UCLA (4-5, 2-4 Pac-10) at Washington (3-6, 2-4 Pac-10)
8:00 PM ESPN
Husky Stadium (FieldTurf)
Sports.com Line: Washington -2.5 O/U 53
Once you get to this point in the season, games start to take on additional meaning as teams try to reach that magical six-win plateau which makes them bowl eligible. This Thursdays matchup is a perfect example of two teams playing with the added incentive of knowing bowl eligibility is within reach if they can secure wins.
As it stands right now, bowl eligible Pac-10 teams are pretty scarce with just Oregon, Stanford and Arizona having qualified. That said, four others, including UCLA and Washington who will play in Seattle this Thursday night, could still find their way to at least six wins.
Of those two, UCLA has the inside track needing two victories among its final three -- at Washington, at Arizona State and USC. Considering that the Huskies are easily the weakest team in that group, you can be sure the Bruins feel they must win this to have a realistic chance. Washington has a tougher road to get bowl eligible as they currently stand 3-6 and need to sweep their final three games to get to the postseason.
The bowl eligibility issue certainly isn’t the only subplot to this game however. It’s senior night at Husky Stadium and Washington will honor 17 seniors total including a certain local QB from Ferndale High School who came to UW to rescue the program.
Of course, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way for Jake Locker but there is no doubt he leaves the school as one of the most popular players in the program’s history. Locker, who began the year on the Heisman short list, has had an up and down senior year. The Washington QB suffered a broken rib on October 30 in a 41-0 rout at the hands of Stanford. That injury caused him to miss the following two weeks, including another loss – this time to Oregon.
However, the senior has returned to practice this week and after Tuesday's session, was cleared by team doctors to play Thursday night. Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has to hope senior night brings out the best of Locker because his program is currently in the midst of a rough skid. The Huskies have lost three of its last four home games, including woodshed beatings by Nebraska and Stanford, two of the worst home losses in school history. In their last three games, the Washington offense has scored 14, zero and 16 points and there is no doubt with the way the Huskies play defense that it will take at least 20 points to win this game.
In addition to senior night it’s also a homecoming of sorts. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel will be making his second trip back to Husky Stadium since he was the head coach of the Washington program from 1999-2002. As many reading here will remember, Neuheisel was fired in the summer of 2003 for lying about his participation in a college basketball pool. It’s been tough times for the Washington program from that point on as the Huskies haven’t had a winning season or gone bowling since.
For the 2010 season, Neuheisel decided to reinvent the UCLA offense. The coach implemented the pistol offense which has had some success in the college ranks, most notably at Nevada. The results haven’t quite been there yet for the Bruins as the passing game only averages 120.8 yards per game. Only Air Force, Navy, Georgia Tech and Army – all ground-based offenses – have worse passing games.
That said, the UCLA rushing game is making strides. The Bruins average just under 195 yards rushing per game, which is good for fourth in the Pac-10. RB Johnathan Franklin, just a sophomore, has 892 yards and six touchdowns and has to be salivating at the opportunity to face a Washington defense that ranks last in the conference and 118th in the nation in run defense at 219.6 per outing.
Recent history definitely favors the visitors from Los Angeles. Not only does UCLA lead Washington 37-30-2 all-time but the Bruins have won 11 of the past 13 and three in a row, including a 27-7 victory in Seattle in 2008 and a 24-23 win last year.
To honor the seniors and in an effort to try to put a stop to UCLA’s recent dominance, the Thursday night game with have a "black out" theme at Husky Stadium and Washington is expected to wear black pants and jerseys for the first time in school history.
Mirroring their actual records, Washington is just 3-6 against the spread while UCLA is 4-5 ATS.