UCLA football (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) is scheduled to kick off its Week 7 game against Washington (2-3, 1-1) on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
The Bruins have split their last four games after starting 2-0, winning road matchups with both Stanford and Arizona while losing at home to Fresno State and Arizona State. The Huskies are coming off a bye having most recently lost to Oregon State and beaten Cal in overtime, but their early-season losses to Montana and Michigan set them back quite a ways to start the year.
Heading into the Week 7 matchup, here are the most pressing questions we want to have answered by the final whistle.
Will the Bruins be able to throw the ball?
The Bruins were probably going to commit to the run regardless of the weather Saturday night, but the chance of rain and wind may force their hand regardless.
We here at All Bruins are, admittedly, not meteorologists. The odds of rain hitting Seattle on Saturday night have gone anywhere from 30% up to 60% and back down to 50%, with a storm likely sweeping through towards the end of the game, if at all.
If it does end up raining, it will be interesting to see how UCLA handles it in regards to their play calling. Washington already played a game in the rain against Arkansas State, in which they passed the ball 44 times, so clearly the Huskies are used to those kind of conditions.
The Bruins have yet to play a game in the rain this season, and actually in their four seasons under coach Chip Kelly. For as many wet ball drills as they may have ran in practice this week, it remains to be seen how effective they could end up being in preparing them for Saturday.
Ball security is one thing, but running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown have done at least a solid job holding onto the ball so far this season. The bigger concern with the rain will be the passing game and the offensive line play associated with it.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was already struggling with accuracy in dry Tucson last weekend, so it isn't crazy to assume things will take a turn for the somehow even worse in the Seattle rain. And if he lines up in the shotgun – either for a zone read with a running back or just a normal pass play – what are the odds center Duke Clemens launches one over his head for the third game in a row.
There's a lot at stake Saturday for the Bruins, and a lot of it could be in the hands of mother nature.
Which running back will stand out?
Again, the Bruins are going to run the ball a lot Saturday.
And when they run it a lot, as they have basically every time out this season, either one of both of Brittain Brown or Zach Charbonnet has had a big day.
It's difficult to predict which one will have the better statistical performance on a week-to-week basis, just based off their interchangeability and the way the staff likes to use them. We asked coach Chip Kelly this week what the differences were between the two, and he danced around the question and went back to praising them for being similar.
That's undoubtedly the biggest positive that's come out of having two big, physical, angry backs that are surprisingly versatile – defenses won't be able to predict the play call just based off which running back is in the huddle, a problem UCLA has run into with the Joshua Kelley-Demetric Felton pairing and Felton-Brown duo in recent years.
Still, they are used differently in a lot of games, and there has to be some method to the madness that Kelly and running backs coach DeShaun Foster cook up every week. It's difficult to draw conclusions based off what few patterns have come out of their usage this year, but it is interesting to see one be used as a short-yardage guy and the other be used as a game-breaking change-of-pace back, only for those roles to get flipped the week after.
Either way, Brown or Charbonnet, or maybe both, are going to put up big stats Saturday. Charbonnet was the standout early on, but Brown took the spotlight against Arizona.
It isn't a matter of if they will succeed, but who leads the charge and how much they dominate.
Can UCLA take advantage of a struggling quarterback?
Dylan Morris just barely makes the nation's top 100 in passer rating this season.
That's far from the Jayden Daniels and Jake Haeners of the world, both of whom have passer ratings over 150 compared to Morris' 123.9, and both of them beat the Bruins too. UCLA could absorb the solid statistical performances of LSU's Max Johnson and Stanford's Tanner McKee, but neither had the kind of efficient, accurate performance of the two star signal-callers who took them down.
Morris was fine last year, but has tailed off in a major way in 2021.
His adjusted yards per attempt, completion percentage and passer rating have all gone down from his freshman season. Morris is passing for more yards per game, although that is more based off a more pass-first approach from the Huskies' staff than it is Morris playing better.
The sophomore opened his season with zero touchdowns and three picks against FCS program Montana, and while he hasn't been that bad since, it isn't like he's been a game-breaker either. Another multi-interception game against Arkansas State shows just how careless he has been, and those two performances alone demonstrate how low Morris' floor is.
Very rarely has a quarterback going against a Jerry Azzinaro defense been forced down to their floor, and it may be overly optimistic to expect Morris to be one of the few. Still, with possibly poor conditions, a shaky offensive line and Morris' tendency to force bad balls, maybe this is the week UCLA meets a quarterback it can get the best of.
Are the Bruins ready for the gauntlet?
Not to overestimate the Huskies, but they still stand out as the start of a major stretch in the Bruins' schedule this year.
Back in the preseason, everyone following this UCLA team honed in on Weeks 7, 8 and 9 – a road game against Washington, a home game against Oregon and a road game against Utah. All three teams were ranked in the preseason, and while they may not have the same luster they did back in the beginning of September, this will still be a defining stretch for the Bruins.
As much as Kelly likes to discount the idea of game-to-game momentum, starting this run off on the right foot is integral to both the team's chances in the conference race and his long-term job security.
A loss to start this all off could prove disastrous, and lead to an avalanche of missed opportunities for UCLA. If they can't beat a sub-.500 Washington team, what chance do they really have against a top-10 Oregon squad or a Utah team that still hasn't lost a conference game.
This matchup with the Huskies is the one game in this three-game stretch that the Bruins have the best chance of winning on paper. In order to hit the eight-win mark many have circled for Kelly to stay in Westwood another year, UCLA can't be losing winnable games. If they do, that means they have to make up those losses with wins against superior teams.
As a veteran team, the Bruins should be winning the games they're favored in, and maybe pulling off an upset or two along the way. Washington is a pretty decent team, and UCLA needs to capitalize and stay alive, or else the season could be lost and the search for a new coach could be just over the horizon.