UCLA vs. No. 15 Washington: Who has the edge?

UCLA vs. Washington

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Rose Bowl

TV/radio: ESPN; AM 1150

Line: Washington by 3

Notable injury designations: UCLA: Out: DL Martin Andrus (undisclosed). Questionable: LB Kain Medrano (undisclosed), DL Gary Smith III (undisclosed), DL Jay Toia (undisclosed), OL Jon Gaines II (undisclosed). Washington: Out: LB Edefuan Ulofoshio (knee), DB Mishael Powell (undisclosed). Questionable: DB Asa Turner (undisclosed). Probable: DB Jordan Perryman (undisclosed).

What’s at stake? This game could determine the trajectory of UCLA’s season. Washington is a much improved team from the one that finished 4-8 last season. Michael Penix Jr. has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season, with three legitimate targets at wide receiver and new Huskies coach Kalen DeBoer has a blueprint on beating UCLA from last season with Fresno State. To beat a top-15 team on ESPN after four consecutive games on the Pac-12 Networks would be a statement win and likely push UCLA into the Top 25. But a loss, with No. 12 Utah and No. 13 Oregon next up, could be a deflating reality check heading into the toughest part of the schedule.

Who’s better? For the first time this season, UCLA will play a game in which it is not heavily favored. Unlike the Bruins, the Huskies already have a win over a top-25 opponent. Both quarterbacks are efficient and experienced, leading high-octane offenses that should cancel each other out. This game could come down to which defense can come up with a critical stop. To that end, the Bruins are a bit banged up, with lineman Martin Andrus Jr. out for the season and some others questionable. The Huskies just came off an eight-sack performance against Stanford. Washington has a slight edge.

Matchup to watch: Michael Penix Jr. vs. UCLA’s defense. So far, the Bruins have faced the following quarterbacks: Matt McDonald, Myles Crawley, Carter Bradley and Owen McCown. Penix, with all due respect to the aforementioned names, is on a whole other level. UCLA’s defense remains a bit of a mystery, mostly because it has yet to face an elite offense. Penix has yet to be sacked this season and has three of the top 10 receivers in the conference at his disposal. This will be a major test for the Bruins and new defensive coordinator Bill McGovern.

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UCLA wins if …: If the defense shows up. If the pass defense, which has been the Achilles’ heel in the Kelly era, holds on against Penix and company. If the defensive line, which struggled to even pressure the South Alabama quarterback Bradley two weeks ago, manages to frustrate Penix. … If UCLA’s offense is as efficient as it has been the first four weeks, which will be necessary if the defense can’t contain Penix. … If the Bruins don’t start poorly, which they have gotten away with so far this season but cannot afford to against a Huskies team that has gotten off to fast starts.

Prediction: Washington 45, UCLA 38. Both offenses are set to light up the Rose Bowl in what should be an excellent edition of Pac-12 After Dark, though UCLA’s defense hasn’t shown enough yet to warrant the benefit of the doubt. But in a game that appears to be a toss-up, perhaps the Bruins will prove that wrong.

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