UCLA is just as talented, if not more so, than Washington.
On its face, that sounds absurd and I sound dumber than usual. Saturday’s 44-23 win by the Huskies over UCLA - a comprehensive, complete and total beat down - only makes that sentence seem more ludicrous.
But that sentence is also true. From 2012 on, since Jim Mora took over in Westwood, UCLA has out-recruited Washington every season. The difference is not stark - UCLA recruits at a top 15 average, Washington at top 25 - but it is noticeable enough to decry UCLA as a perennial underachiever that wastes talent.
UCLA - UW Recruiting Rankings. 2012-2017
What is more noticeable - and what was made crystal clear on Saturday - is that Washington is coaching circles around UCLA. And that discrepancy between the Pac-12’s best coach and one that is one the ropes after another road loss is driving the UCLA fan base to insanity.
Washington had a pretty simple game plan on Saturday: run the ball and make UCLA stop it. UCLA could not, ceding 338 yards on 58 carries. Jake Browning was underwhelming, going just 8-11 for 98 yards and a horrendous interception, but he was asked to do so little that it was irrelevant. UCLA’s bad run defense from the first two months of the season came back after it was much better against Oregon last week.
UCLA also missed tackle after tackle. To the defense’s credit, more often than not, players would meet the Husky running back in the hole, but he would often miss the tackle. Drives were extended and a shaky UCLA defense was then pounded into dust.
Even before Josh Rosen’s injuries, Washington bottled up UCLA. The Huskies’ starting defensive tackles - Vita Vea and Greg Gaines - average 335 pounds. That amount of mass is impossible to move, so it was unsurprising to see UCLA rush for just 2.2 yards per attempt and give up four first half sacks. Washington is a fearsome defense, and it was always going to be tough for UCLA to score.
The Bruins offense did well to drive on the Huskies to get within 10-9 after a 10 play, 75 yard drive ended with a touchdown pass to Jordan Wilson in the second quarter. However, JJ Molson missed the extra point, and UCLA gave up an 82 yard return on the ensuing kickoff to put the Huskies within scoring range, and two plays later, Lavon Coleman ran it in to keep the deficit at one score.
It was that kind of day, and it laid bare just how far UCLA has dropped off since Mora’s first three seasons.
Midway through the third quarter, Josh Rosen would not return. He was battered and bruised from the hits he took, and his left hand was even sliced open on a nasty cut. Devon Modster, put in an impossible situation on the road against a top-10 team down three scores in his first substantial playing time, looked naturally shaky his first two drives.
To his credit, Modster settled in and led a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, and if Rosen is to miss any extended time with the myriad of injuries he likely sustained, Modster and Jedd Fisch have a positive drive against a nasty defense on which to build.
Much like last season, UCLA faces the specter of missing a bowl game without Josh Rosen. As of this writing, it is unclear how long he will be out, but a beat up Rosen against a big Utah defensive line should instill fear into every UCLA fan.
Unlike last year, UCLA has a scholarship quarterback ready to deputize, so baby steps, I guess. Also unlike last year, UCLA’s offensive game plan is competent, and if Modster gets the nod, I would expect him to play well, even if there is a large drop off from Rosen.
However, the roles are reversed, and also unlike last year, the UCLA defense is bad. One wonders how many rushing yards they will cede to Utah, a medicore rushing attack that averages the same yards per attempt (4.05) as UCLA.
UCLA has four games left and needs two wins to make a bowl game. It is doable, especially since UCLA’s last three games are all in Los Angeles. But it is also hard to feel confident given the program’s trajectory. UCLA has lost an incredible nine straight road games and has been blown out by three scores or more in three straight road games.
It is crystal clear that talent alone will not win you games. That talent needs to be placed in positions where it can succeed. But it is also crystal clear that this staff has largely fallen short of that task.