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Ward, No. 13 Washington State offer up biggest test of season for UCLA defense

Ward third in nation in passing and total offense

By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer
Published: October 6, 2023, 5:33pm
2 Photos
Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward (1) runs for a touchdown next to Northern Colorado linebacker Tama Tuitele during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.
Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward (1) runs for a touchdown next to Northern Colorado linebacker Tama Tuitele during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak) Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES — UCLA’s defense has made marked improvement in D’Anton Lynn’s first season as coordinator.

That unit though will face its biggest litmus test of the season on Saturday when the Bruins host No. 13 Washington State at the Rose Bowl.

The unbeaten Cougars (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) come into the game with the nation’s sixth-ranked offense and have what might be the Pac-12’s most overlooked quarterback in Cameron Ward.

While most of the attention has been focused on USC’s Caleb Williams, Washington’s Michael Penix and Colorado’s Shadeur Sanders, Ward is third nationally in passing (347.2 yards per game) and total offense (374.5 ypg).

“I think he should be in the conversation with the top quarterbacks in the country,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “He’s athletic, he’s sharp, he throws an extremely accurate ball. I think he’s got great ball location, repetitive accuracy.”

Ward and the Cougars have already had two significant victories. They beat then-No. 19 Wisconsin 31-22 in the second game and went on the road two weeks ago to pick up a 38-35 win at then-No. 14 Oregon State. Ward completed 19 of his first 20 passes en route to 404 yards and four touchdowns in the game.

UCLA’s defense is allowing a conference-low 11 points per game and is second in total and passing yards per game allowed. After giving up 269 passing yards in the opener against Coastal Carolina, the Bruins have held their last three opponents under 200 yards.

Defensive end/linebacker Laiatu Latu has 14 1/2 sacks since the start of last season.

“I have not seen a bigger, longer defense in a long time,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said. “These guys are long and have great length, and they’re attacking and they’re playing tremendously on that side of the ball. I mean, it is impressive to watch their physicality.”

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UCLA (3-1, 0-1) is looking to bounce back after a 14-7 loss at then-No. 11 Utah two weeks ago. The Bruins are also looking to snap a three-game losing streak against ranked teams.


UCLA freshman QB Dante Moore looks to rebound after completing only 15 of 35 passes against Utah. Moore, who threw for 234 yards, missed on 11 of his first 15 attempts and was sacked seven times.

Moore has eight touchdowns in four games and is averaging 18.06 yards per completion, which is second nationally.

“Dante is the same person every day. That’s one thing we love about him, his consistency in terms of his work ethic, film study, meetings, training,” Kelly said. “I don’t think he’s governed by outside influences. He’s got an internal, intrinsic drive that he wants to be better on a daily basis and continues to strive to be like that, so he’s been great.”


The depth of Washington State’s wide receivers has been on display on seemingly a weekly basis. It was Lincoln Victor to start the season, then big games from Kyle Williams and most recently Josh Kelly’s breakout performance against Oregon State two weeks ago. Kelly had eight catches for 153 yards and three touchdowns and was a huge lift after Victor went down with a leg injury early in that victory.

Victor, a Union High School graduate, isn’t expected to play against UCLA, but Ward is thrilled with the depth at the position.

“It makes my job easier for sure. I mean, all I got to do is just put the ball in play. All three of those guys are great versus man, they’re great versus zone all finding windows where to sit down, especially Lincoln,” Ward said. “So I think each one of those guys they bring a different dynamic to that receiving corp.”


With the collapse of the Pac-12 and USC and UCLA both headed to the Big Ten next season, this could be the last time Washington State plays in Los Angeles for quite a while. Southern California has long been a fertile recruiting area for the Cougars and some of their more memorable wins have come there, including 1988 when Washington State beat No. 1 UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

“I think after the game that’ll definitely set in. Pregame and all that stuff, it’s just another stadium, another 100 yards of grass that we’re going to be playing on,” Washington State defensive end Brennan Jackson said.