UCLA vs. Washington College Football Week 5: Storylines to Watch

Here are the three biggest narratives to keep an eye on before, during and after the Bruins’ game against the Huskies.

UCLA football (4-0) is scheduled to kick off its Week 5 game against No. 15 Washington (4-0) on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The Bruins blew out Colorado 45-17 on the road to open up Pac-12. The Huskies are coming off of a blowout victory of their own, beating Stanford 40-22 in Seattle.

Heading into the Week 5 matchup, here are the most pressing questions we want to have answered by the final whistle.

Can the Bruins’ long DBs step up?

The Bruins’ coaching staff and social media accounts came into the season hyping up their length in the cornerback room.

With the Huskies bringing a stable of productive, big receivers to the Rose Bowl, Friday will mark a chance to see just how effective those cornerbacks can be.

Jalen McMillan, Ja’lynn Polk and Rome Odunze are 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3, respectively. Azizi Hearn, John Humphrey and Devin Kirkwood are 6-foot-2, 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3, respectively. Even safety/nickel Mo Osling III is 6-foot-2.

McMillan has 367 yards and three touchdowns on 21 catches. Odunze has 293 yards and two touchdowns on 18 catches. Polk has 256 yards and four touchdowns on 13 catches. For reference, no UCLA wideout has reached 225 yards or multiple touchdown grabs in 2022.

Kirkwood leads the Bruins with four pass breakups, while Hearn has one and Humphrey has none. None of the three have an interception, but they do all have double-digit total tackles.

The secondary held relatively strong against Bowling Green, Alabama State and Colorado – before garbage time, of course – but struggled at times versus South Alabama. While the Jaguars had some solid FBS and Power Five transfers lining up outside, they are not as esteemed as the group of guys the Huskies have.

Washington has been winning a lot of jump balls and succeeding on deep passes so far this season. If UCLA is going to win, they are going to need to limit those, and the length of their cornerbacks is going to play a major part in that.

Who will win the battle of star QBs?

Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Michael Penix Jr. will never be on the field at the same time, as is always the case with head-to-head quarterback battles.

That may be an excuse for players to dodge questions from the media, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a major talking point heading into Friday night.

Penix had a few years of success at Indiana, even making the All-Big Ten Second Team in 2020. By following his old offensive coordinator, Kalen DeBoer, to Seattle this past offseason, Penix has taken his game to the next level.

The transfer signal-caller has passed for 1,388 yards – more than anyone else in the country – in addition to 12 touchdowns and one interception on 64.3% completion with a 172.2 passer rating. Penix has gotten it done against both inferior competition and high-level opponents, carving up Michigan State for 397 yards and four touchdowns in Week 3.

Thompson-Robinson has managed to put up some gaudy numbers of his own in his fifth season with the Bruins, despite constantly getting benched for garbage time and missing about a quarter each game. UCLA’s star veteran has thrown for 896 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception on 74.8% completion with a 167.9 passer rating, while also adding 170 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

Both Thompson-Robinson and Penix have played in, and won, their fair share of big games over the years. Friday night will pose them each another major threat, and they will both be going against tough pass rushers and suspect defensive backs.

It’s been a long journey for the pair of class of 2018 recruits, with Thompson-Robinson coming to Westwood as the No. 2 dual-threat passer in the country and Penix starting out in Bloomington as a three-star backup.

This will be their first and only time going against each other – barring a rematch in the Pac-12 title game – and it should be an entertaining, high-scoring affair.

Will UCLA rise to its first real challenge?

It’s been brought up countless times over the past few months, but the first four weeks of the Bruins’ season were merely a warmup for the real competition.

Bowling Green is 1-3 and ranks No. 123 in ESPN’s Football Power Index. Alabama State is an FCS program. South Alabama may hail from the upset-prone Sun Belt conference, but the Jaguars still only rank No. 62 in the FPI. Colorado is the lowest-ranked team in the Power Five, and is well outside the top 100 in the FPI.

So while the Bruins’ 4-0 record is as good as it can be this far into the season, it doesn’t really mean much and is hard to use as a predictor for the rest of the year.

Washington comes into Friday also sporting a 4-0 record, one that was bolstered by a win over then-No. 11 Michigan State and a victory against Stanford, which is right next to South Alabama in the FPI at No. 63. To beat the Huskies would be to add a serious, legitimate win to the Bruins’ resume, and it would probably vault them into the top 25 next week.

If UCLA can’t pull it off, though, the next few weeks could get ugly fast. No. 12 Utah is up next on the schedule, followed by a road contest against No. 13 Oregon.

A 4-0 season could turn into a 4-3 season if the Bruins can’t prove themselves to be true contenders sooner rather than later, and that all begins Friday night at the Rose Bowl.

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