What to watch: No. 18 UCLA vs. Washington State

With just one more home game at the Rose Bowl, UCLA remains on track for the Pac-12 South title.

However, Washington State looks like a different squad than the one that dropped a season opener to FCS opponent Portland State, and still sits in second place in its division after a two-point loss to No. 7 Stanford.

After three consecutive wins, the No. 18 Bruins (7-2, 4-2) can clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship by winning three more. Keeping that path clear will require navigating past a resurgent Cougars squad eager to pull an upset at 7:45 p.m. tonight.

When UCLA has the ball

It might be time for Paul Perkins to grab everyone’s attention again.

The redshirt junior has run for only two touchdowns since injuring his knee more than three weeks ago, but was healthy enough to carry the ball 23 times last Saturday — the tailback’s heaviest workload since September. WSU has allowed 18 rushing scores and 5.1 yards per carry, both of which stand as bottom-three marks in the Pac-12.

But the Cougars (6-3, 4-2) could open the game by stacking the box, as many other teams have done in an effort to neutralize Perkins. If that happens, UCLA will need some creative playcalling early and use Josh Rosen to stretch open the field. Continue reading

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Five questions: The Spokesman-Review’s Jacob Thorpe on WSU

UCLA will play at the Rose Bowl for the last time this year at 7:45 p.m. on Saturday, hosting a Washington State team that had turned itself around over the course of two months. WSU has already become bowl eligible, but is seeking to ruin the Bruins’ Pac-12 South hopes and further cement this as Mike Leach’s most successful season in the Palouse. The Spokesman-Review‘s Jacob Thorpe answered five questions about the resurgent Cougars.

1. Washington State lost to Portland State and nearly lost to Rutgers. How did this same group of players nearly upset Stanford on the way to what is now a 6-3 record?

Heading into this season, there were many pieces in place for the Cougars to show significant improvement: returning all five offensive linemen, a veteran receiver corps, lets of returners on defense.

But WSU also had a new defensive coordinator who had never had the reins to his own defense before, and a sophomore quarterback in Luke Falk with just three career starts under his belt.

Falk did not exactly put up Air Raid numbers in the nonconference games, throwing for 303 yards or less in two of WSU’s first three games. But he hasn’t thrown for less than 389 yards since and the WSU offense has seen its scoring average rise from 28.3 points per nonconference game to 39.3 against Pac-12 opponents.

The offensive uptick has coincided with the defense finding its footing under Grinch, making the Cougars a much more dangerous team than they were at the start of the season.

2. Mike Leach-coached quarterbacks always put up big numbers, but are often dismissed as system guys. How does Luke Falk compare to “Air Raid” predecessors such as Connor Halliday?

While Falk doesn’t have Connor Halliday’s bionic arm, he may be a better pro prospect than most of Leach’s QBs. Continue reading

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First look: No. 18 UCLA vs. Washington State

No. 18 UCLA Bruins (7-2, 4-2) vs. Washington State (6-3, 4-2)
Kickoff:
Saturday, Nov. 14, 7:45 p.m., Rose Bowl
TV: ESPN (Dave Pasch, Brian Griese, Tom Luginbill)
Radio: AM 570 (Bill Roth, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Scouting report: For the fourth straight season, Washington State is ranked first in the country in pass attempts (512) and last in rushing attempts (214). Mike Leach, of course, is in his fourth year of coaching the Cougars. … When WSU does elect to run the ball, it has been more efficient — relatively speaking. After averaging less than 2.1 yards per carry through the last three seasons, the Cougars are up to almost 3.5 this fall. … Three Washington State receivers are among the Pac-12’s top 10 in total receiving yards, but none rank that high in yards per catch. The team has only connected on three passes of at least 40 yards, the lowest number in the conference. … The Cougars have had their two best defensive games in the last two weeks against Stanford and Arizona State. On the season, however, they are allowing opponents to convert 45.3 percent of third downs and score touchdowns on 70.3 percent of red-zone trips. … Leach said this is a less “selfish” roster than he’s had at WSU in years past, which has translated to a closer bond between teammates across position groups and better play on the field.

Series history: UCLA has won five straight games against WSU, but hasn’t faced the Cougars since 2012. The Bruins lead the all-time series, 39-19-1.

Key players:

QB Luke Falk, RSo., 6-4, 205 — 353/503, 3,736 yards, 33 TD, 7 INT
— After an ill-fated transfer to Oaks Christian that uprooted his family, the Utah native walked on at Washington State. He’s since shown why Florida State gave him his first scholarship offer. Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: Judge rules against NCAA in landmark O’Bannon case

» In a landmark case that could change amateurism, a judge ruled in favor of Ed O’Bannon and against the NCAA. Sports Illustrated’s Michael McCann breaks down the implications of Claudia Wilken’s decision, as well as the legal road ahead.

» A feature on USC coach Steve Sarkisian, by columnist Mark Whicker: “Some coaches have five and 10-year plans. Sarkisian, 40, has lived in a quick-pivoting sports car, not always using signals, barreling down the roads less traveled, looking straight ahead.”

» Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson is trying to win Utah’s starting quarterback job — and perhaps help redeem the family name. Continue reading

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Pac-12 notes: Mike Leach thinks Connor Halliday is better than your quarterback

Connor Halliday is the best quarterback in the country, according to Connor Halliday’s coach.

After talking up the Pac-12’s depth behind center on Wednesday, Washington State’s Mike Leach said he would take his redshirt senior over just about anybody else.

“You might be rooting for your guy, and I don’t care what you think,” Leach said. “He’s better than your guy is.”

Some other Pac-12 Media Day highlights from the conference’s most quotable coach (as well as other coaches and players) …

» Asked how he would pick a bear-hunting partner between Washington coach Chris Petersen and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: “We get a large bag and we stick in Coach Petersen, Coach Whittingham, and we shake that bag up really high and really hard.”

» On his fishing trip this summer: “My staff and I went fishing up in McCall, Idaho on the Snake River and got a huge 9.5-foot, 350-pound sturgeon, probably 95 years old. Of course, turned him loose so he could pull somebody else’s boat around for a while next time.” Continue reading

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