Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

October 02, 2018 at 8:45 pm.

Winless UCLA next up for No. 10 Washington

No. 10-ranked Washington just may be peaking at a critical juncture in the season.

After close wins at Utah and against Arizona State to open Pac-12 conference play, and a close loss against Auburn to kick off the season, the Huskies (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) ended their nonconference slate dominating from start to finish against then-No. 20-ranked BYU last Saturday.

“It was awesome putting the tape on and seeing how they executed,” coach Chris Petersen said after reviewing Washington’s 35-7 win. “Both phases, very sure, the guys are improving. I like how they’re practicing during the week.”

Washington played four solid defensive games to start the campaign, holding Auburn, North Dakota, Utah and Arizona State to 51 combined points. The Huskies offense mustered only 16 and 21 points in its first two games against Football Bowl Subdivision competition but have improved that input to 27 and 35 the last two times out.

The Huskies have found consistency in the run game with Myles Gaskin reaching the century mark for the first time in 2018 at Utah on Sept. 15. In the two games since, Gaskin and change-of-pace back Salvon Ahmed combined for 157 and 167 yards on the ground.

That has to take pressure off quarterback Jake Browning, who delivered his best performance of the season last week: 23-of-25 passing for 277 yards with a touchdown. Browning also went without throwing an interception each of the past two outings.

Petersen also noted another vital component to Browning’s progress.

“(Browning is) not going to have the numbers he had without the offensive line doing some really good stuff,” he said.

The loss of preseason All-American Trey Adams to season-ending back surgery before the season steepened the learning curve for Washington’s offense in its first season under coordinator, Bush Hamdan. The Huskies’ play the last two weeks, against opponents registering impressive defensive numbers coming in, suggests Hamdan’s side has found its groove.

The same cannot be said so far of Washington’s upcoming opponent, UCLA.

The Bruins (0-4, 0-1) are off to their worst start since 1971, and are ranked No. 117 nationally in scoring defense, and No. 125 in scoring offense.

“They’re playing a lot of young guys, and each week, they’re getting a little bit better,” Petersen said. “The respect we have for (UCLA coach) Chip (Kelly) and his staff, they’re smart guys. They’ll stick to script and get better.”

UCLA led in the third quarter last week at Colorado before a 24-point deluge from the Buffs. This is Kelly’s first season with the program and his return to the Pac-12, where he led three Oregon teams to conference championships from 2009 through 2011.

A Petersen-coached Boise State team beat Oregon in Kelly’s head-coaching debut in 2009, 19-8.