Ground Raid: Washington State runs into matchup with UCLA
Of all the things that have changed for Washington State in the past few weeks none can match the transformation of the Cougars' offense.
This is still home of the ''Air Raid'' offense with Luke Falk at the helm. But it's the ground attack that's been the dominant component over the past two weeks.
What in the name of Mike Leach is going on here?
''I'm a big fan of balance,'' Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks said. ''At this point in my career I realize what it can do for you. I like it.''
The Cougars look to continue that newfound balance on Saturday night hosting UCLA. Washington State (3-2, 2-0 Pac-12) is looking for a fourth straight win
Behind the three-pronged attack of Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and James Williams, the Cougars have rushed for more than 100 yards as a team in three straight games. And while the three games of ground success represent a small sample size, it's the competition it came against that helps validate the evolving offense.
Washington State rushed for 228 yards against Idaho, followed up with 280 yards rushing against Oregon and had 101 yards on the ground in last week's 42-16 rout of Stanford.
''You have to be able to run the ball a little bit when you want to throw it. You have to be able to make people respect the run in order to open things up in the pass game,'' UCLA coach Jim Mora said. ''It doesn't surprise us. They count the box and if a run is there, Falk is a smart guy and he executes a run. But they do like to throw it. We do know they like to throw it.''
UCLA's biggest question mark is whether quarterback Josh Rosen will be able to play after getting beat up in last week's loss to Arizona State. Mora was evasive about Rosen's status, his most declarative statement being if Rosen is able to play, he will, and if he isn't, he won't.
Despite suffering leg and shoulder injuries against the Sun Devils, Rosen threw for a career-high 400 yards in the loss. But his performance was offset by the Bruins (3-3, 1-2) rushing for minus-1 net yards and committing four turnovers.
If Rosen can't go, the Bruins would likely turn to senior Mike Fafaul.
''Big fork in the road for us right now. It can go one of two ways,'' UCLA center Scott Quessenberry said. ''We can start turning on each other as a team or we can really come together and start rattling off wins.''
Other things to watch as the Bruins visit the Cougars for the first time since 2012:
RUNNING BRUINS: It's hard to imagine Washington State having a better running attack than UCLA, but the Bruins run game has been non-existent the last four games. UCLA had 50 yards rushing against BYU; 77 vs. Stanford; 125 against Arizona but hit bottom last week against Arizona State with minus-1 net yards.
The Bruins are averaging just 2.9 yards per rush.
''Anytime you can't run the ball you really make life hard for yourself offensively because you can't get yourself into situations where there are easy third-down completions or you get a team on their heels,'' Mora said.
ON THE MARK(S): Marks is inching closer to the Pac-12 record for career receptions. Marks had five catches and his 30th career touchdown grab last week against Stanford. Marks now has 261 career receptions, 33 behind Nelson Spruce for the most in conference history.
One of Marks' most important catches came last year against UCLA on a 21-yard TD grab with 3 seconds left that gave the Cougars a 31-27 win.
AIR DEFENSE: Falk is set to take on the best pass defense he's seen thus far this season.
UCLA's pass defense is allowing just a 48.8 percent completion rate. It's the best mark in the Pac-12 and the Bruins rank seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense. But UCLA has yet to face a passing game anywhere close to the explosiveness of Washington State's: the Cougars are averaging 381 yards per game.
CRACKING 24: UCLA has yet to allow a team to score more than 24 points in regulation this season. Keeping that streak going means slowing down a Washington State offense that has topped 24 points in 16 of the past 18 games.