We’re about to head over to Beasley for the basketball season opener, but before we do, we’ll catch you up with football. On the link you’ll find our short advance of tomorrow’s game along with our usual game-day items. And yes, it is snowing in Pullman. Read on.
• Here’s the advance …
PULLMAN – There’s no doubt the UCLA Bruins don’t like coming to the Palouse.
“I don’t like that place,” senior linebacker Reggie Carter told the LA Times this week. “It is the worst trip. There is nothing there. It is 1 1/2 hours from the airport. It’s cold and even the hotel is bad. Everything is rough out there, man.
“You have to be a strong person to go there. Hopefully we’ll go there, get the victory and run home as fast as we can.”
The Bruins (4-5 overall, 1-5 in the Pac-10) haven’t taken many victories home from Pullman recently, as Washington State has won five of the last six between the schools here.
But if the Bruins are going to buck that trend and hand WSU (1-8, 0-6) its seventh consecutive defeat this season, Brian Price will more than likely play a major role.
Price has been a star ever since he stepped on the Westwood campus three years ago, quickly showing that a 6-foot-2, 300-pound man can be unbelievably quick off the ball.
“He’s the best defensive tackle in the conference,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “I haven’t seen every defensive tackle in the country, but he’s got to be right up there, as good as there is.”
Price, a junior, leads the Pac-10 with 13.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 a game. He’s made 28 tackles. But it’s more than just the plays he makes, it’s the attention he draws.
Anchored in the gap between a guard and center, Price, a first-team All-Pac-10 selection last year, seems to control the middle against everyone.
“Our guards and center, Kenny, have their work cut out for them,” Wulff said.
Price may not have usual running mate, 6-2, 296-pound Jerzy Siewierski next to him today as the junior has been sidelined with a foot injury and is questionable. But his replacement is 6-4, 296-pound senior Jess Ward.
“They’re good in the their defensive line, particularly their two defensive tackles,” Wulff said. “That is clearly the strength of their team, let alone their defense.”
Thus controlling the middle will be crucial for the Cougars.
“It’s the biggest key for our offense, no question,” Wulff said. “Anytime you can slow someone’s best player down, or you have an opportunity to at least neutralize that person, it’s going to help you.”
• And here are the game-day notes …
UCLA at Washington State
Kickoff: 2 p.m. (PST), Martin Stadium
TV: FCS Pacific; FSN (delayed at 7 p.m.)
Radio: KXLY 920-AM
• Tale of the tape
Washington State Cougars
Record: 0-6 Pac-10, 1-8 Overall
Coach: Paul Wulff, second season
Record: 1-5 Pac-10, 4-5 Overall
Coach: Rick Neuheisel, second season
UCLA 28, WSU 3
WSU lost to Arizona, 48-7
UCLA defeated Washington 24-23
UCLA leads 36-18-1
• The matchups
When the Cougars run: Despite having two of the best defensive tackles in the Pac-10 – though senior Jerzy Siewierski is probably out with a foot problem – the Bruins have been vulnerable, giving up 156.9 yards per game. They haven’t played WSU yet, however. The Cougars have yet to gain that many yards in a game and have only had more than 100 three times. But they also haven’t been healthy up front and they are now. Expect WSU to try to run the ball more often, hoping Dwight Tardy can somewhat emulate his last effort against UCLA in Pullman (a career-high 214 yards). EDGE: UCLA
When the Cougars pass: Though the Bruins haven’t been overpowering with their rush – 16 sacks, seventh in the conference – they still have one of the better pass defenses in the Pac-10. Part of it is their ability to force interceptions (13, second in the conference). And part of it is the pressure Brian Price supplies up the middle, not allowing quarterbacks to step up consistently. WSU more than likely turns to Marshall Lobbestael today, asking the sophomore to be patient and wait for a receiver to come open. If he has time, he just might. EDGE: UCLA
When the Bruins run: They haven’t been very good at it. A 3.2 yards-per-carry average is second lowest in the Pac-10, ahead of only WSU’s 2.4. But the UCLA offensive line is big, averaging more than 300 pounds, and the Bruins will turn to 6-foot, 235-pound Derrick Coleman at running back. So expect UCLA to try and pound the Cougars, a la Notre Dame. The WSU defensive linemen will be charged with occupying the guys up front so linebackers Andy Mattingly, Jason Stripling and Alex Hoffman-Ellis can attack gaps and make tackles. EDGE: UCLA
When the Bruins pass: Once again, WSU catches a team starting to fine-tune its passing game. Even though starter Kevin Prince went down with a concussion against Washington – he’s been cleared to play – the Bruins threw for a season-high 371 yards last week. It was their second consecutive game with more than 300 yards and third in four. The WSU secondary has been hit harder by injuries than any group, and senior safety Chima Nwachukwu will miss his second consecutive game. To disrupt the Bruin passing game, the Cougars must put pressure on Prince. EDGE: UCLA
Coaching/intangibles: For once the Cougars might just have a true home-field advantage – if the weather cooperates (see below). Even if it’s not as bad as it could be, there is one more element in WSU’s favor: It’s Dad’s Weekend. Though there is little chance Martin Stadium will be packed, the 25,000 to 30,000 who will show up should be loud and raucous. After all, when you are spending the amount of money the old guys are on their kids’ education, you might as well get your money’s worth at the football game. One UCLA edge: coach Rick Neuheisel has never lost in Pullman. EDGE: WSU
Handling the weather: There is one given when UCLA travels to the Palouse. The Bruin players will complain about the trip, about the weather, about the whole experience. Neuheisel is trying to change that, saying this week, “The key is to not let the weather be a factor at all. Just go up there and play. Be tough enough minded to block that out.” We’ll see if his team can. As for the Cougars, most were marveling about how nice and warm the fall has been. In this case, perception may really be reality. It may not snow, but the temperature is expected to be around freezing. And the Bruins are in the shade. EDGE: WSU
• 3 things to watch
Keys to today’s Washington State-UCLA matchup
1. Brian Price: What does WSU coach Paul Wulff think of the 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior? He doesn’t just believe he’s the best defensive tackle in the Pac-10, he thinks he’s the best in the nation. And, quite possibly, just the best defensive player as well. The numbers back up Wulff’s contention. Price has made 24 solo tackles despite being double-teamed on nearly every play. More than half of those (13.5) have been behind the line of scrimmage, meaning he has accounted for 62 yards in losses. Five times Price has bulled his way inside for sacks. The strength of WSU’s offensive line is its core – guards Zack Williams and B.J. Guerra and center Kenny Alfred – but that group will be tested today.
