UCLA Football is not in a great place right now. Sure, it could be worse: They’re 4-2 overall, 2-1 in conference. But the stakes are high this season, and it’s not yet entirely clear if UCLA is ready to meet the challenge.
UCLA was on top of the world after their dominant defeat of LSU to start the season, but things have noticeably cooled down since then. First, a week 3 loss to Fresno State. UCLA struggled to run the football and gave up a game-winning touchdown drive to an injured quarterback with not a lot of time left.
Following a fairly impressive road win against Stanford, UCLA had their worst game of the season, and some of the old demons came back. The offense was blanked in the second half, and the defense was atrocious. It culminated in a 42-23 victory that essentially took UCLA’s Pac-12 destiny out of their own hands.
Following that, a win against lowly Arizona that saw the passing game severely struggle, UCLA now heads to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies.
There’s not a lot of impressive things to say about UW right now. The Huskies are very clearly in a transition period after head coach Chris Peterson retired. They made an in-house hire with Jimmy Lake, and things haven’t been great. They sit at 2-3 on the season with not a lot of good things going on. Their first two weeks saw them lose 13-7 at home to friggin FCS Montana, and they got blown out by Michigan at the big house the following week.
Washington subsequently reeled off back-to-back wins: a home blowout against lowly Arkansas State, and an overtime home win against the underwhelming Cal Bears. Their most recent game saw them lose by 3 on the road against Oregon State.
So not a very impressive resume. Even so, the odds currently have UW slightly favored. They’re coming off a bye week, while UCLA will be playing their third road game in a row in what is generally a hostile environment. So even though I would expect UCLA to win, nothing is a given at this point, especially considering how much UCLA has struggled the past two weeks.
The good news is that Washington has struggled to run the ball, and the passing game hasn’t been good enough to pick up the slack. The bad news is that Washington’s pass defense has been very good, which is why it’s important for UCLA to stay balanced, run the ball, and get out to an early lead. Hopefully, DTR will be a bit sharper this week than he was last week. Hopefully, UCLA’s secondary will be a little healthier as well.
This is probably going to be a tough, ugly game, but my gut tells me that given the current state of the Washington program, UCLA should be able to grind out the win.
We’re still not sure at this point in the season who this UCLA team is or how good they are. But what we do know is that this is really the last breather on the schedule before things toughen up down the stretch. After this week, UCLA faces Oregon and Utah back to back, and then USC a couple of weeks later. Two out of those three games are on the road. It’s not a path I expect UCLA to get through unscathed, so they’ll have to figure out how to get out of their own way. After all, this really feels like a final test and evaluation for Chip Kelly, and every week matters. Hopefully, UCLA can find a way to recapture that magic and excitement they gave us early on in the season.