UCLA has now won three straight despite having great difficulty stopping the run, and the Bruins draw a nice matchup vs. the one-dimensional passing attack of Washington State.
One of the most experienced teams in the country at the beginning of this year is now back in the rankings after three straight wins, and it seems primed to make it four straight wins Saturday night when the Washington State Cougars (6-3, 7-2 ATS) pay a visit to those UCLA Bruins (7-2, 4-4-1 ATS) in Pac-12 action from Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA at 10:45 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has UCLA as a large home favorite for this contest with the current line at -9½ with odds of -106.
Ranked 18th on AP Poll
The Bruins were one of the favorites to win the Pac-12 at the start of the year thanks to having a very experienced team that returned 18 starters, but that experience started going by the wayside on the defensive end due to injuries at every level of that unit, resulting in back-to-back blowout losses to Arizona State and Stanford. However the Bruins have regrouped to win three straight games to re-enter the rankings, as they are 18th on the latest AP Poll.
Washington State meanwhile has surprisingly been one of the best College Football picks in the country this season going 7-2 ATS thus far, meaning that the Huskies are 7-1 ATS since a shocking loss to Portland State of the FCS in the pouring rain to begin the season. The only Washington State non-cover since then came in a winning 31-14 effort over Wyoming, although we suspect that hot ATS streak will get cooled off as a decided underdog here at the Rose Bowl.
Can’t Stop Run, Still Great Defending Pass
The Bruins lost no fewer than three defensive starters to season ending injuries fairly early on, with the most devastating injury being to linebacker Myles Jack, whose UCLA career is likely over as the junior figures to declare for next year’s NFL Draft, where he still figures to be a high pick. And without the anchor to the UCLA defense, teams have been able to run at will against the Bruins.
UCLA is allowing 198.0 rushing yards per game overall, even allowing 162.7 rushing yards per contest during the three-game winning streak. However the passing defense has not been as affected by the rash of defensive injuries, with the Bruins ranking a very respectable 41st in the country in pass defense allowing 199.4 yards per game through the air on a mere 5.5 yards per attempt. And that may be all that matters here vs. a pass-happy offense.
The biggest question offensively for UCLA was the play of freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, and while he has some growing pains earlier in the year, he is coming into his own with six touchdown passes without an interception during the winning streak and he completed 22-of-33 passes in a 41-0 rout of Oregon State this past Saturday for 333 yards, averaging a hefty 10.1 yards per attempt.
All Cougars do is Pass
Washington State is coached by Mike Leach, so is it really any surprise that the Cougars rank second in the country in passing offense at 417.3 yards per game and 127th out of 128 FBS schools in rushing offense at 82.3 yards? But hey, that approach already has Wazzou bowl eligible at 6-3 including a big upset win at Oregon and a narrow two-point loss to Stanford, so do not expect Leach to change his normal game plan here.
Thus, do not look for Washington State to take advantage of a leaky UCLA run defense, and as great as the Washington State passing offense is, the great UCLA passing defense should be up for this challenge vs. a one-dimensional attack.
And the Cougars also rank just 84th in the land in total defense yielding 417.1 yards per game, including reporting home 109th in rushing defense allowing 206.1 yards per contest on the ground. And unlike Washington State, UCLA can exploit that weakness with Paul Perkins, who has 961 rushing yards on an impressive 6.0 yards per carry for the season and whose success should open things up for Rosen and the passing game.
UCLA Time to Peak?
Finally, UCLA is currently 5-1 ATS in its last six November games following the blowout of Oregon State Saturday so this seems like an opportune time for the Bruins to continue their late surge to finish the season, especially with a Pac-12 South title still attainable.
Yes, the UCLA rushing defense remains a major concern that will probably prevent the Bruins from winning out and thus cost them a possible trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but it will not be much of an issue here vs. a Washington State team whose pass-happy offense plays right into the Bruins strength, so give the rather big points at home in what should be an easy double-digit UCLA victory on ESPN late Saturday night.
College Football Pick: UCLA -9½ (-106)