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First look: No. 13 Washington State visits UCLA at the Rose Bowl

Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks, center, looks at an official after scoring a touchdown as UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams watches during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Pasadena, Calif. Washington won 31-27. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) ORG XMIT: PRB115  (Mark J. Terrill)

PULLMAN – Here’s a first look at No. 13 Washington State’s road matchup with UCLA on Saturday.

What is it?

No. 13 Washington State, with fresh legs off a bye week, will make a trip to the Rose Bowl to clash with UCLA.

Where is it?

The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California.

When is it?

Kickoff is set for noon Pacific Daylight Time.

Where can I watch it?

Pac-12 Network will broadcast the game.

Who is favored?

UCLA opened as a 4-point favorite.

How did the Cougars fare last week?

Washington State was idle last week, enjoying its one bye week of the season. Prior to that, the Cougars topped Oregon State in Pullman on Sept. 23, building a giant lead early and recovering an onside kick to ice the victory.

In that one, WSU quarterback Cameron Ward put up these numbers: 28-for-34 passing for 404 yards and four touchdowns, avoiding throwing an interception for the fourth straight game to open the season. As of Monday, he faced +3,300 odds to capture the Heisman, 14th best in the country.

The real stars of that game, though, were the Cougars’ wide receivers. Transfer Josh Kelly recorded his best game of the season, hauling in eight catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns, including two plays that will likely land on his career highlight tape: one one-handed catch around midfield, plus another for a touchdown.

Plus, fellow transfer receiver Kyle Williams reeled in seven receptions for 174 yards and one touchdown, a 62-yarder from Ward on the second play from scrimmage. WSU used those plays and more to open up a two-score lead, which is where it hovered for most of the contest.

That helped the Cougars jump three spots, to No. 13, in this week’s AP poll. That’s Washington State’s highest AP ranking since it rose to No. 10 in the final week of the 2018 season.

“There’s been a lot of love bestowed upon the Cougs,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said on Monday. “Our ranking, and a Heisman (candidate) and the receivers and the offense and Jaden (Hicks). There’s just a lot of things going on, and success brings different adversities. So stay humble, stay focused on the task, be disciplined to what we need to do to win games. That’s gotta be our focus at every position, not just with those two guys.”

Scouting UCLA …

The Bruins are off to a 3-1 start to the season. They opened with a 27-13 win over Coastal Carolina, followed with a 35-10 victory over San Diego State, then won their third straight by dispatching FCS North Carolina Central in a 59-7 blowout. UCLA suffered its first setback of the season on Sept. 23, when it fell to Utah, 14-7, in Salt Lake City.

Like Washington State, UCLA is also coming off a bye week. In this week’s AP poll, the Bruins garnered 19 votes, good for an unofficial No. 29 ranking.

On offense, the tip of the spear is quarterback Dante Moore, a true freshman who has turned in these numbers so far: 47-for-86 passing (55%) for eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Most recently, in his team’s loss to the Utes, Moore completed 15 of 35 passes for 234 yards, one touchdown and one interception, struggling against one of the nation’s best defenses.

According to PFF, Moore has graded out as the 99th best passer in the country with a mark of 72.5, which ranks sixth among Pac-12 starting quarterbacks. His outing against UCLA ranked 142nd nationally.

Still, UCLA has also handed out reps at quarterback to junior Ethan Garbers, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 121 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his team’s win over Coastal Carolina. In the Bruins’ romp over NC Central, Garbers completed the one pass he tried, and junior Collin Schlee got in on the action, hitting 1 of 4 passes for 15 yards and one pick. He also attempted two passes against San Diego State.

“On offense, obviously Coach (Chip) Kelly is well known on that side of the ball,” Dickert said. “Been a little bit different at the quarterback position. Been playing a bunch of different guys. We’ll see who they really kinda settle on as they keep going.”

The real strength of UCLA’s team, though, is its defense. The Bruins rank sixth nationally in points allowed per game, yielding just 11 points a game. They check in at No. 11 in rush defense, giving up 77.8 rushing yards per game.

Perhaps most important is this stat: They are PFF’s second-best pass-rushing team in the country. In that department, the Bruins boast edge Laiatu Latu, a senior who has piled up four sacks in as many games. He’s forced two fumbles and he recorded an interception in his team’s win over NC Central.

Also contributing to UCLA’s pass rush is edge Grayson Murphy, who has made three sacks to pair with nine quarterback hurries, the latter of which third on the team. Second place goes to his identical twin, Gabriel Murphy, who has one sack and 10 QB hurries.

Add in standout defenders like linebackers Kain Medrano and Darius Muasau and you get one of the nation’s single best defenses.

“I have not seen a bigger, longer defense in a long time,” Dickert said. “These guys are long and have great length and they’re attacking. And they’re playing tremendously on that side of the ball. I mean, it is impressive to watch their physicality. The Latu kid is a problem. Most people have him in the top half of the first round (of the NFL draft).”

What happened last time?

Who can forget? These teams’ last meeting came in 2019 in Pullman, where WSU raced to a 49-17 lead in the third quarter, only for UCLA to rally and escape with a 67-63 lead. To draw within three, the Bruins rattled off 28 straight points, then took the lead on a punt return touchdown. UCLA put things away with a touchdown pass with 67 seconds to play.

Washington State’s last trip to the Rose Bowl came in 2015, when Luke Falk found Gabe Marks for a diving touchdown reception to take the lead in the final three seconds.