UCLA has reached another November in control of its destiny for the Pac-12 South title. This season makes five straight in which the Bruins have a navigable road map to the conference championship game.
A win at Utah Nov. 21 would place UCLA in first atop the division, but only if the Bruins survive a classic trap game against resurgent Washington State.
Saturday is the first meeting between the Bruins and Cougars since 2012, and Washington State’s first visit to the Rose Bowl under head coach Mike Leach.
“There’s so many kids down there in Southern California [on the Washington State roster], I think it’s exciting for them to go back home, but also exciting for anyone to play [in the Rose Bowl],” Leach said.
Washington State is out of the running for the Pac-12 North’s berth in the conference championship game, but the Cougars can spoil UCLA’s aspirations by making themselves at home in Pasadena.
College Football Podcast: Week 11 Preview
Washington State at UCLA
Kickoff: 10:45 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Spread: UCLA -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Bruins Rattle Washington State QB Luke Falk?
From walk-on to the nation’s leading passer, Luke Falk’s meteoric rise to stardom is among the biggest stories in the Pac-12 this season.
Falk won conference Player of the Week honors for a third time after going off for 497 yards and five touchdowns in the Cougars’ bowl-clinching, 38-24 win Week 10 over Arizona State. He now has 3,736 yards on the season and could surpass another Leach-coached quarterback, former Texas Tech standout BJ Symons, as the NCAA’s single-season passing leader.
“I thought he’d be pretty good. He’s very even-tempered and continuously improves. Over the course of a game, he has the ability to correct himself if he gets off track.”
UCLA’s defense is predicated on getting quarterbacks off track. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley oversees an aggressive 4-3 base reliant on bringing pressure, which translates into takeaways.
The Bruins have forced 11 interceptions on the season with just 12 passing touchdowns.
Washington State will counter in the same way Leach’s teams have always attacked defenses, lining up four-and-five-wide to generate mismatches.
2. UCLA’s Rushing Offense
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s scheme thrives on run and pass balance, but the Bruins have been especially prolific going to the ground this season. A multifaceted backfield gives the offense stability under talented, if not inconsistent freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.
The Bruins are averaging 5.2 yards per carry, with last year’s Pac-12-leading rusher Paul Perkins producing at a 6-yard per carry clip.
Freshman Soso Jamabo has fast established himself a reliable No. 2 option. Together with Perkins, the duo have combined for well over 1,300 yards and scored 14 touchdowns on the ground.
Washington State’s run defense has allowed right around UCLA’s per-carry average at 5.1, and given up multiple rushing touchdowns in each of the last five games.
3. Over at Halftime?
For those wary of a 10:45 p.m. ET kickoff, good news. The way these teams play, the squad that takes advantage in the second quarter wins.
Interestingly, both UCLA and Washington State make their bones in the second quarter. The Bruins are outscoring opponents in the second frame 119-56, far-and-away their most dominant period.
The Cougars' margin is almost exactly the same at 115-54.
The 2015 season has been a pivotal one for Washington State. The Cougars have already matched the single-season benchmark for wins under Leach, and are now playing to set a new standard.
The Cougars are quality opponents, and this has the textbook makeup of a UCLA trap game. Five of the Bruins' last six Pac-12 losses, dating back to 2013, all occurred in the Rose Bowl.
However, just about every positional matchup favors the Bruins.
Washington State's offensive line is one of the best in the Pac-12, which will make disrupting Falk in the pocket a challenge, but the Bruins' tenacious style should at least limit the prolific passer as few teams have been able.
Expect a shootout that lasts well into the early hours of Sunday on the East Coast, with UCLA keeping its Pac-12 championship hope alive.