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Huard: No. 10 UW Huskies’ offense set up for big game at UCLA

UW Huskies RB Salvon Ahmed will get opportunities in space vs. UCLA. (AP)

This is more like the UW Huskies team we expected to see entering the season.

Heaps: New wrinkle will only make No. 10 UW’s offense that much better

After a bumpy start to the year that included a Week 1 loss to Auburn and offensive concerns through the first three games, the last two contests have featured very promising developments. That is especially true with the 35-7 win over then-No. 20 BYU last Saturday, a game that truly saw Jake Browning and the Husky offense come into its own.

This week the 10th-ranked Huskies (4-1 overall, 2-0 Pac-12) return to conference play to take on a winless UCLA team in Pasadena. As we do each week, we sat down with former UW quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst Brock Huard to preview the game. Here are his keys:

The offense is finding its stride, but there will be a test.

The offense has really come along the last two weeks with the offensive line play and consistent protection. The O-line communication and blitz pickup has allowed first-year offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan to get into rhythm and call the game with confidence. In turn, Hamdan’s senior quarterback has looked like the 2016 version of Jake Browning. UCLA’s best defensive players are its two starting cornerbacks and two edge rushers, and because of that I expect the Bruins to call a very aggressive blitzing game that will once again test the UW O-line’s communication and protection.

UCLA isn’t your usual 0-4 team.

Bruins head coach Chip Kelly will put his personnel in a position that best utilizes their skills and talent in all phases of the game. It’s not been a scheme issue in Westwood – it’s been a breakdown physically and mentally with so many true freshman and young players often overwhelmed by the size and strength of the college game. UCLA also has a very diverse defensive front and will obviously mix plenty of offensive tempo in hopes of minimizing its physical mismatches. UW will get everyone’s best shot and what UCLA has looked like against Colorado or Cincinnati or Oklahoma will likely be very different than what the Huskies get Saturday night. And by the way, UCLA was highly competitive in all three of those contests into the second half, even into the final minutes against an undefeated Cincy team. In fact, while UCLA may be 0-4, the four teams they’ve faced are a combined 17-1 in 2018.

UW can build off the run game.

The Huskies’ zone run game coupled with their play-action pass should be on full display in the Rose Bowl. UCLA will have to move, stunt and bring extra bodies into the box to try and solidify the edges and create a numbers advantage. However, the growth and development of the Husky tight ends and the multiple ways their wide receivers have gotten involved in the play-action game should be apparent.

Rely on veteran leadership to avoid this becoming a trap game.

UW has a big trip to Autzen Stadium to play Oregon coming up the following week, but there absolutely should not a letdown against UCLA with one of the most veteran teams in the Pac-12 facing the youngest and most inexperienced bunch in the league. I have a sense the head coach will be all over this as well as Browning, Ben Burr-Kirven, Greg Gaines, Myles Gaskin and the dozen other seniors that know every single week matters if they want to realize their goal of a Pac-12 title and possible playoff spot.

The key players

• The dual threat nature of UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is by far the biggest threat to UW’s defense. Last year Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins, Stanford’s K.J. Costello and Utah’s Tyler Huntley all possessed some of that skill set against Washington in winning third downs and making something out of nothing. DTR will have to do the same.
• The running back room for the Bruins is also five deep and has a real blend of power and home run-hitting speed that will be anxious to take on the best scoring defense in college football.
• UW safety Taylor Rapp should have a breakout opportunity in space and reading a true freshman quarterback throughout the game.
• Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed should find a crease or two for big chunk play opportunities, something they’ve not had a ton of in 2018.
• Gaines in the middle will face a very young and beat-up UCLA offensive line.

Improved protection, improved offense for No. 10 UW Huskies