UCLA coach Chip Kelly opens up on the challenges posed by Washington's pass game
Compared to the Bruins’ first four opponents, Washington is going to provide something of a shock to the system on Friday. The Huskies are off to a 4-0 start, ranked 15th nationally, and boast the nation’s leading passer in quarterback Michael Penix Jr. — 1,388 yards in four games.
“That’s the big matchup,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said on Tuesday. “Obviously, their quarterback has thrown for more yards than anybody in the country, they’ve got three outstanding receivers. It’s a really good scheme. Kalen (DeBoer)’s done a nice job everywhere he’s been with that scheme. I think from a defensive perspective, our ability to disrupt their passing game and keep them off track (will be important), so that’s going to be the challenge.”
The Husky receivers have Kelly’s full attention, as they’ve been one of the best groups in the country so far this season. Rome Odunze, with 293 yards in three appearances, leads the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game (97.7). Jalen McMillan is the second-leading receiver in the conference by yardage (21 catches, 367 yards). Ja’Lynn Polk has the second-most receiving touchdowns in the league through four games (four).
All three average north of 15 yards a catch. The offense is tied for second nationally with 38 total explosive pass plays produced.
“They’re all tall and long. In different games, each guy has been the standout guy, so I think it depends on what you do coverage-wise,” Kelly said. “Penix is really good at figuring out what the matchup is and what the matchup is they want to exploit.”
And he has a number of ways to go about doing that.
“You just can’t focus and concentrate on just one guy on the perimeter, you have to focus on all three of those guys,” said Kelly.
UCLA likes the matchup it can present. It has tall corners on the outside who can body up — 6-3 Devin Kirkwood, 6-2 John Humphrey, and 6-2 Azizi Hearn. The Bruins have only given up 17 explosive pass plays in four games, and have defended the second-most passes in the conference.
“Penix is really accurate with the ball but does throw it up sometimes, and their receivers do a great job of going to get it, so there’s going to be some contested plays,” Kelly said. And those are the type of plays that create momentum, one way or the other. A big, contested catch for the offense energizes that side. A PBU on a deep shot, or even an interception, and you energize the home side. “You hope when you have some size and some length that you can compete with those balls that are thrown up.”
The two sides kick off against each other Friday night at the Rose Bowl at 7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN.