Winless Bruins head to Pullman to face undefeated Cougars in Pac-12 opener for both teams
The No. 19 Cougars are the second straight Top 25 opponent for the Bruins. UCLA (0-3) didn't fare so well in the first go-around, falling 48-14 to Oklahoma to close out non-conference play. The Bruins gave up 611 yards of total offense in the loss, with Sooners QB Jalen Hurts lighting them up for 289 passing yards, 150 rushing yards, and four total touchdowns.
Washington State (3-0) has plenty of reasons to feel optimistic, starting with Anthony Gordon. The air raid offense hasn't taken a step back with the redshirt senior taking over as the starting quarterback this season. Gordon dazzled in a 31-24 win over Houston, rolling up 440 yards and three touchdowns on 36-of-48 passing.
UCLA leads the all-time series 40-20-1 but hasn't enjoyed much recent success against Washington State. The Cougars have won two straight in the series and haven't dropped a game against the Bruins since Mike Leach's debut season in 2012.
UCLA at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington State -18.5
When UCLA Has the Ball
Dorian Thompson-Robinson must get more going in the passing game for the Bruins to awaken from their offensive hibernation. Thompson-Robinson tallied 201 yards and two touchdowns through the air against Oklahoma. But he also completed just 58 percent of his pass attempts and tossed a pair of interceptions. It made it tough to keep up with the Sooners. UCLA didn't get on the board until the second quarter and scored on just one more drive in the third quarter.
Taking care of the ball will be essential. Washington State leads the nation with seven fumble recoveries. UCLA can't afford to give the Cougars short fields and will need to sustain drives. That could take some work since the Bruins average just 263 yards on offense per game — making UCLA the only Pac-12 school averaging under 300 yards.
The Bruins need to get things going on the ground to have a chance against Washington State. Running back seemed like a position of strength heading into the season. It hasn't played out that way. Joshua Kelley and Demetric Felton have been largely ineffective early in the season. Kelley suffered a knee injury in fall camp and hasn't bounced back to last year's form. He has just 104 total yards through two games and is averaging 3.2 yards per carry, down from 5.5 a year ago. Felton is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, but he has only 164 total yards through three games.
When Washington State Has the Ball
Gordon has not yet had a game in which he has thrown for fewer than 400 yards. He leads the FBS with 441.3 passing yards per game and 12 passing touchdowns. As a team, the Cougars lead the nation with 476.0 passing yards per contest.
That's a succinct way of saying Washington State will stretch the field and force UCLA to try to keep up. Gordon's favorite target through the first three games is Brandon Arconado, who has totaled 308 yards on 23 receptions. Arconado is far from the only weapon in the Cougars' arsenal. The air raid is designed to spread the ball around, and that's exactly what the Cougars do.
Six different Washington State receivers have 10 or more receptions through three games. Three receivers are averaging at least 15 yards per catch, led by Dezmon Patmon's 17.5 yards per catch on 13 receptions. With UCLA allowing 279.0 passing yards per game — and a Pac-12-worst 10.5 yards per catch — expect to see Gordon take a few shots downfield from the get-go against the Bruins.
Trouble is brewing for UCLA. The Bruins are looking more and more like a team that will struggle to win a single game this season. UCLA has scored just 14 points in each of its first three games and ranks dead last among all power conference teams in scoring offense and total offense. That's not a winning formula going up against a Washington State team that can pile up yards and points in a hurry. It's a safe guess that the Cougars will have no trouble improving to 4-0 for the third time in four seasons.
Prediction: Washington State 41, UCLA 14
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.