2. How often UCLA throws to Logan Paulsen: You would think, at 6-6 and 254 pounds, Paulsen would be a popular target for Bruin quarterbacks. And that’s the case. He’s fourth on the team with 21 receptions, averaging 32.7 yards a game. But he’s yet to score a touchdown – he was dragged down once this year after a bruising 56-yard reception – despite averaging 14 yards per catch. With Chima Nwachukwu out with a sprained ankle and Jay Matthews hobbled with a sore shoulder, the Cougars’ strong safety position may be vulnerable. Expect Paulsen, backup Ryan Moya and the Bruins to try to exploit the middle.
3. UCLA in the red zone: The Bruins score often when they get inside the opponent’s 20 (86.4 percent, fourth in the Pac-10). But a large majority of the time they are settling for Kai Forbath field goals – a Pac-10 high 13 times. Forbath just doesn’t miss – he’s perfect inside 50 yards this season and has made his last 30 – so it’s understandable why they turn to the junior. But UCLA has only scored nine red zone touchdowns, fewest in the conference, less even than WSU (10). The Cougar defense is the best in the Pac-10 when opponents drive in close, keeping them off the scoreboard 24.4 percent of the time. If WSU can limit big plays, it should be able to stop the Bruins from running up the score.
• 3 names to know
UCLA WIDE RECEIVER
Rarely does a 6-foot-5, 211-pound wide receiver move with the quickness Rosario exhibits. He’s a matchup problem for every cornerback he lines up against – WSU’s two starting corners, Brandon Jones and Terrance Hayward are 5-9 and 6-1, respectively – and he also has the speed to run away from people, as his 19.4 yard-per-catch average indicates. The Bruins haven’t scored many offensive touchdowns this season – 14 in nine games – so Rosario hasn’t seen a lot of fade routes in the end zone. His one score was a 58-yard bomb against Oregon State.
WSU TIGHT END
Lintz was hobbled, literally, when he limped onto the WSU campus as a freshman last year. The 6-5, 246-pounder from Bellingham broke his leg in a summer all-star game and had to redshirt. He started slowly this season, but, according to coach Paul Wulff, has been playing with a more physical presence recently in practice. With Tony Thompson (concussion) out this week, Lintz has been running with the starters and should give quarterback Marshall Lobbestael a big target in the middle. His next catch will be his first as a Cougar.
If Lobbestael does decide to look for Lintz, he’ll have to avoid the Bruins’ free safety. Not many teams have. Moore leads the nation in interceptions per game, having grabbed eight in UCLA’s nine contests. Three of those came in the opening win against San Diego State, and two more came near the goal line against Arizona. Besides picking passes off, he’s also great at deflecting them. He’s atop the Pac-10 in passes defended per game (1.56). A sophomore, the 6-1, 197-pound Moore has started every game since he stepped on campus and has 92 tackles in 21 games.
• This and that from today’s game …
For the first time since the Hawaii game, WSU will start the offensive line that emerged in fall practice. Steven Ayers returns to left tackle, recovered sufficiently from his ankle sprain to guard the flank. … Not only has UCLA flanker Terrence Austin caught a pass in 23 consecutive games, he’s fourth in the Pac-10 in kickoff return average (25.9) and third in punt returns (9.4) He’s yet to return either for a touchdown this year. … Freshman Gino Simone leads WSU in receptions with 28. … Punter Jeff Locke is second in the conference, averaging 44.6, one yard more than WSU’s Reid Forrest. Locke also leads the Pac-10 with 16 touchbacks on his kickoffs. … Senior safety Xavier Hicks is WSU’s leading tackler with 69. He also has a team-high 41 solo tackles. … The Cougars have yielded 45 sacks. The next highest number among conference teams? UCLA’s 25.
• That’s it for now. It’s time to turn our focus to basketball – and the slick roads. Until later …