WASHINGTON (6-3, 3-3 in Pac-12) at No. 13 UCLA (7-2, 4-2)
6 p.m. Friday, Rose Bowl
The line: UCLA by 3
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I've been kicking around the true definition of a "must-win" game this week, in specific regard to whether that phrase applies tomorrow night when Washington plays at UCLA.
My conclusion: yes. Yes it does.
There's nothing on the line for the Huskies in the Pac-12 North division race. That ship sailed long ago. Nor is UW's bowl eligibility at stake. But if UW truly is to deem this season an improvement from last year -- or the year before, or the year before -- this simply isn't a game it can lose.
To be sure, those early-season wins over Boise State, Illinois and Arizona were "must-wins," too. You don't win eight or nine games without beating the teams you're supposed to. But it's been a long while since UW beat a ranked team on the road -- at 18th-ranked USC in 2010, to be specific -- and the Huskies haven't beaten UCLA on the road since 1995. Another loss to another quality (but beatable) opponent this week, and there will again be (legitimate) questions as to what exactly has to happen for UW to break through on the road. And whether the Huskies are really all that much closer to exceeding their well-documented mediocrity. A loss would drop the Huskies to 6-4 and assure another season with a conference record no better than 5-4.
On the flip side, a victory changes the tenor of the season. The Huskies would be 7-3 heading into Corvallis next week against an Oregon State team that has another tough game this week, and all of a sudden a 9-3 final record wouldn't look so elusive. In other words, a victory would put them within realistic reach of providing proof of progress.
All that said, this should be a pretty competitive game. As Sarkisian noted earlier in the week, the teams are pretty similar, statistically, particularly in the categories Sarkisian deems most important in determining victory -- turnover margin, red-zone offense and defense, and third-down conversion offense and defense. Like the Huskies, UCLA lost to both Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks. The Bruins haven't played Arizona State yet.
Here's a look at each team's national statistical ranking:
|Team Stats - Through games 11/13/2013|
|Team Passing Efficiency||14||155.29|
|Passing Yards Allowed||28||213.8|
|Team Passing Efficiency Defense||38||120.30|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||12||0.518|
|4th Down Conversion Pct||T-53||0.500|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense||30||0.348|
|4th Down Conversion Pct Defense||T-53||0.500|
|Red Zone Offense||27||0.884|
|Red Zone Defense||T-29||0.765|
|First Downs Offense||T-36||217|
|First Downs Defense||93||213|
|Fewest Penalties Per Game||123||8.89|
|Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game||122||77.67|
|Time of Possession||78||29:01|
|Team Stats - Through games 11/13/2013|
|Team Passing Efficiency||15||155.16|
|Passing Yards Allowed||25||209.7|
|Team Passing Efficiency Defense||12||107.43|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||15||0.507|
|4th Down Conversion Pct||94||0.385|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense||57||0.385|
|4th Down Conversion Pct Defense||19||0.350|
|Red Zone Offense||46||0.860|
|Red Zone Defense||35||0.771|
|First Downs Offense||23||231|
|First Downs Defense||47||182|
|Fewest Penalties Per Game||122||8.67|
|Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game||119||75.56|
|Time of Possession||93||28:33|
Obviously, containing Brett Hundley will be a chore, though the sophomore quarterback probably won't run as often as Marcus Mariota did against the Huskies. UCLA's offensive line is young -- they list three freshmen starters on their depth chart -- and the Bruins' defense hasn't been outstanding. If Washington gets Bishop Sankey going early and Keith Price continues throwing the ball the way he did against California and Colorado, there's no reason why the Huskies can't win this game.
But UCLA has its share of weapons, too, and we just can't quite justify picking against history. The pick: UCLA 31, Washington 27.
Christian Caple can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ChristianCaple