Saturday in Los Angeles, two teams heading in very different directions will meet on the field. The UCLA Bruins, after starting the season slowly, are coming off wins against Houston and Texas, both ranked at the time. The Washington State Cougars showed improvement against SMU before getting blown-out against at home against the USC Trojans. UCLA is looking to sustain the momentum they've built, while the Cougars are looking to find momentum and something to build off of.
Against the Trojans, the Cougar offense finally showed signs of life. After an opening drive touchdown, the first in a very long time, they looked poised to hang with the Trojans. 30 seconds -- and two USC scores -- later, that thought was gone and the rout was on. There were some positives for the Cougs, though.
Poor throws can be cleaned up, but making the mental side of the position -- making the right reads, setting the offense, knowing when to get rid of the ball -- is much harder to correct. Tuel showed off his ability to use his head on Saturday, giving the offense an excellent foundation to build off of.
After yet another beating at the hands of a Pac-10 opponent, we had to wonder if the Cougs were mentally in the game. The coaches and players answered that question after the game. They all think they belong and can hang with anyone, if they execute the gameplan.
The staff has preached that this team needs to learn how to win and deal with the losses along the way. Part of that process is believing they can compete and evaluating their performance when the results don't go their way. Being disappointed after a loss is a sign that they may be coming around in that regard.
At safety, the Cougs are holding an open competition for the starter spot. After some poor play early on, senior Chima Nwachukwu was benched in favor of freshman Deone Bucannon. Bucannon held his own against the Trojans, hauling in an inteception and leading the team in tackles. In practice this week, Vince Grippi reports both safeties are splitting time with the one.
The battle at safety between senior Chima Nwachukwu and freshman Deone Bucannon meant divided practice time with the first unit for the two. Paul Wulff said they both will play Saturday.
UCLA finally figured out the passing game isn't working with Kevin Prince at quarterback. Instead, they've become a running team, only throwing the ball nine times in the Bruins upset win over Texas last weekend. Vince Grippi thinks the Bruin running game will test the Cougar defense this week.
The Bruins seem to have finally figured out the pistol offense is a run-based option attack, not a let-it-fly shotgun-like spread. The quarterback, in this case Prince, must read the defensive front and, depending on the positioning, either give the ball to the tailback, most notably starter Franklin (409 yards rushing with a 5.9 yards-per-carry average), or keep it.
The Cougs have been terrible against the run, allowing 5.95 yards per carry on the season. Against USC, Washington State allowed fullback Stanley Havili to run wild, racking up 80 yards on four carries, including a 59 yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The Trojans ran for 285 yards on the day, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. If WSU wants a chance against the Bruins, they have to slow down the run game.
After a big win over Texas, UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel is worried the Bruins may overlook Washington State. The former Washington head coach is doing his best to make sure they take the season one game at a time. The Daily News' Jill Painter passed along some quotes from Neuheisel on the matchup.
"Just remind them what it felt like 16 days ago at midnight after getting ripped 35-0 by Stanford," Neuheisel said. "That's where we were. We can't go back there, but we will go back there if we don't exercise every opportunity and if we don't continue to improve."
Washington State takes on UCLA at the Rose Bowl this Saturday at 12 p.m. on FSN.
For more on the Cougars, check out SB Nation's CougCenter.