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UCLA vs. Washington State: Bruins can't afford to look past Cougars

UCLA stands a better chance of being taken serious against Stanford and USC if they can do to the WSU Cougars what they did to Arizona. That said, they won't be able to do that if they spend their time thining about USC and Stanford instead of WSU.

Andrew Fielding-US PRESSWIRE

It would be hard to blame the UCLA Bruins for looking past the Washington St. Cougars. Having climbed back into the rankings, they have to have settled into some sense of validation of what they were feeling after their 3-0 start. They're a different Bruins team, Mora really is doing something worth watching with the program, and I would gamble that they can't wait to get to USC and Stanford.

That would be a mistake. UCLA has had some big successes this year, but the team is a work in progress. The 66-10 destruction of the Arizona Wildcats is a strong demonstration of what the Bruins can do, but it's hardly evidence of what they're going to do, even when they're facing the 2-7 Cougars. It's dismissive and insulting to call a game a trap game, but it's dishonest to pretend it's anything else. The Bruins can't afford to be caught sleeping against the Cougars, and that's about the only way WSU will get the win.

Washington State's offense comes almost entirely through the air. They average 324.2 yards per game passing, compared to just 29.1 rushing. That's not great news for the Bruins, who defend the run significantly better than they do the pass. Neither half is setting the world on fire, but they rank 57th in the nation against the run, and 71st against the pass. UCLA is one of the worst squads in the nation when it comes to penalties with an average of 8.9 flags for 85.9 yards per game. Not all of that can be laid at the feet of the secondary, but of UCLA's 13 flags for 134 yards (both season-highs) against Arizona, six of the penalties and 63 of the yards came from the secondary. Connor Halliday is completing just 52.6 percent of his passes for WSU, but that hardly matters if he can just hurl it in the general direction of Sheldon Price or Aaron Hester and let the flag do the rest.

The UCLA offense could easily have another explosive night against Washington State, who average 31.8 points against. It won't be handed to them, though. The Cougars give up an average of 172.3 yards per game on the ground and have given up 300 or more yards twice, but they've also held opponents to relatively few yards. Eastern Washington got only 90 yards, and the more robust Stanford attack gained only 120. The Cougar secondary features Deone Bucannon, who has four picks on the year, but outside of him there's a fair amount of experience but not much spectacle.

In what comes as a surprise to a great many people, UCLA enters Week 11 in first place in the Pac-12 South. Saying they control their own destiny is accurate but tends to gloss over the challenge in front of them. They will likely enter both of their final two games as significant underdogs, despite having demonstrated that they're a team capable of big things. They've put that message out, but it could always be a little clearer, a little louder. One more thorough beating of an outgunned opponent might do the trick.