UCLA’s loss to Washington was hardly unexpected. The fact that the Huskies used the ground game as their primary weapon was not unexpected. What was unexpected was the complete dominance with which Washington handled UCLA from the outset in route to a 44-23 win in Seattle Saturday.
Jake Browning was not that good at quarterback for the Huskies. He did not have to be. Josh Rosen was not very good for UCLA. They had zero chance without near perfection from him. Browning finished eight of 11 for 98 yards, no touchdown passes and one interception. Rosen was 12-of-21 for 93 yards and one touchdown before leaving the game late in the third quarter with at least one hand injury.
The difference then? The Huskies have running back Myles Gaskin and UCLA has one of the worst rush defenses in the entire nation. Washington compiled 442 yards of total offense with 333 of that coming on the ground. Gaskin had 169 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. Conversely, UCLA had 232 yards of offense with only 62 of it in rushing.
The two teams traded field goals in the first quarter. Washington took a 10-3 lead in the second with a Browning one-yard run. UCLA answered with a Rosen to Jordan Wilson eight-yard touchdown throw. J.J. Molson missed the point after and it was 10-9 Huskies. That was also the last time the game was close. Washington’s Salvon Ahmed returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards to the UCLA 18. It was a theme all day for special teams. While the much-ballyhooed Dante Pettis did no real damage to UCLA, other kick returners seemed unstoppable. UCLA’s defense, as bad as it is already, was defending a shortened field much of the day.
The defense spent good portions of the day playing eight in the box to stop the run. They tried to dare Browning too beat them through the air. But when eight players still cannot execute the assignments meant for five, there was little reason for Washington head coach Chris Petersen to even contemplate throwing.
The Huskies capped that drive with a one-yard Lavon Coleman run to make it 17-9. It was time to start the Bruin bus back to SeaTac Airport. Washington added another field goal late in the second quarter to give themselves a 20-9 halftime lead, relying on 27 rushing plays in their first 32 plays from scrimmage. Gaskin passed his per game average in the first half.
The second half was no relief for UCLA. They went three and out on their first two possession. Receivers continued to drop relatively easy passes and Rosen seemed to continue what looks like a crisis of confidence. Starting wide receiver Jordan Lasley was left home with a second week in a row of being suspended. As for Rosen, he has come to hold the ball too long, too frequently and it was clear Saturday that his decision making seems to be, at times, frozen. On more than one occasion he looked to force a throw into a closed window when he had running room or a throw out of bounds available to him.
The Huskies added another Coleman touchdown, (33-yard run) and a field goal to go up 30-9. Just when Bruin faithful were getting ready to start watching any other game, the visuals on the UCLA sideline became even more bleak.
Rosen was walking off to the locker room to have his hand examined. He had been flexing his left/non-throwing hand for a good portion of the game already. How he injured it or when was not clear by any replay. A series earlier, he had also cut a finger on his throwing hand. Throw in a few hits that had him limping and the real pain for UCLA was no longer the blowout on the scoreboard.
Rosen would later come out after the examination and spend the rest of the game on the sidelines in street clothes. His replacement, redshirt freshman Devon Modster, had moments of capable play Those were followed by ones that come with a backup who had thrown three passes in his college career. On third and 13, near the end of the third quarter, Modster had no open receivers. He took off running and dove for the turf, headfirst, a full five yards short of the first down marker. Just for good measure, he fumbled the ball away. Myles Bryant picked it and returned it 10 yards to give Washington another short field to work with.
UCLA got a late touchdown when Osa Odighizuwa picked up a Browning fumble and ran it 50 yards for a touchdown.
The Bruins have a short turnaround as they face Utah in Salt Lake City Friday night. The Utes are nowhere near as good as many projected when the season started. But, they are still a physical team on offense, which is automatic problem for UCLA. UCLA is also now 0-4 on the road this season.
The season long ago slipped away from UCLA, and now it is just playing for individual wins on a week by week basis with no big picture reward in the offing. The biggest question going forward is the health of Rosen. TV analyst Brock Huard openly questioned Rosen’s toughness for not being able to go back in the game with both hands injured. UCLA is playing for pride at this point, individual dignity, and perhaps the job security of head coach Jim Mora. Rosen will have more tests done on his injured hand. There will be decisions to make about how much risk it is worth putting himself through in what season he has remaining in Westwood.
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