“The UCLA Triumvirate Of Aces” — Bruins left end WOODY STRODE (# 27), right halback JACKIE ROBINSON (# 28) and superstar left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON (# 13) … In the estimation of the Associated Press, both Washington and Strode were seen as First Team All-Pacific Coast material with Robinson being viewed as Third Team stuff in 1939; as far as the United Press was concerned, Washington was selected as First Team All-Pacific Coast with Robinson and Strode both being cited as Honorable Mention (which was that organization’s equivalent of a third team) that year.
Spokane Daily Chronicle — Tuesday, November 28th, 1939
“W.S.C. GRIDDERS LEAVE FOR SOUTH”
Following a long workout under the lights, the WASHINGTON STATE football team entrained for Los Angeles and the Thursday night game with U.C.L.A.
Last night’s practice was devoted to polishing up defensive tactics against KENNY WASHINGTON, JACKIE ROBINSON and WOODROW WILSON STRODE, the U.C.L.A. triumvirate of aces. Other items getting attention were passing and kicking, although Washington State ranks as the fourth best team in the nation in the punting department.
(Washington State College head coach BABE) HOLLINGBERY has promised to throw the offense wide open Thursday night and fans may see another of those wild and woolly games which U.C.L.A. staged with Oregon State last Saturday. Hollingbery took 34 gridders (on the trip to Los Angeles) and all but (left halfback) DICK EMERSON are ready to play. Emerson may play if needed.
It is very interesting to note that the Washington State Cougars ended up deploying a 5-3-2-1 defensive scheme in many situations against UCLA in an obvious pre-arranged attempt to cope with the sweeping runs from the Bruins’ twin set of speedsters coming out of the backfield, Kenny Washington and Jackie Robinson.
Washington State normally played with a six-man defensive wall and this 5-3-2-1 formation was not something the Cougars had shown in any of the their previous games in 1939 against Gonzaga, Southern Cal, Washington, Oregon and Idaho (all five of which, of course, can be viewed on YouTube). Bascially, on certain plays, Washington State’s regular left end on the front line dropped back into the position of outside left linebacker in a second level now comprising of three defenders instead of the usual pair. As it turned out, the very first time that the Cougars utilized its five-man line against the UCLA, it was Washington State tackle JAMES WOODDY, the de facto left end in the new formation, who was able to get into the backfield and partially deflect the Bruins’ quick attempt (a punt that ended up traveling downfield all of six yards).
In the first quarter against UCLA, Washington State would only use the 5-3-2-1 defensive scheme on third downs (a total of four times). It appears as if the Cougars’ confidence in this formation grew as the game wore along because Washington State conspicuously deployed its three linebacker set a total of seven times in both the second and third quarters. It should also be noted that, in fact, the Cougars were leading by one point after forty-five minutes of play.
One has to wonder if the reason that Hollingbery had his Washington State troops work on the kicking game did not revolve around a strong desire to limit the effectiveness of UCLA right halfback JACKIE ROBINSON on punt returns. In 1939, the Bruins’ transfer from Pasadena Junior College was ultimately destined to lead the entire NCAA in average yards per attempt (18 returns for 295 yards, 16.4 average) and had already run a punt back 64 yards much to the detriment of the Cougars’ great intra-state arch-rival, the University of Washington Huskies. As events against the Bruins in Los Angeles would later unfold, diligent Washington State permitted the lightning-fast Robinson to run back just two punts for a combined total of twenty-four yards — so, in other words, the Cougars certainly did manage to hold UCLA’s dangerous return man well below his normal season average.