Wednesday, Feb 2024

                                                By Bill Seals Sports Reporter

If there was any question about who would win a battle between Washington State’s top ten offense and UCLA’s top ten defense, the UCLA Bruins football team soundly answered that question last Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The 13th ranked Washington State Cougars came in with the 4th ranked offense in the nation, averaging 532 yards in total offensive yardage and just under 46 points per game. They scored just 17 points and had 216 yards of offense in losing to the Bruins, 25-17.

Cougar quarterback Cameron Ward came into the Rose Bowl ranked third in passing yardage per game in the nation. He had thrown 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.in four games. In his previous game against 14th ranked Oregon State, Ward completed 28 of 34 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns Against the Bruins, Ward was intercepted twice. The Bruins forced four turnovers and added three sacks.

The Cougars never punted in the game against Oregon State. Against the Bruins, the Cougars punted nine times. The Bruins controlled the ball for 38:32 to 21:28 of the 60-minute clock. UCLA ran a mind-boggling 97 offensive plays in the game against the Cougars. Running back Carson Steele had 30 carries for 141 yards, doling out some punishing hits to would be tacklers. Steele can bench press 450 pounds and at 225 pounds can be a challenge to bring down.

Even UCLA head coach Chip Kelly was impressed by the number of offensive plays that were produced. “We were just going to have to keep banging away and fortunately we did,” Kelly said. “I think that we ran, I don’t know, 97 plays – what was the final tally for plays on offense? How many? Yeah, we were trying to match the temperature. It was 97, we were going to run 97.” The Bruins ended up with 486 yards in total offense.

The offensive output would not have occurred without the staunch Bruin defense forcing turnovers and punts. It is a reflection of the terrific job that first-year defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn and his defensive staff have done with the defensive unit. You can see the improvement with many of the same players from last year’s team. The Bruins lead the nation in defensive yardage per play at 3.74 yards.

“They did an outstanding job – that whole group, I think our entire defensive staff led by him, they did an unbelievable job,” Kelly said of Lynn and his staff. “That was against the number two-ranked passing offense in the country. To hold them to that and not really allow them to rush it was outstanding. And really, we gave them one score on the offensive side of the ball. The whole coaching staff and players were outstanding on defense.”

Yes, the offense did give the Cougars seven points on a pick-6 interception return off true freshman quarterback Dante Moore right before the half, which gave the Cougars a 10-9 halftime lead. Moore also threw an early interception that set up a field goal to give the Cougars a brief 3-0 lead in the first quarter. Moore has made some outstanding throws this season and has looked like a future NFL quarterback. But it is a process, as Kelly has noted, and there are going to be mistakes. But it is easy to see the talent and the improvement.

“We are just trying to get better every day,” Kelly said. “We are part of the process. But there are a bunch of guys and the cool part for us is that we see them getting better, and it’s like, ‘Wow,’ that kid is getting better and better and better. We are an ascending team. We are working on that. So, we will pick our heads up in December and figure out where we are with this whole thing.”

The ascending Bruins football team will take on the Oregon State Beavers next Saturday, October 14, in Corvalis, in a game that will start at 5:00 p.m. and will be nationally televised live on FOX. Oregon State has a 5-1 record and is ranked 15th in the nation in the AP Top 25 football poll. The Beavers lone loss was to Washington State in Pullman, 38-35. The Cougars are now 4-1 on the season and ranked 19th in the nation, just behind the Bruins who are now 18th ranked in the nation.

It could also be said that Oregon State is also an ascending football team. UCLA lost 14-7 to Utah on the road, and the same Utah team lost at Oregon State, 21-7. The Beavers have won 14 of their last 15 games at home. They went 10-3 last season and finished the 2022 season ranked 14th in the final CFP rankings. The Beavers are led by first -team All-Pac-12 running back Damien Martinez and former five-star quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who played his high school football at St. John Bosco in Bellflower.

The Bruins are 4-1 on the season and after this game at Oregon State, five of their final six games will be against unranked teams, with the exception being a November 18th game at USC. But first, the Bruins need to find a way to beat a tough Oregon State team on the road.