UCLA Football: Avoiding Trap Game with USC on the Horizon

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UCLA Football: Avoiding Trap Game with USC on the Horizon
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Can WSU pull the upset?

With a pivotal matchup against the crosstown foe USC Trojans on the horizon, the No. 18 UCLA Bruins (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) hope to avoid the pitfalls of a trap game this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN2 against the lowly Washington State Cougars (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12) in Pullman, Wash. 

The dreaded "trap game" stigma surrounding this contest is in play for a myriad of reasons. 

Traveling to the Palouse is no easy task in and of itself. Many times, a team playing against Washington State will have to fly into Idaho, stay in Idaho overnight (usually in Moscow, Id.) and then drive across the boarder to Pullman.

With the game being played at night, temperatures are slated to be in the mid-to-low 20s, with a 30 percent chance of snow. 

Couple in the fact that UCLA is a very young team with a big amount of confidence right now, all of these distractions could potentially pose some questions.

Washington State—on the other hand—is a program in absolute disarray.

The Cougars are winless in Pac-12 play, and have two wins on the season against the likes of Eastern Washington and UNLV. This past weekend, Wazzu was blasted 49-6 by Utah.

After the game, colorful and often agitated head coach Mike Leach held nothing back, and ripped the effort displayed by his team in this loss.

Both the offensive and defensive lines bared the brunt of this tirade, and Leach even made the offensive line face the media after the perplexing performance.

The fanbase and players can take this one of two ways: either this "motivation tactic" will help this weekend against UCLA, or it's just a sign that Leach has in fact lost his team for this season.

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To make matters worse, WSU's best player Marquess Wilson has been suspended for this game. There are reports that even suggest Wilson quitting the team altogether, after he stormed off during a workout. 

With all that said, this game is no gimme for the Bruins. After publicly being berated by their head coach, there's a sense that the Cougars could come out completely motivated.

Then again, it could have an adverse affect and cripple any chance that they have to be competitive in this game.

From a personal standpoint, UCLA should have absolutely no problem with winning this contest.

Brett Hundley has the offense absolutely humming at this point. The execution has been masterful in the past few weeks, and the offense has truly gotten into a great rhythm.

Johnathan Franklin gives the Bruins offensive balance via his ability to run the football. He's been playing at an All-American level this season, and has enhanced his NFL stock considerably.

Last week, the Bruins' defense held Arizona to 10 points and under 300 yards of offense.

The Wildcats game into that contest averaging over 550 yards of offense. The defensive line—led by Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh—has been getting consistent pressure.

Anthony Barr has been a terror off the edge, and the natural pressure by the defensive line has afforded defensive coordinator Lou Spanos the luxury of sitting back in coverage and making it difficult for the opposition to throw the football. 

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WSU head coach Mike Leach

With a 2-7 overall record, it's safe to say that the Cougars haven't been great on either side of the ball. Offensively, this pass driven attack has been pretty pedestrian.

Leach has alternated between both Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday throughout the season. Both are actually talented guys, but they are given absolutely no time to throw the football. 

The evidence for that? On the season, the WSU offensive line has allowed 40 sacks.

Yes, that's not a typo.

Naturally, a strong running game could help out with any problems a said quarterback might have. On the season, the Cougars are averaging an anemic 29.1 yards per game on the ground.

In Pac-12 play, the team is averaging close to 13 yards a game.

Needless to say, the offensive line can't block opposing rushers nor can they open up any holes for running backs. 

With that in mind, Spanos doesn't necessarily have to blitz often. UCLA's defensive line is good enough to pressure Tuel or Halliday, and it'll allow Spanos to drop seven or eight in coverage in order to compensate for Leach's propensity to trot out four and five wide receiver sets. 

The weather could be an issue in regards to ball security. In an operational sense, handling snaps from the center to the quarterback could get dicey with a wet and icy ball.

To combat that, one can be sure to expect UCLA to run the ball a lot. The Cougars are giving up over 200 yards a game on the ground, so yards can definitely be had. 

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
QB Brett Hundley

From a talent standpoint, these two teams aren't close. However, the amalgam of poor weather and a young team could make it an interesting game. UCLA should win the game regardless. But as Lee Corso says, "this game will be closer than the experts think."

One aspect that UCLA has to be cognizant of is the factor of looking ahead to the proceeding week. Next week, Southern Cal will be coming into the Rose Bowl.

It'd be obvious to point out how much hate exists in this rivalry, but this years' game has implications that haven't been present in this battle for quite sometime.

In theory, the winner of this game will represent the Pac-12 South division in the Pac-12 Championship game (presumably against Oregon in Eugene).

In addition, this is the first time in over a decade that UCLA is ranked ahead of Southern Cal at this point in the season. There's also a sense that UCLA can be competitive in, and can actually win this game.

The "competitive fire" was also stoked earlier this week in the form of a twitter controversy featuring Southern Cal wide receiver Robert Woods and UCLA defensive back Randall Goforth.

A fake account attributed to the UCLA player—and this "imposter" proceeded to tweet Woods with some pro-UCLA vitriol. Both Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin say that the issue is squashed, but lingering effects could be felt next week.

Regardless, the Bruins have to take care of business this week against Washington State. A win here would propel UCLA to 8-2, and one step closer to a Pac-12 Championship game berth.  

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