A pair of undefeated Pac-12 teams meet up on Friday night as the Washington Huskies hit the road for the first time this season to take on the UCLA Bruins.
It's been about as good a start as you could have realistically drawn up for head coach Kaleb DeBoer in his first season with the Huskies (4-0), who are ranked 15th in the country and already have beaten a Top 25 team (Michigan State) while outscoring opponents 176-76 through four weeks. Unsurprisingly, it's been DeBoer's offense that has been in the spotlight, notably at quarterback with Michael Penix Jr. and his FBS-leading 347.0 passing yards per game. Washington rolled up 478 total yards of offense and forced three turnovers in a 40-22 blowout win over Stanford.
The Bruins have the same record but haven't looked as sharp in the early going. UCLA narrowly escaped an upset bid at home to South Alabama in Week 3, winning by just one point, and has dealt with some nagging injuries to star playmakers running back Zach Charbonnet and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The Bruins are coming off one of their better performances of the season in a 45-17 win over Colorado.
No. 15 Washington at UCLA
When Washington Has the Ball
It's not outrageous to say that Penix has been the biggest surprise in college football so far through the young season. The Indiana transfer was in a quarterback battle all through the offseason, but he claimed the starting job and has since shredded opposing defenses, completing 65 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns and just one interception. It probably shouldn't be as big a surprise considering his prior history with DeBoer dating back to their days at Indiana, but no one really could have envisioned Penix posting four straight 300-yard passing performances to open the season.
He has had plenty of help, though, with one of the most underrated wide receiver groups in the country. Jalen McMillan, Rome Odunze, and Ja'Lynn Polk all hit the 100-yard receiving mark in a game at least one time already this season. Against Stanford, it was Odunze's turn to shine with eight receptions for 161 yards and a score. If there is a matchup to exploit on Friday, it would be these receivers against a suspect UCLA secondary that allowed 258 yards and a touchdown to a Colorado freshman quarterback making his first career start. The Buffaloes have the worst passing offense, by a wide margin, in the Pac-12. The Huskies are on the opposite end of that spectrum, ranked No. 1 in the country (368.8 ypg).
When UCLA Has the Ball
You could make the argument that no team's offense is more dependent on two players than the Bruins are on quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and running back Zach Charbonnet. The duo has accounted for 58 percent of the team's total offensive production and 14 of the 21 total touchdowns, and that includes the Week 2 matchup against FCS Alabama State where neither played more than a half of football.
What could turn this UCLA offense from good to great is the play of the wide receivers to complement DTR and Charbonnet. Last Saturday's performance against Colorado was one of the best games in years for Bruins' pass catchers where Kam Brown, Jake Bobo, and tight end Michael Ezeike all contributed to the effort. Bobo, the former Duke transfer, has started to come on of late with nine receptions in the last two weeks.
Washington's offense gets the headlines, but the defense has held its own, ranking third in the conference in total yards allowed and first in sacks with 15.0. Edge rusher Bralen Trice (4.5) is tied for fifth in the country in that category. This should be a matchup of strengths on Friday as the Bruins have allowed just three sacks in four games.
Statistically, these have been two of the more complete teams in the entire country through the first month of the season, with the Huskies and Bruins ranking inside the top 25 in both total offense and defense. The biggest edge here is with the Washington receivers, who should be able to find success against a UCLA secondary that struggled with one of the worst passing offenses in the country last week. Penix and his triumvirate of receivers are the difference in what should be an exciting Friday night showdown.
Prediction: Washington 31, UCLA 30
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— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
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