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UCLA vs. WSU: Ugly Bruins win might pay off in later games

The UCLA Bruins won a scrap in tough road conditions, and they should be proud of that. Inspiring less pride is the fact that they fell into a scrap against a two-win team.

William Mancebo

The fact that it took the UCLA Bruins a full 60 minutes to beat the 2-win Washington St. Cougars isn't the thing to focus on. Neither is the 29 points the Cougars picked up in the second half, the 450 passing yards gained by WSU, or the nine first downs the Bruin defense handed their opponent via penalty. The thing to focus on is just that UCLA won, and they did so in the best possible way, given who they face next.

The Bruins spent the first 30 minutes of their game against the Cougars building a 30 point lead and dominating on special teams. They blocked Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh each blocked a field goal, and Jordan Zumwalt and Anthony Barr each got in front of a punt. UCLA's running game couldn't find any traction, so Brett Hundley went 11 for 13 with three touchdown passes to three different receivers. Of the five first-half sacks picked up by the Bruin defense, Barr's was good for a safety and Marsh caused a fumble with his. The secondary had its usual problems of getting flagged when it didn't get burned and burned when it didn't get flagged, but a strong team effort from the Bruins had them deserving their 37-7 halftime lead.

Going into the locker room, Jim Mora pointed out that Washington State was playing hard, and the Bruins would need to match that intensity in the second half. If he saw it coming, it didn't translate into UCLA being able to adjust. The second 30 minutes of the game saw the Bruins on their heels most of the time, with only one offensive drive going more than 24 yards. They picked up only one more sack, and the running game never managed to get going, finishing the day with only 73 yards in total. Despite all of that, the outcome of the game was never really at risk. WSU pulled within one score late in the game, but Michael Bowlin capped off the excellent special teams night by grabbing the onside kick and sealing the game.

The Bruins were successful in the first half, and decidedly less-than-so in the second. That fits the game well, because there are two ways to look at it. The first is that the Bruins won a scrap, a tough road contest in bad conditions, beating a team that needed a win more than UCLA did, and maybe wanted it more as well. The second way to look at it is that the Washington State Cougars gave the Bruins a fight, that UCLA was flagged 12 times for 126 yards, and Johnathan Franklin was more than three yards under his yards per carry average. There's a lot to criticize about this win, but I actually think it's good for the Bruins.

UCLA has now won four straight, but only one of those wins was genuinely dominant. Two were dogfights, and that favors the team. UCLA has to enter the game against USC thinking they can win, but on top of that they might enter that game thinking of themselves as a team that can fight, a team that can overcome stupid mistakes, and a team that can make plays and put points on the board in unexpected situations. That's the Bruins team I want to watch. That's the one that showed up in Pullman, and that's the one they'll need on Saturday.