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The most important person vs. UCLA: the look ahead

UCLA is very bad. Utah is very good. But the Utes are next week and WSU can’t forget about the Bruins.


It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.

Winston Churchill

The UCLA Bruins are ... not very good. So “not very good” in fact, the Washington State Cougars are 19-point favorites in Saturday’s game at Martin Stadium.

That is not a mistype on my part. The Cougars are favored by nearly three touchdowns over a team from Southern California. When I say that has never happened before, I actually mean it, no hyperbole whatsoever. As near as I can find, WSU has never been favored by this many points over UCLA or the USC Trojans. Hell, them being favored by even one point is rarefied air.

Though players and coaches will tell you they don’t ever look ahead, they take things one week at a time and only focus on the next opponent, they are human beings. The inclination is to naturally see an opponent of UCLA’s quality (or lack thereof), think you’re going to come in and take of business easily, and instead spend energy and time worrying about your upcoming road game against the No. 10 Utah Utes.

The Cougs would be best served, then, to avoid “the look ahead”.

To be sure, this UCLA is awful. They looked lost against the Cincinnati Bearcats to start the season, lost to San Diego State Aztecs in their home opener and practically floated through their match-up with the Oklahoma Sooners last weekend. Calling their play “lackadaisical” is a disservice to how I get out of bed on Saturday mornings in Pullman. Whether Chip Kelly has lost his team after just 15 games at the helm, I’m not sure, but these players and coaches must still have some pride left in them. They must want to win as much as they can, even if they know they are outmatched and outclassed by most of the teams on their schedule.

This game presents a golden opportunity for them. Their opponent is ranked in the top-25, playing their conference opener and has a much harder task ahead of them next weekend. It would be easy, nay, expected for the Cougs to look at UCLA as nothing more than a minor annoyance; a fly buzzing around your bedroom at 12:30 a.m. that you cannot find. So why not throw some trick plays at them the way Johnathan Smith and the Oregon State Beavers did last season? Why not open the playbook wide open for Dorian Thompson-Robinson and see what works?

Washington State, simply put, needs to be focused on UCLA. The way really bad teams jump up and get you is precisely by not caring about them. WSU even had a bye the weekend after their tilt with the Beavs last year but I’m willing to bet part of the season the Cougs had so much trouble was not only because of Smith’s built in trickery but because the Oregon Ducks loomed. Thompson-Robinson can still hurt you on the ground if he gets the RPO game going. Though Kelly’s recruiting hasn’t been what he and UCLA expected, some of Jim Mora’s good recruits are still on the roster.

I admit that I have been guilty about writing this game off. A contest I had previously been slightly worried about simply because UCLA is UCLA became one I am giving little thought to. This Washington State team can’t and won’t have trouble with this UCLA team, so why should I even worry about it?

But that’s part of the spectacular thing about being a fan: we can do it. The players can’t. Do not think about Utah before dispatching these Bruins, Cougs. Beating a SoCal Pac-12 team by three touchdowns would be oh-so sweet.

Let’s find a light inside our universe now / Where ain’t nobody keep on holding us down / Just come and get it let them say what they say / ‘Cause I’m about to put them all away / Focus on me / Focus on me

Ariana Grande

The look ahead, the most important person against UCLA.