Washington’s plan of attack was simple: Use the running game to strike early and often while limiting Josh Rosen by any means.
It worked. The Huskies, at least for a game, broke through in the first half by scoring 20 points. As for Rosen, the UCLA star junior quarterback was sacked four times before halftime.
This is how No. 12 Washington (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) built a 20-9 halftime lead. Furthermore, it’s why UW cruised to a 44-23 victory Saturday at Husky Stadium.
“I’m proud of our guys. I thought they did an awesome job,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said. “I think UCLA has an extremely powerful, potent offense. I thought our guys kept things in front of them, stopped the run and played really, really well. We had a plan to run the ball and you gotta stick with it.”
Slow starts have become a talking point for the Huskies. Those discussions amplified after their 13-7 loss on Oct. 13 at Arizona State. UW’s offense couldn’t muster an offensive salvo of any kind and the result was a loss. For some, it was a costly loss given there has yet to be a two-loss team which has reached the College Football Playoff semifinal.
UCLA (4-4, 2-3) took a 3-0 lead off a J.J. Molson 42-yard field goal with eight minutes left. UW countered with Tristan Vizcaino hitting a 31-yard field goal for a 3-3 tie with four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
One of the keys for any team facing the Bruins is using the run game. The Bruins entered Saturday with the worst rushing defense in the nation. UCLA was allowing 6.10 yards per carry and a total of 303.43 yards a contest.
UW made a point to run the ball. The Huskies were aggressive. They rushed 27 times in the first half while throwing just five times.
Junior quarterback Jake Browning scored the game’s first touchdown on a 1-yard run with 14:07 left in the second quarter for a 10-3 lead. After UCLA trimmed it to 10-9, the Huskies scored 27 points in a row.
The Huskies rushed 58 times for 333 yards and five touchdowns. It came out to an average of 5.7 yards per carry.
“I thought we were just able to run the ball and stay ahead of the sticks,” said Browning, who also threw for 98 yards. “I don’t know how many yards we ran for but it was over 300. Any time you do that, you’re going to win a lot of games.
Running back Lavon Coleman’s 1-yard touchdown and Vizcaino’s 26-yard field goal put the Huskies up 20-9 with 3:50 left in the second quarter.
So what did UW’s defense do about Rosen? The projected first rounder did have a 8-yard touchdown pass in the game’s opening half.
He also found life to be somewhat difficult. UCLA entered allowing 2.29 sacks. UW’s defense had four from as many players by the half.
All the Huskies did was expand on their plan in the second half. The defense created so much pressure, it resulted in Rosen limping off after a series and being replaced midway through the third quarter. Rosen, who was 12 of 21 for 93 yards, would not return.
“Multiple times, when I was looking into the backfield, I could see him starting to move early,” Huskies cornerback Austin Joyner said of Rosen. “Earlier than he would need to.”
Rosen’s absence was felt although the Bruins did score early in the fourth quarter. By then, the Huskies already held a 37-15 lead.
UW’s defense showed why its one of the best units in the nation. It kept one of the nation’s best passing attacks in check and did it while working in two young cornerbacks.
Myles Bryant and Joyner gradually eased into their new roles. Bryant finished with three tackles while Joyner had a sack. Their development becomes even more important given the Huskies lost junior cornerback Jordan Miller for the year with a broken left ankle against ASU.
As for the offense, the day belonged to Coleman and Gaskin.
Coleman, who finished with 94 rushing yards and three touchdowns, broke off a 33-yard touchdown run for a 27-9 lead with 8:27 remaining in the third.
Gaskin, who also finished with 169 rushing yards, broke through with a touchdown late in the third quarter. By then, his six-yard scamper basically put the game out of reach at 37-9 with 1:01 left.
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark