I have to admit, I’m feeling about as much buzz for this game as I am for a Bay City Rollers reunion tour (or maybe a-ha or Escape Club for those of you from a later generation).
Anyway, the losing record, the blowout losses, the feeling that the turnaround is going to take longer than hoped — all have contributed to this season seeming to come to a thudding halt. It’s felt like there’s been more worry over the traffic and weather for this game than what may happen on the field. Not even the second return to Seattle of former UW coach Rick Neuheisel (pictured at right) has seemed to elicit much talk about this game.
The only way the Huskies can change that is the obvious — play well Thursday night and beat UCLA and give some hope that running the table isn’t an outlandish thought.
The No. 1 key in doing that is to turn The Pistol into a popgun.
The magic number for UCLA this season has been obvious — when the Bruins have rushed for 210 yards or more out of its Pistol it has won; and when it hasn’t topped 200 it has lost. The Bruins want to run it, control the clock, keep it away from their opponent and grind out a win. That figures to be an even bigger emphasis against UW with the weather and the fact that the Huskies rank among the worst rushing defenses in the country.
The keys for the Huskies to stop UCLA will be holding their own up front and quickly identifying who has the ball. As UW players stated this week, a key to identifying who has the ball is reading the movements of the guards. The Pistol is based in part on deception (one reason the Bruins went to it, worried a little about their offensive line), and UW hasn’t always been great against deceptive offenses.
UW was better at that against Oregon, but coaches said all week there wasn’t a lot of commonality between the two offenses to make that experience matter much. And frankly, I wasn’t necessarily among those who was raving about UW’s defensive performance against Oregon. UW still gave up 53 points and it felt like Oregon had its share of self-inflicted wounds early that helped slow the Ducks in the first half.
But the Huskies themselves seemed to take some optimism out of that game, which may be the most important thing, and especially some of the guys on the front. And that confidence may help against UCLA. Alameda Ta’amu in particular played well against Oregon and he is a huge key tonight to plug up the middle and give the LBs time to figure out where the play is going.
UCLA may not pass much, but the Huskies have to contain it when the Bruins do go to the air. In Pac-10 games only, UW is allowing teams to complete 68 percent of passes, by far the worst in the conference. That can’t continue.
Offensively, UW — in case you haven’t heard — will get Jake Locker back. That should be an emotional boost for UW, as well as an intangible one, getting the starting quarterback back. It’s just as obviously Locker’s final home game as a Husky. He’s 8-13 as a starter at Husky Stadium, not what anyone envisioned when he signed. But he has a chance for one last moment, maybe akin to his first home game against Boise State in 2007 when he helped lead a 24-10 win over the Broncos, a brief moment in the last half-decade when the future seemed so bright. Certainly, it won’t be for lack of trying.
UCLA is not a good defensive team, either, allowing 427 yards per game in Pac-10 play, ranking eighth against the run and seventh in pass defense efficiency (a better stat than pass defense, which measures just yards allowed, which is skewed because if teams can run on you, why bother passing?) Given the weather and all, running the ball seems to make sense. But I’d imagine that against a UCLA secondary that isn’t that great at playing the ball — the Bruins have just one interception in Pac-10 play while every other team has at least five — taking a few shots downfield seems to make sense, as well.
Ultimately, though, the Huskies have to make some plays on both sides of the ball — solid blocking, consistent throwing and catching of passes, sure tackling —- something too sorely lacking throughout this season.
For whatever reason — the last home game, Locker’s return, the oddity of a Thursday night — I think they will do just that and keep hope alive. Call it, UW 24-21.
November 17, 2010 at 6:46 PM
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