What to watch: No. 18 UCLA at Washington

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

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Five questions: Seattle Times’ Adam Jude talks Washington

After beating then-No. 14 Arizona at home, No. 18 UCLA is slowly crawling back up the national rankings. But to stay alive in a tight Pac-12 South race, the Bruins can’t afford to lose any of their last three regular-season games. They visit Washington on Saturday for their last road trip, and are currently listed as a 6.5-point favorite over a team that doesn’t have any victories over ranked opponents. Adam Jude of the Seattle Times answered five questions about the Huskies.

1. Since moving to running back, how valuable has Shaq Thompson become to Washington’s offense? What does the Husky defense miss most when he’s not in?

Shaq has quickly become the Huskies best offensive weapon, with 272 yards on 36 carries in two games as the Huskies’ featured running back. Before that, you could make a strong case that he was UW’s best defensive player. His four defensive touchdowns this season are the most in college football over the past decade, according to ESPN research, and he was drawing some national pub at midseason as a national defensive player of the year candidate. There’s no doubt, though, that he is more valuable to the team as a running back right now. It’s likely that he will play some at linebacker against UCLA, but the Huskies are fairly comfortable with the depth they have on defense behind him.

2. UW also has a pair of Bednarik semifinalists in Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton. How much does the defense rely on their performance? And given how much UCLA struggled against a similarly aggressive Utah front, do you see any soft spots the Bruins could try and find?

Two of the best (and nicest) guys I’ve covered. Kikaha is as good as any player at this level at getting to the quarterback; he leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss. And Shelton leads the team in tackles — as a 340-pound nose tackle. Not sure I’ve ever seen that. When the Huskies can pressure the quarterback with four linemen, it makes life much better for the back end of the UW defense. That’s true for every team, but especially so for a UW secondary that will start three true freshmen against UCLA in the wake of Marcus Peters’ dismissal late Wednesday. Continue reading

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Washington dismisses starting cornerback Marcus Peters

Washington has reportedly dismissed all-conference cornerback Marcus Peters, dealing a significant blow to its already thin secondary heading into Saturday’s game against No. 18 UCLA.

From the Seattle Times:

Peters got into an argument with an assistant coach during practice Wednesday, a source said, apparently the final straw in a series of run-ins with Washington’s new coaching staff. He also got into an argument with coaches during UW’s victory at Colorado on Saturday and then missed practice on Tuesday, sources said.

After injuries in the defensive backfield, the Huskies had already planned to play leading receiver John Ross III as a nickel cornerback. The Huskies could potentially start three true freshman defensive backs against the Bruins. UW ranks eighth in the Pac-12 in allowing 7.3 yards per pass attempt and 275.3 passing yards per game. Opposing quarterbacks are also completing 65.1 percent of their passes against Washington, the highest mark for any team in the conference except Arizona.

A third-year starter who led the team with three picks and 10 pass breakups, Peters is regarded as a potential first-round draft pick who is ranked the No. 13-best prospect in 2015 by CBS Sports.At least one UCLA receiver was looking forward to the matchup.

“He’s definitely an NFL corner,” said junior Jordan Payton, who leads the Bruins with 783 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches. “It’s definitely exciting. You only get a couple of those corners come your way in a lifetime, so you have to take advantage of it.”

UCLA head coach Jim Mora looked surprised this morning when asked about Peters’ dismissal: “He’s a good football player. He’s an NFL-type guy.”

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UCLA’s road game at Washington scheduled for 4 p.m. start

UCLA’s trip to Washington on Nov. 8 will kick off at 4 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. It will mark the Bruins’ final regular-season game away from the Rose Bowl in 2014.

After a bye week following the visit to the Huskies, the team will then host USC on Nov. 22 (start time TBA) and Stanford on Friday, Nov. 28 (12:30 p.m., ABC).

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Pac-12 links: Former Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour heads to Penn State

» Just a month after stepping down (or being forced out) as Cal’s athletic director, Sandy Barbour parlayed an uneven tenure in the Bay Area into a bigger job at Penn State — one that will pay her $700,000 per year.

» Stanford’s Josh Huestis went to the Oklahoma City Thunder as the 29th overall pick in the NBA draft, but will head to the D-League rather than sign his guaranteed rookie contract. Grantland’s Zach Lowe explains why.

» Gary Payton II has arrived on the Oregon State campus, where his famous father’s enormous shadow still looms. Continue reading

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Which players have the best names in the Pac-12?

By now, you’ve read many of the lists that have proliferated in college football’s dry summer months. The best 100 players. The freakiest players. The best coaches, best offseasons, best uniforms.

But this? This is the most important of them all. With Pac-12 Media Days — schedule here — kicking off this morning, I have compiled the five best names from each team in the conference.

Without further ado …

Arizona: Sir Thomas Jackson, Antonio Smothers, Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Brogan Kemmerly, Abraham Mendivil

Not great depth here, as the latter two names sacrifice catchiness in favor of length. Still, Sir Thomas Jackson alone is an MVP candidate.

Arizona State: Ezekial Bishop, Demetrius Cherry, Zane Gonzalez, Jaxon Hood, Jaelen Strong

A solid quintet that lacks a superstar.

Cal: Hardy Nickerson, Avery Sebastian, Bryce Treggs, Brennan Scarlett, Maximo Espitia

A nice throwback in Hardy Nickerson, bookended by a name that makes me want to re-watch Russell Crowe take on a despotic Joaquin Phoenix. Continue reading

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Jim Mora lists Washington home for $3.15 million

Some six months after turning down a chance to become Washington’s head coach, Jim Mora severed another tie with his home state.

Heading into his third season at UCLA, Mora has listed his Washington for $3.149 million according to the LA Times. The two-story, six-bedroom house in Yarrow Point is listed on Realtor.com as having been built in 1918 and renovated in 2008, and comes complete with a theater room, gaming center, seven built-in flatscreen TVs, a wet bar, and an artist studio. The master suite also opens up to a deck with lake views.

Still, it’s hardly the highest-priced property in the neighborhood. According to Realtor.com, three homes in the area have recently sold for between $4.35 million to $6.4 million. Several others are listed for more than $3.9 million, including a pair of three-bedroom houses.

Mora could probably buy up one of those too if he wanted. Currently living in Manhattan Beach, he is slated to earn $3.25 million in base salary this year, as well as up to $930,000 in performance bonuses.

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Notes: Adams’ career-high 31 points pushes UCLA past Washington

– Jordan Adams is hitting on all cylinders heading down the late stretch of the season. The sophomore guard lit up the Huskies for a career-high 31 points in UCLA’s 91-82 win — a total that could have easily been higher if not for a second-half bout with cramps.

Adams scored 10 of UCLA’s first 14 points to set the pace early, and established the offense by earning trips to the line. He also exited a good portion of the second half and didn’t score in the final eight minutes, but his last six points came when the Bruins only led by one point.

UCLA’s most natural scorer hitting his stride in March obviously bodes well for a team that’s angling for a top-five tournament seed. His free throw rate has dropped to 20th in the conference compared to 13th last season, but he his nine free throw attempts were his highest since Dec. 7. Continue reading

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