UCLA and Washington are eyeing a lower-tier bowl game, but it’s getting late and both know it. Washington is down to its last call, needing to win its remaining games to become bowl eligible. UCLA needs to win two of its last three games. Staff writer Chris Foster looks at the game’s key matchups and issues:
Jake or a fake?
Washington quarterback Jake Locker said he intends to play. Coach Steve Sarkisian said Locker’s availability will be a game-time decision. UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said he is sure Locker will play.
Why all the fuss? It’s not just that Locker has the talent of a projected first-round NFL draft pick. It’s also that he’s the type of mobile quarterback that has given UCLA fits.
UCLA players caught brief glimpses of Arizona backup Matt Scott as he accounted for 390 total yards — 319 passing, 71 rushing — in a 29-21 win over the Bruins.
Locker had 421 yards in a 32-31 victory over USC on Oct. 2. However, that was before he suffered a broken rib that forced him to sit out the Oregon game Nov. 6.
He received medical clearance to play Tuesday.
Johnathan Franklin needs 108 yards to become UCLA’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Chris Markey in 2006. Standing in his way is a Washington defense that ranks 118th (out of 120) in the nation against the run and is giving up 219.6 yards rushing per game.
UCLA is expected to seek the kind of ball control it showed against Oregon State, when the Bruins defense was on the field for a scant 9 minutes 8 seconds in the second half of a 17-14 victory.
“With Jake Locker, the way to keep that offense off the field is to keep our offense on it,” Neuheisel said. “So you want to make sure you have some balance and use the time possession as a weapon.”
While you don’t need a GPS system to navigate the Huskies defense against the run, Washington has Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa. Foster is second in the nation in tackles and Aiyewa is fifth in tackles for a loss.
Both are outside linebackers.
Those yards must be coming up the middle.
Bruins bear gifts
UCLA has been generous in handing the ball over, ranking 113th in turnover margin.
That led to Neuheisel’s call to arms … or at least a call to keep arms around the ball.
Noting that UCLA has eight more turnovers than takeaways, Neuheisel said this week, “We have been woeful. My goal is to get it all the way back to zero. If we’re plus-eight in the last three games, we’re going to like our chances.”
One factor Thursday could be the weather. Rain is in the forecast, and although Neuheisel said that “the weather is for both teams,” the Huskies have more experience splashing around.
The gap between where the Bruins and Huskies sit and the best teams in the Pacific 10 Conference is easy to gauge.
Washington was outscored, 137-30, by Oregon, Stanford and Arizona, the conference’s top three teams that are not on probation. UCLA was outscored, 138-34, by those teams.
Both programs were hoping for better this season, and each needs a bowl game invitation to claim progress.
Washington has not been to a bowl game since 2002, Neuheisel’s last season as Huskies coach. UCLA would like to upgrade the EagleBank Bowl trophy that sits in the football office.
Head to head
UCLA is already 1-0 against Washington this season. The Bruins were able to land a commitment from Chandler (Ariz.) High’s Brett Hundley, one of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks.
Of course, signing day isn’t until February and it’s a good bet that Sarkisian didn’t throw away Hundley’s telephone number.