Since losing a heartbreaker in Week 1, preseason Pac-12 favorite Washington has seemingly found its mojo. The Huskies smashed then-20th-ranked BYU last week, 35-7, playing their most well-rounded offensive game of 2018.
A day earlier, UCLA jumped to its best start since Week 1, leading Colorado on the road. The young and dinged-up Bruins failed to keep pace with the Buffaloes, however, and lost in another rout, 38-16. UCLA returns to the Rose Bowl for the first time since Sept. 15, 0-4 for the first time since 1971, and in danger of falling to 0-5 for the first time since '43. First-year head coach Chip Kelly has an opportunity to spring a monumental upset and set the program on a positive trajectory into the back-half of the season, but No. 10-ranked Washington — UCLA's second top-10 opponent already on the young season — presents a tough matchup.
Washington at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -21
Three Things to Watch
1. Under pressure
In both its loss to Auburn and a hard-fought win at Utah, Washington quarterback Jake Browning found himself under consistent duress from the pass rush. Outstanding Auburn and Utah lines took advantage of the inexperience the Huskies were dealt at left tackle, the result of Trey Adams undergoing season-ending back surgery.
Washington's since found an unusual but effective solution, rotating both Jared Hilbers and Henry Roberts at the position. Head coach Chris Petersen said although unorthodox, he believes it's working. Browning's outstanding performance against BYU, going 23-of-25 for 277 yards with a touchdown, suggests it's working. UCLA's job is to prove otherwise.
The Bruins have not been particularly good at generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks through four games, in part the result of talented Jaelan Phillips again dealing with injury. Phillips is one of a number of injured Bruins, a list that also includes linebacker Josh Woods. He was scratched before the season, requiring some mixing-and-matching in the front seven.
Conversely, UCLA's similarly battered offensive line has had its issues protecting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. That's troublesome against Washington, a defense that typically ranks among the nation's best in sacks, but is off to a slow start in that category in 2018. Saturday could be time for the Huskies to tee off.
2. Two different run games
Neither UCLA nor Washington have had the same leading rusher in the last two games. The reasoning's much different in each case, however.
Washington splits carries between Myles Gaskin, the four-year starter who sits sixth all-time in the Pac-12 in rushing yards, and explosive change-of-pace back, Salvon Ahmed. Gaskin led the Huskies in rushing yards the first three games, and had 81 to support Ahmed's 87 last week. The twosome poses problems for a defense with as many question marks in the front seven as UCLA.
UCLA, meanwhile, has undergone consistent change at running back, with head coach Chip Kelly seeking consistency. He may have found his solution in Josh Kelley, who gained 124 yards on just 12 carries at Colorado. A stout Washington defense could bottle up the UCLA rushing attack just as it's beginning to show signs of life, however.
3. Ingredients for upset
Certain ingredients are necessary for a monumental upset. Turnovers help. If there's one facet in which the Bruins might have their best hope, it's in the veteran secondary facing a quarterback in Browning who has shown some tendency to throw costly interceptions.
UCLA having home-field advantage helps. While the Bruins are 0-2 in the Rose Bowl this year, after having gone undefeated there a season ago, this being Washington's first trip to the venue in five years could come into play. The Huskies have struggled in their longer conference road trips to the Arizona schools in recent years; Los Angeles isn't a much closer flight from Seattle.
An underdog can also knock off a heavily favored Goliath with some smoke-and-mirrors. Kelly is celebrated for his innovation, and this week would be the best time to go deep into the playbook, with UCLA trying to avoid a dubious bit of history, but otherwise playing with nothing to lose.
Washington and UCLA are programs on two opposite wavelengths right now. While the Huskies are putting together the pieces for a conference championship and potential College Football Playoff berth, UCLA is just looking to get in the win column. There's a huge disparity in key areas of this game, with Washington boasting a defensive front that should bully UCLA's offensive line; UW with a more stable quarterback situation; two established running backs in purple-and-gold; and the confidence of a four-game winning streak vs. the doubt of a four-game skid.
Certainly anything can happen in college football, but this looks like a profound mismatch.