UCLA is 4-0. If you’re a Bruins fan, it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s exactly where you want to be heading into a tough stretch of conference play. But now, things get real.
I was worried that last week might be a trap game for UCLA, but they dominated Colorado, as they should have. Good teams should make easy work of bad teams. But coming back to the Rose Bowl, the Bruins now face their first real test of the season.
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In come the Washington Huskies, who are also undefeated. Last year was an off year for UW, as the team often looked undisciplined and out of sorts under Jimmy Lake. But the team corrected their mistake and brought in Kalen DeBoer as head coach from Fresno State. It seems to be the right hire, as Washington appears to be returning to its winning ways.
The key to it all is transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Penix had a breakout season for Indiana in 2020 but struggled last year, in part due to injury. But at Washington, he seems to have regained his elite form. He has put up the following numbers in four games at UW: 345 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT; 337 Yards, 2 TD, 1 INT; 397 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT; and 309 Yards, 2 TD, 0 INT.
Penix has elite field vision and downfield accuracy. He’s been a difference maker for this UW team. Joining him in the offensive attack is Wayne Taulapapa on the ground and Jalen McMillan through the air, among others.
Of course, UCLA isn’t so bad on offense themselves. The key to their victory against Colorado last week were the usual suspects: Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Zach Charbonnet, Jake Bobo, Kazmeir Allen, and Kenny Churchwell. Those guys are pretty good too.
But UCLA under Chip Kelly, this offense tends to be mistake-prone and struggles to play consistently for 60 minutes. They also tend to start slow at times. And if they start slow against this Washington passing attack, they’re not going to be able to catch up.
This matchup will also be a big-time test for UCLA’s new defense under Bill McGovern. Can they slow down an elite offense, or will it be more of the same for the usual leaky Chip Kelly-led defenses? UCLA has yet to really be tested on that side of the ball this year.
Ultimately, this is the beginning of a pretty tough stretch for UCLA. They’ll host Washington, Utah, and then go to Oregon. The Bruins could lose to one, two, or all of those teams and still have a good season. But I don’t expect them to come out of this stretch unscathed.