On paper, the UCLA Bruins (7-2) and Washington Huskies (6-3) look very similar. Both programs got off to strong starts to the season before losing back-to-back games to the Stanford Cardinal and Oregon Ducks. Washington has averaged 37.2 points per game while allowing 21.8 to opponents and UCLA has posted a similar 36.6 points per game on offense and 22.9 points allowed. Each of them has bounced back from their losing streaks and bring two-game winning streaks into their showdown on Friday night. The difference between them in this game will come down to UW running back Bishop Sankey against the talented linebackers of UCLA.
Sankey has been a consistent producer for the Washington offense this season and currently ranks No. 3 in the nation, averaging 145.0 yards per game. Last week, he topped 125 yards rushing for the seventh game this season when he carried the ball 23 times for 143 yards in UW’s 59-7 win over the Colorado Buffaloes. Over the last two games, Sankey has rushed for 384 yards and scored three touchdowns in getting the Huskies’ offense back on track after their three-game losing streak. Since getting blown off the field by the Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe, Washington has racked up 1,270 yards over the last two games.
They will have to be at their best, however, when they go up against UCLA. The Bruins’ defense boasts one of the best linebacker groups in the country this season with freshman Myles Jack, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwault. The group is as athletic as any linebackers in the country with the ability to make plays sideline to sideline both against the run, in pass coverage and getting after the quarterback. Kendricks, Zumwalt and Jack all rank in the top-15 for tackles in the Pac-12 this season, Jack ranks fourth in the conference in passes defended and Barr leads the nation in forced fumbles.
It’s a dynamic group that is going to pressure the Washington offense for all four quarters. Sankey will have to earn some tough yards against this group who will undoubtedly be selling out to take away the run on Friday. While talented, the group isn’t quite impermeable, though. Last week, Ka’Deem Carey, No. 2 in the nation in rushing, was able to grind out 149 yards and a touchdown against the Bruins. Against Oregon, the UCLA defense lost its grip on the running game as the Ducks racked up 325 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground as they pulled away in the second half.
The key for Washington will be staying committed to Sankey and the running game. Keith Price has been throwing the ball very well this season and in the last two games in particular, but balance is still vital to the UW offensive attack. Even if the UCLA defense is taking Sankey away early and only allowing short gains, the Huskies need to continue to feed the junior running back. He’s good enough to break one for a long gain and forcing the linebackers to defend the run for all four quarters will open things up for Price in the passing game off play action.
It will be physical and it will be close throughout, but the winner of the game between Washington and UCLA will undoubtedly come down to Bishop Sankey against the talent of the UCLA linebackers. Who you got?