THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT:
Washington State Cougars, Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA – Saturday, November 10, 7:30 p.m., ESPN 2
LINE: UCLA by 14
Anyone who follows Pac-12 football can’t deny that the UCLA Bruins are on a high right now.
After all, they just massacred a team that beat a BCS championship game favorite in USC the week before and are ranked in the standings of that same BCS for the first time since 2005.
They have a quarterback that would be considered the best freshman signal-caller on the West Coast if not for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, and their main running back just broke UCLA’s all-time career rushing record and is having the season of his life.
And they are on a direct collision path toward a showdown that has the distinct potential to become an epic one with their crosstown rival and enemy, who they dearly want to pay back for their 50-0 humiliation of a year before.
However – and it is a big however…
All of this good fortune will come crumbling down to a crashing and burning halt if they lose focus and take lightly the team that they have to play on the road before their war with the Trojans on November 17: the Washington State Cougars.
At first glance, all indications point toward a relatively easy win for the Bruins, particularly when one considers that these Cougars from the Palouse are reeling every bit as much as Jim Mora’s squad is rolling.
Wazzu is winless in the Pac-12 North with a 2-7 overall record that is the opposite of UCLA’s 7-2, and they have lost their last six games, including to one-win Colorado – of all teams – when the Buffaloes scored three late touchdowns to beat the Cougars for their only victory in 2012; in Wazzu’s house, no less!
Their all-purpose yardage leader with 813 yards and five touchdowns, wide receiver Marquess Wilson, was suspended for WSU’s game against the Bruins due to insubordination as first-year head coach Mike Leach has been having trouble with his team as far as communicating and gaining his players’ respect; there have been rumors that Wilson has quit the team.
Either way, the loss of Wilson is HUGE for the Cougars as they have lost their number one playmaker on offense.
And much like their overall record, running back Carl Winston’s season has been the opposite of Johnathan Franklin’s to date as his net yards rushing has not even reached 200 yards. For the year!
All of these stats and facts should mean one thing for the Bruins:
ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, UNEQUIVOCALLY, AND 100% NOTHING, as Washington State has some weapons that can hurt UCLA.
Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel have shared quarterback duties for the Cougars this season, but as Halliday has thrown 11 interceptions, it has been Tuel that has taken the upper hand of late. In his last outing against Stanford, with their standout defensive front seven, he set a personal high with 400 yards passing and his 43 completions set a school record.
Which is not surprising as the senior has proved to be quite the capable quarterback, coming close to beating UCLA at the Rose Bowl in 2010 and 2011; it’s safe to assume that Tuel will be very motivated to upset the Bruins and stop their momentum.
Linebackers Travis Long and Darryl Monroe are not chopped liver either, with Long the leading man in the Cougars’ defense with 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Monroe complements Long nicely with three sacks and 6.5 TFLs of his own.
The Bruins will take their offensive weapons, Brett Hundley and tight end Joseph Fauria with his team-leading eight touchdown catches as well as Franklin, into the Palouse, and Eric Kendricks will go into the game against the Cougs with the hot hand as the linebacker was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week with his 13 tackles, two sacks and forced fumble against Arizona.
On paper, this game should be a solid win for UCLA, but I’m concerned that due to the cold weather that may well be present in Pullman and the fact that the Cougars are now at a point where they have nothing to lose, this will be a trap game in which UCLA lets down and ruins everything that they have tried to build over the past few weeks.
In the past, that has definitely been the case as there have been numerous times where UCLA has laid an egg and played poorly after a big win over a tough opponent.
It will be the job of Jim Mora and his coaches to make sure that the Bruins not let down against Washington State or look past them toward their showdown with USC the following week, they they play with the same focus and intensity, and heart that they showed this season and in their past three games and handle their business on the road against a Cougar team that I’m sure will be game.
If Mora and company are successful in preparing their team, then Bruin Nation shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
If they are not – well, I don’t even want to consider that unthinkable possibility.