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Preview: WSU finally returns home to face UCLA

Preview: WSU finally returns home to face UCLA

Credit: WSU

by Tim Lewis

Posted on November 13, 2009 at 12:45 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 14 at 12:16 AM

For the first time in 35 days (thanks to a bye and three straight road games), the Washington State football team will play in front of its home crowd at Martin Stadium. The Cougars face the Bruins on Saturday in a Dad's Weekend battle that I think WSU has a legitimate chance of winning.

You might have just scoffed at that last line, but hear me out for a second. The Cougars are the worst team in the Pac-10 at 1-8 overall and 0-5 in the conference. UCLA isn't much better. They are 4-5 altogether and 1-5 in the Pac-10. The Bruins one conference win was a 24-23 victory last weekend against Washington (not exactly a convincing W against a mediocre team). On top of that, Wazzu has played UCLA really well in the recent past (winning six of the last eight meetings).

With that said, WSU's success will weigh on the health of quarterback Jeff Tuel. The freshman was knocked out of last weekend's game against Arizona with a knee injury, and he has not practiced all week. Head coach Paul Wulff is still calling him a "game-time decision." If Tuel is not healthy enough to play, the quarterback duties will go to Marshall Lobbestael. At that point, who the heck knows what is going to happen.

No matter who is taking the snaps, they should get much better protection from the offensive line. Steven Ayers, B.J. Guerra, Micah Hannam, Kenny Alfred, and Zack Williams are all healthy enough to start. That's the best combination WSU has to offer. It's the first time in weeks, and weeks, and weeks this group will play together. Let's hope that means better results for the offense.

As for the UCLA attack, they've had some issues at the quarterback position. Redshirt freshman Kevin Prince is the starter, but he suffered a concussion last weekend against the Huskies. He was cleared to practice this week and is expected to play. If he's not available, Kevin Craft will be the guy. The Bruins throw for 222.4 yards per game, but Wulff thinks the Bruins will try to run the ball like crazy (even though their running game ranks 9th in the Pac-10 with 100 ypg).

UCLA will start Derrick Coleman (unfortunately not the old New Jersey Nets forward) at running back for the first time this year. He is more of a power running back compared to displaced starter Johnathan Franklin. Coleman has just 188 yards on 38 carries this year, so he has yet to prove he's a dangerous commodity. I'm sure Franklin will still see his fair share of carries as well. He averages 56.7 yards per game and has scored five touchdowns this season. There isn't much depth at running back after that.

The Bruins don't have one standout guy on their receiving corp, but there are plenty of guys who can make an impact. The leading receiver is sophomore Taylor Embree, who has 32 catches for 449 yards this year. Terrance Austin is right behind Embree with 26 receptions for 308 yards and three touchdowns. Nelson Rosario's 460 receiving yards lead the team. Tight end Logan Paulsen also gets in the mix quiet a bit, averaging 32.7 yards per contest.

UCLA's defense is pretty weak. They allow an average of 358.7 total yards per game (156.9 on the ground and 201.8 through the air). Keep your eyes peeled for the Bosworth brothers (linebackers Kyle and Korey). They've combined for 101 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss. WSU's quarterback, whoever it might be, also needs to stay away from safety Rahim Moore. His eight interceptions are tied with Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel for the most in the country.

It's a little hard for me to predict the outcome without knowing the health of Jeff Tuel, but I'll try my hardest. The spread is set at 17.5 in favor of the Bruins. I think it will be much closer than that, but I do think UCLA still ends up on top (it's hard for me to say that because I feel like the Cougs can win this game if Tuel is healthy). I think the Bruins take down Wazzu 23-13 on Saturday.

Kickoff is scheduled for 2pm in Pullman. The game will be televised live on Fox College Sports and will be replayed at 7pm on FSN Northwest.

We talked to Paul Wulff, Jason Stripling, and Jeffrey Solomon at practice this week. Click on their names to hear their interviews.

I also want to remind you that you can follow me on Twitter (@TLKREM2). I'm not sure if I'll be at the game or not. It's one of the busiest weekend's of the year, so my efforts might be needed elsewhere. I'll try to tweet as much as I can about the game though.

That's all I have for you!