First look: UCLA at Washington State

LOS ANGELES -- The external factors surrounding UCLA's trip to Washington State are plentiful, but Bruins coach Jim Mora isn't paying attention to any of them.

He is concerned only with preparing his team to face the Cougars at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night in Pullman, Wash., in a Pac-12 game that will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Never mind that first-year Washington State coach Mike Leach suspended leading receiver Marquess Wilson after Wilson reportedly walked out of a conditioning drill Sunday night or that, following a 49-6 loss to Utah, Leach blasted his team in such a way that it made it seem as if there is dissension in the Cougars’ locker room.

And forget the facts that: the game-time temperatures are forecast to be below freezing; the Cougars (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12) have lost six consecutive games; and UCLA (7-2, 4-2) could be going into a classic trap game coming off a huge victory over the Arizona Wildcats and with crosstown rival USC looming next week.

The only thing that matters to Mora is making sure his Bruins are ready to play at the opening kick.

"That stuff doesn’t matter to us," Mora said. "Once you let temperature, environment and the psyche of another team bother you, you’ve got issues. So we don’t address it. It doesn’t matter to us. It’s not in our orbit. We don’t care.

“We’re worried about the UCLA Bruins."

The Bruins were pretty good last week in a 66-10 victory over Arizona, shutting down a potent Wildcats offense for a season low in yardage. This week, they will face another high-speed offense that runs the pass-happy spread attack Leach made famous with the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Cougars have attempted 465 passes this season, the third-most of any FBS team in the nation. It averages out to 51.6 pass attempts per game, and it's no wonder the Cougars have the No. 11 passing attack in the country with 324.22 yards per game.

It's the type of offense Mora said he didn't see all that much during his NFL career, but after facing the Houston Cougars earlier this season, then the Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona in the past two weeks, he said he's growing accustomed to these types of college offenses.

"I’m finally kind of getting used to the pace and the tempo of the college game," said Mora, who is in his first season at UCLA after coaching in the NFL for 25 years. "This will be the third week in a row now that we’re going against a team that likes to really spread the field and dish it off to a lot of different guys. I think Mike Leach does a great job, conceptually, in the pass game of making you defend a lot of field both vertically and horizontally."

Quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday have split the quarterback role this season, but Tuel seems to have grabbed hold of the job and has started the past three games. He's averaged 318 yards passing in those games and has five touchdowns with two interceptions. The top target has been Wilson, a junior who has 52 receptions for 813 yards and five touchdowns ... but has been suspended indefinitely by Leach.

Wilson was the top talent in the offense, and his absence will be a big blow for a team that relies heavily on the pass. The Cougars have plenty of other options, however, with Gabe Marks, Isiah Myers and Brett Bartolone having caught 37 or more passes.

The rushing game is another story altogether for Washington State, which averages only 29.11 yards per game rushing, last in the nation. The Cougars average a paltry 1.46 yards per carry.

"Even though their record doesn’t necessarily reflect it, you see that offense becoming what [Leach] wants it to become," Mora said. "Once again, I think it boils down to playing with discipline play after play after play, tackling well, getting pressure on the quarterback, being where were supposed to be in coverage and then, if we get opportunities, capitalizing on them."

All that having been said, the Cougars have a long way to go to enjoy the success Leach envisions.

They are 112th in the nation in scoring, with 19 points a game, and are averaging only 11.5 points over the past four games. Defensively, things aren't much better. Washington State is allowing 438.56 yards and 31.78 points per game, which ranks No. 91 in both categories.

While the Cougars do have home-field advantage, they have lost three in a row in the Palouse, including an overtime defeat to last-place Colorado that stands as the Buffaloes' only victory this season.

Still, the Bruins don't plan on taking anything for granted when they go to Pullman this weekend. They know they are in the thick of the Pac-12 title race, and a slip-up this week would be costly.

"We know that we have to come in to every game and play it like every team is the same," quarterback Brett Hundley said. "The way I like to say it is, 'We don’t play the record, we play the team.' So we have to come out and play our game no matter who we are playing against."