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Top UCLA at Washington storylines to watch Saturday

UCLA coach Chip Kelly, joined by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, stares at the scoreboard
UCLA coach Chip Kelly, joined by quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1), stares at the scoreboard in the closing moments of the Bruins’ 42-23 loss to Arizona State at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 2.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Here comes another chance for Chip Kelly to build some momentum. Previous tries haven’t gone well.

UCLA fell flat against Fresno State after that majestic triumph over Louisiana State and went splat against Arizona State following a road win over Stanford. Now, after holding off Arizona last weekend, the Bruins (4-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) can snag a second consecutive victory when they face Washington (2-3, 1-1) at Husky Stadium for a 5:30 p.m. kickoff that will be broadcast by Fox. Las Vegas oddsmakers have noticed UCLA’s maddening inconsistency, making the Bruins 1½-point underdogs against a team that lost at home to Montana. Times staff writer Ben Bolch looks at the game’s matchups and storylines:

Run for it

UCLA’s biggest advantage might be in the run game, something the Bruins do exceedingly well and Washington has statistically struggled to stop.

UCLA running back Brittain Brown has been a critical asset to the Bruins’ running game, and he hopes to carry on his success against Washington.

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But about those statistics …

“Statistics can get you beat,” Kelly said. “Turn the tape on, that’s a really, really, really good defense. They’re tough, they’re physical, they get after you, I think they’re really well-coached, so we’ve got our hands full with their defense in every facet.”

Maybe, but there’s no debating the numbers heavily favor the Bruins. UCLA is averaging 217 yards rushing per game — No. 21 in the nation—and Washington is giving up 173 yards on the ground, which ranks No. 99 in the nation.

If those trends hold up, the Huskies could be headed for a second home loss by the season’s midpoint.

The flip side

Washington’s defense does excel at something that has been a weakness for the Bruins — the pass game.

The Huskies are giving up only 147 yards per game through the air and will be facing a quarterback who threw for three yards in the first half last weekend, less than an Arizona receiver who completed a touchdown pass on a trick play.

After finishing that game with a season-low 82 yards, Dorian Thompson-Robinson said the Bruins’ robust running game could help him find a better passing rhythm.

“The run sets up the pass with all the play action and stuff that we do,” Thompson-Robinson said. “And so yeah, I think the run game is gonna be vital this week as it is every week.”

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws against Arizona
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws a pass against Arizona on Oct. 9 in Tucson, Ariz.
(Chris Coduto / Associated Press)

They got it half right

UCLA broke out a grunge soundtrack in practice this week as a playful nod toward its trip to Seattle, playing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow,” among other 1990s favorites.

With the forecast initially calling for a high probability of rain Saturday, the Bruins also used wet footballs to simulate what it might be like to play in slippery conditions. But the forecast has changed. Now the game is expected to be played under cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 50s.

At least UCLA will be ready if the Huskies blast Temple of the Dog.

Revenge game?

Ethan Garbers is returning to his onetime home, where he’s now probably feeling unwelcome.

UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers waits for the ball to be snapped
UCLA quarterback Ethan Garbers waits for the ball to be snapped during a win over Hawaii on Aug. 28 in Los Angeles.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The Bruins backup quarterback spent a season at Washington before the team tried to block his immediately eligibility upon his transfer to UCLA. Those attempts failed and Garbers has appeared briefly in two games for the Bruins this season.

Even if Garbers doesn’t play against the Huskies, he still might contribute to a victory over his former team.

“He’s kind of giving me some tips and clues and stuff,” Thompson-Robinson said, “since he was on their scout team going against their 1s defense [during] his time there.”

Washington did manage to block the immediate eligibility of quarterback Colson Yankoff upon his transfer to UCLA before the 2019 season. Yankoff sat out that season before moving to receiver and suffering a foot injury that has recently necessitated the use of a scooter to help him move around campus.


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