UCLA running back Jonathan Franklin at practice on Aug. 13, 2011. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
One way to drive up UCLA Coach Jim Mora's blood pressure this week was to say three letters … U …S … C. The 17th-ranked Bruins play the Trojans next Saturday. First comes woeful Washington State and Mora has demanded his players focus on the task at hand rather than the team from across town. Staff writer Chris Foster (mostly) does exactly that in examining the Bruins vs. Cougars matchups and story lines:
The best quarterback-running back duo in the Pac-12 Conference — outside of Eugene, Ore. — is UCLA's Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin.
Franklin, a senior, is the Bruins' all-time leading rusher, and he needs 368 yards to break Karim Abdul-Jabbar's single-season rushing record of 1,571 yards.
Hundley, a redshirt freshman, has passed for 21 touchdowns and run for six. That's the most rushing touchdowns by a UCLA quarterback since Tom Ramsey scored seven in 1982.
The Bruins rank 11th nationally in total offense and fourth in rushing offense.
The Cougars counter with a defense that ranks 91st of 120 major-college teams nationally.
Washington State has been able to apply some pressure on quarterbacks and has 24 sacks. Hundley's elusiveness and Franklin's running should negate that.
The Cougars can't even get a break from the weather. Neither snow nor rain is in the forecast.
Washington State Coach Mike Leach, never one to mince words, was brutally honest about his team's performance last week, saying the Cougars seemed to quit in a 49-6 loss to Utah.
More tumult followed. Two days later, it was announced that Marquess Wilson, the program's career leader in receiving, was suspended after he stormed out of a practice.
So, are the Cougars ready to fold, or show some fortitude?
Leach has been harsh, but his assessments have been accurate and may push his team forward. Wilson's departure has the team banding together and focused on proving critics wrong. And don't forget that Washington State put a scare into Stanford, in Palo Alto, two weeks ago in a 24-17 loss.
It's anyone's guess which Washington State team shows up. But a little help from the Bruins — turnovers, penalties, looking ahead to USC — could make the Cougars trouble.
Washington State has the worst rushing offense in the nation, averaging 29 yards per game and 1.5 yards per carry.
And UCLA has Datone Jones and Anthony Barr, who have 12.5 sacks between them. The Bruins have dropped quarterbacks 33 times this season, the fifth-most nationally. Washington State is tied for last in sacks allowed, with 40.
Note to Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel: Barr and Jones sandwiched Arizona quarterback Matt Scott last Saturday, knocking him from the game.
Neither Leach nor Mora ranks high on the strong-and-silent list … at least for the silent part.
Leach called his seniors "zombies" after losing to Oregon State last month. Mora, commenting Tuesday about someone who pretended to be a Bruins player with a phony Twitter account, said that person was "the lowest form of life."
Mora admitted he overreacted. Leach did not.
This is when the Bruins can stand up and shake off the past decade. The Bruins have three consecutive victories and are feeling pretty good about themselves with a showdown against USC a week off.
But this type of game, on the road against an inferior opponent, has been a problem in the past.
That was demonstrated again just a few weeks ago when UCLA took a 4-1 record to Berkeley and was trounced by California, 43-17.