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UCLA vs. Washington State: How the Bruins and Cougars match up

UCLA vs. Washington State: How the Bruins and Cougars match up
UCLA's Josh Rosen looks to pass against Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., on Oct. 8. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

UCLA (3-3) at Washington State (3-2) at Martin Stadium. TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m.

Times staff writer Ben Bolch analyzes Saturday's game:

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Most intriguing storyline: What’s worse than going to Pullman, Wash.? Coming back knowing you’re probably headed for another mid-tier bowl. That’s the potential reality facing UCLA, which needs to beat Washington State to have any hope of winning the Pac-12’s South Division. The Bruins already need Arizona State to lose two more games, because the Sun Devils hold the tiebreaker after winning the head-to-head matchup. But that’s the least of UCLA’s worries with quarterback Josh Rosen’s status uncertain and the Bruins’ running game stalled.

UCLA pass offense vs. Washington State pass defense: UCLA Coach Jim Mora was so predictable in his response to questions about Rosen's availability that by midweek that he laughed before offering his standard reply: "If he's ready to play he will, and if he's not he won't." Rosen suffered injuries to his lower body and the area around his throwing shoulder against Arizona State that have put his status in doubt. Here's guessing that if the headstrong quarterback is not considered likely to exacerbate his injuries, he'll be able to talk his way into playing. If not, backup Mike Fafaul, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on, will make his first career start. EDGE: UCLA.

UCLA run offense vs. Washington State run defense: Mora said all five of his tailbacks should be available against the Cougars. The challenge will be finding one capable of doing something. None of UCLA's running backs are ranked in the top 29 in the Pac-12 in rushing yardage. Soso Jamabo is No. 30 with 195 yards in five games, and he's not even the team's featured tailback. That designation has gone the last two weeks to Nate Starks, who has gained 174 yards in four games, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Mora might want to consider giving Bolu Olorunfumi more chances. He's averaging 4.0 yards per carry, best among the top three tailbacks, and is back this week after not accompanying the Bruins to face Arizona State last week for undisclosed reasons. EDGE: Washington State.

Washington State pass offense vs. UCLA pass defense: Cougars quarterback Luke Falk is the Football Bowl Subdivision active career leader with 359 yards passing per game, an average he’s topped three times this season. His favorite target is wide receiver Gabe Marks, who holds the Washington State record with 261 career receptions. UCLA is painfully familiar with both players after Falk connected with Marks on a 21-yard touchdown pass with three seconds left last season to give the Cougars a 31-27 victory over the Bruins at the Rose BowlEDGE: Washington State.

Washington State run offense vs. UCLA run defense: The Cougars amassed more than 200 yards rushing in back-to-back games against Idaho and Oregon — something they had not done since 2005 — though their average of 149.2 yards per game still ranks only 10th in the Pac-12. James Williams and Jamal Morrow each have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game this season, thanks in part to the openings created by an offensive line that averages 322 pounds per player. UCLA’s interior defense has been solid against the run over the last month. EDGE: UCLA.

Special teams: UCLA return specialist Ishmael Adams appears ready to return this week from a shoulder injury that sidelined him against Arizona State. But return yardage may be tough to generate against Washington State, which ranks second in the nation in punt coverage. Cougars kicker Erik Powell holds the rare distinction of having missed all five field goals while having made all 31 extra-point attempts. EDGE: UCLA.

Ben Bolch's pick: It's approaching the moment of truth for the Mora era at UCLA. Good but not great has been good enough for a long-suffering fan base, but the Bruins appear on the verge of regression midway through Mora's fifth season. A loss would give them a sub-.500 record in a season for the first time under Mora. Washington State 38, UCLA 24

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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