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It's UW D-Line Against UCLA Power Backs, and Something's Got to Give

Saturday night's Pac-12 game won't involve finesse, just line of scrimmage toughness.
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There's really no secret as to what's going to happen during the Washington-UCLA football game.

On Saturday, things will turn really emotional, at least in the beginning.

Throwback uniforms. Throwback players. Carol James out for the coin toss.

The evening is going to become incredibly uncomfortable for everyone thereafter.

Fans. Huskies. Bruins. 

It might rain. It most definitely will be cold. It's going to be a gut check.

The winner will be the team that bites its collective lip and runs the football. Or stops the run. The UW has a better chance at the latter.  

UCLA (4-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) has a proven track record of shoving the ball into someone's midsection and escorting him upfield. The Bruins have two primary backs in Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown. An elusive quarterback in Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Plenty of 100-yard rushing games to pass around. An average of 217 yards rushing per game.

If the Huskies want to win this homecoming game, this nod to past greatness and this crucial juncture of Jimmy Lake's coaching career — and at 2-3 and 1-1 in the league, he badly needs a victory to keep the faith — somebody on the home team needs to own the line of scrimmage. 

Until this week, people haven't really talked much about the defensive front. They've been too busy excoriating the offensive line and the Huskies' periodic lack of a running game. 

Leave it to Ikaika Malloe, the former UW linebacker and safety and current outside-linebackers coach, to tell it like it is. He's refreshingly honest. He's wants to be hopeful.

"[It's been] below average, for sure," Malloe said of the work of the defensive line. "I think we're better. We haven't executed well enough. We've had some big plays, especially with the inside guys. ... I don't think it's met the expectation of what we think we can do."

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With a bye and two weeks of preparation, that's not to say the Huskies can't stick their noses in there and create some havoc. Part of playing college football is who figures it out. Who gets confident. Who gets healthy.

All Pac-12 edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui, seven months after tearing an Achilles tendon, might play for the Huskies for the first time this season, though you can't expect a lot from him after that sort of injury and rushed recovery. But his presence in uniform will only be a good thing.

Defensive tackles Faatui Tuitele and Taki Taimani have started to make plays. Tuitele has a pair of strip sacks that led to one touchdown and nearly brought another. Taimani comes off the best game of his career against Oregon State, registering 9 tackles, a pass deflection and nearly scoring off Tuitele's handiwork.

“I feel like that is just the beginning of it,” Taimani said of his outing against the Beavers. “I feel like now that I’ve had that, that’s the standard I want to live by. I’m pushing myself to play that way every week. If I don’t, it’s a disappointment to myself.”

The Bruins will be a handful coming at him at the line of scrimmage, a good barometer for whether the 6-foot-2, 330-pound sophomore from Salt Lake City is making steady progress or not. The Huskies give up 181 yards rushing per game, which includes a whopping 343 to Michigan a month ago.

Charbonnet, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder who began his career at Michigan, has rushing performances of 118 yards against Stanford, 117 against LSU and Arizona, and 106 against Hawaii, and he's the backup on paper. The 6-foot-1, 205-Brown, considered the starter, has a season-high 146 yards against Arizona.

These teams will kick off at 5:30 p.m. Right around 8:30, players will be blowing on their hands, shivering some and looking at each other across the line of scrimmage to see who's going to pack it in.

The Huskies haven't owned the trenches with much regularity this season. That's not to say they can't moving forward.

"As a group, both inside and outside, that's been a challenge for us," Malloe said. "It's something we talk about every week."

Yes, but it's time to quit talking and start doing something about it. Throwback game? It had better be a throw-down showing. Or it's going to be a long, cold night in Husky Stadium. 

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