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Husky Football Blog

The latest news and analysis on the Montlake Dawgs.

September 21, 2007 at 4:48 PM

The pick. …

It’s Selection Friday, and I have to pick somebody to win this game. But I’ll admit I still have little feel for this game given all the uncertainty over the Bruins.
If UCLA had all of its players — it will be without seven starters tomorrow due to injury — I’d pick the Bruins and do so with a fair amount of confidence. Sorry, but when fully loaded, I don’t think there’s much question UCLA is a more-talented team than the Huskies, and being at home and all that, it’d be a pretty obvious pick for me.
But UCLA’s shaky physical state — not to mention its fragile psyche, which we’ll touch on in a minute — would seem to tip the scales in UW’s favor more than a little bit.
Still, who has a clue how UCLA’s offense will look with Patrick Cowan running things in place of Ben Olson, running around with a sore hamstring that had held him out of practice since Aug. 20 until this week? A lot of UCLA people say the team reponds better to Cowan than Olson, so who knows? Maybe it’s a plus for the Bruins?
And who knows how much the loss of one of UCLA’s best offensive linemen (guard Shannon Tevega), receiver (Marcus Everett, the guy who caught the long pass that helped beat the Huskies in 2005) and three of its better defenders (DT Brigham Harwell, DE Nikola Dragovic and LB Aaron Whittington) will impact things?
You’d figure quite a bit.
But then it’s rarely mattered what shape the Bruins are in when the Huskies come to town as UCLA has won the last five games here dating to 1995, history that doesn’t have anything to do with this year’s game but that does point out that winning here just isn’t all that easy — the Bruins are 21-5 here since 2003 and have lost just once since 2004 (to Washington State, believe it or not).
On the other hand, not sure UW has ever come here when the Bruins appeared to be in such upheaval. We’ve linked stories here all week about the Bruins having held a team meeting and undergoing soul-searching and all of that following the 44-6 loss to Utah last week.
I talked this week with UCLA middle linebacker Christian Taylor, who is regarded as one of the leaders of the team, and he said all the right things about how the Bruins will “come out fighting” and that “we still believe in ourselves.” I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else, however, and I’ve talked to lots of guys who’ve said that stuff only to see their team do the exact opposite in the next game.
So who really knows how that will impact the Bruins?
All that said, I’d think the best thing the Huskies can do tomorrow is jump on UCLA early and get the Bruins questioning themselves anew, and likely eliciting a lot of grumbling from a crowd that already figures to be a little impatient.
Some other keys I see:
— The Huskies have to get some pressure on Cowan. He doesn’t figure to be as mobile as usual due to the hamstring injury, and UCLA’s offensive line is also banged up a bit (losing Tevega) so you’d think there would be some chances there. The Huskies can’t let Cowan get comfortable early.
— UW also has to contain Khalil Bell and his 7.1 yard per carry rushing average. You’d assume the Bruins might try to load up on the run to take some of the pressure off Cowan. Even though it makes sense to assume UCLA might try to test UW’s secondary as often as possible, I’d still think the best way for the Huskies to win this game is to contain Bell and Chris Markey and make Cowan beat them throwing the ball.
— UW also has to eliminate turnovers. That’s an obvious one you can write every single game, but it’s also always a huge key. UW lost last week with 4-0 turnover disadvantage, and UCLA lost last week with a 5-1 turnover disadvantage. That will give for one of these teams Saturday.
— The Huskies also have to hit some shots downfield. UW offensive coordinator Tim Lappano said he expected “a blitz-o-rama” from UCLA. That not only might open up some running lanes for Jake Locker, but also lots of one-on-one opportunities for the receivers — that UCLA blitzes as much as it does is one reason why it has given up a fair share of passing yards this season (a Pac-10 high 1,001). The Huskies will have some chances but they’ll have to hit them, which means making an accurate throw and catch.
— UW also has to win the special teams battle. UCLA is better on paper (hitting 5-7 FGs this year to 1-3 for UW, for instance). But maybe the Huskies are due.
In the end, while I think UCLA is better at more positions overall, I think the Huskies have an edge at QB with a healthy Locker. I also think UW is just as fired up to play this one as UCLA is, as Tyrone Willingham pointed out saying that didn’t know why the Huskies wouldn’t be as angry as the Bruins.
The odds also seem on UW’s side. UW has played UCLA pretty even-up the last three years, winning 29-19 in Seattle last year, losing 21-17 in LA in 2005 and losing 37-31 in Seattle in 2004. So the Huskies always seem to match up well enough to win.
Add it up, and I see a defensive battle (especially if the rain sticks around, or at least makes the field a little slicker than normal) and a 20-13 UW win, while admitting I won’t be surprised by just about anything that happens.
BTW — Just landed in Los Angeles and as of about 4:30, it’s overcast and looking like it’s been raining a bit, so we’ll see how that impacts things tomorrow.

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