Flintoft is one of the best in his role in the Pac-12. He'll be tasked with keeping the ball away from Pettis to the best of his ability, or at least giving the UCLA punt coverage time ample time to make the stop if a return opportunity is presented.
Special teams proved back-breaking for Washington at Arizona State, with Van Soderberg missing two field goal attempts. If those are good, the Huskies go to overtime with the Sun Devils.
3. UCLA's passing attack
Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen led the FBS in passing yards and touchdowns for the better part of the season's first month. His numbers have slowed a bit, due in part to a rough outing at Arizona but also a more balanced look with the run game picking up its production.
After throwing three picks in the loss at UA, Rosen bounced back with an excellent game against Oregon. His numbers weren't eye-popping, but he continued his season-long trend of distributing the ball effectively to multiple pass catchers. This time, Christian Pabico stepped up with 99 yards and his first career touchdown.
"It's Josh having confidence in all of his receivers, and having a really good understanding of our pass concepts," head coach Jim Mora credited for the big production among a variety of pass catchers, whether Darren Andrew, Theo Howard, Jordan Lasley or a newcomer like Pabico. "[Rosen] is able to go through his pass progressions and find the guy that he's supposed to throw to, and if that guy's not open, moving off from No. 1 to No. 2 to No. 3.
"And it's the offensive line giving Josh time to do that," he added.
The play of UCLA's offensive line is a big thing to watch Saturday. Arizona got to Rosen for five sacks on Oct. 14, which contributed to the quarterback's multiple interceptions. Washington has one of the best pass rushes in college football behind defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, which fuels the Huskies' ability to generate turnovers.
UCLA has been a Jekkyl and Hyde team at and away from the Rose Bowl. The Bruins' 4-3 record is in perfect symmetry with its home and road records. The performance against Oregon was UCLA's most complete, with the run defense locking in, Josh Rosen playing error-free football, and the rushing attack clicking. Carrying that over into a matchup with fresh, and likely angry Washington, could prove difficult.
The Huskies historically struggle when going to the state of Arizona. The loss at ASU, while surprising, followed a trend lasting nearly two decades. If Washington was to have a letdown in its regular-season schedule, Arizona State was the most likely candidate.
Expect Myles Gaskin to put up big numbers against UCLA's run defense, setting the tone for Washington to bounce back and keep its College Football Playoff hopes alive.