Despite its sometimes uneven play this season, UCLA has yet to lose away from the Rose Bowl. Of course, the Bruins’ five opponents have a combined record of 22-22. Of those five, only Arizona State (7-1) looks like it could currently knock off UCLA in a rematch.
With the Sun Devils still sitting a game ahead in the Pac-12 South standings, the No. 18 Bruins have little room for error through their final three regular-season contests. A stiff test looms at Washington, which has NFL prospects on the roster but is still looking for its first win over a ranked opponent in the Chris Petersen era.
What to watch for in today’s 4 p.m. kickoff at Husky Stadium:
UCLA offense vs. Washington defense: Washington has collected 37 sacks this season, which gives them more per game than anyone else in the FBS except Utah. The Utes, of course, got 10 of their 39 sacks against UCLA — including three straight to snuff out a drive at UCLA’s own goal line.
Defensive-end-turned-linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha leads the country with 15.5 sacks — 3.5 ahead of Utah’s Nate Orchard, who occupies second place. Fellow Bednarik semifinalist Danny Shelton has 7.5 sacks of his own, which is absurd for a nose tackle. That type of interior pressure will put a heavy burden on UCLA’s offensive guards, who haven’t seen anyone quite like Shelton yet.
The good news for the Bruins is that their offensive line has made dramatic improvements since that 30-28 home loss a month ago. Conor McDermott has stabilized protection on Brett Hundley’s blind side, and the competition at left guard has become deep enough that Malcolm Bunche, Alex Redmond and Kenny Lacy are each getting reps there. UW has gotten at least three sacks in all but one game this season and will likely hit that bar again, but if recent trends are any indication, Hundley won’t get completely battered. (Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone even said this week that most of the sacks Hundley took last week were coverage sacks, a result of how much defenses have dropped back against him.)
Shaq Thompson is Washington’s biggest defensive playmaker — four touchdowns on fumble and interception returns — and will likely play some linebacker after sticking exclusively at running back against Colorado. Continue reading