UCLA Preview Part III: The Offense

In the week leading up to the match up with UCLA, Jeff Murdock looks at the Bruin offense. The Bruin offense was supposed to be the key to their team, but in the first week Drew Olson threw a key interception, and fumbles hurt them. Will it continue when they are in Champaign?

After just one game, the UCLA offense has shown signs of being balanced and relatively potent, but prone to mistakes that will cost their team the game. Quarterback Drew Olson threw two interceptions on Saturday, both of which occurred when the Bruins were trying to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter. The Bruins' two fumbles proved much more costly than the interceptions on Saturday, as they both led to Oklahoma State touchdowns. Craig Bragg's fumble in the first quarter led to Oklahoma State's first touchdown, while Maurice Drew's fumble on the Oklahoma State 15-yard line led to Oklahoma State's third touchdown of the game, and a 21-14 lead they would never look back from. Heading into Saturday's contest in Champaign, the Bruins will be looking to cut down on the turnovers, which cost them their opener.

The Bruin coaching staff is counting on Drew Olson to have a breakout season in 2004. This will be his third season as UCLA quarterback. He has started fifteen games in his Bruin career, including all thirteen games last year, and then one his freshman year and one already this season. Last year, Olson threw for 2,067 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he also threw 9 interceptions. Olson's fatal flaw as a quarterback is his penchant for throwing interceptions at inopportune times as he tries to make something happen. Defenses can also goat Olson into throwing into coverage by disguising their coverage in the zones to make it appear a receiver is open. Last week Olson threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter as UCLA was trying to come back against Oklahoma State, so it appears he has yet to learn the patience required to run an offense and not throw interceptions.

If Olson goes down to injury, the Bruins will be in a major predicament. Junior college transfer David Koral is listed on the depth chart as the back up quarterback, but his experience in the Bruin offense is limited as he first stepped foot on the UCLA campus in January. The third string quarterback is sophomore walk-on Brian Callahan.

Captain Manuel White returns to the Bruin backfield after missing the Bruins final give games last season (all losses) due to a fractured right scapula. On Saturday against Oklahoma State White rushed for a career-high 145 yards and scored both Bruin touchdowns. He also had four receptions for forty yards. White's previous career-high rushing mark was set in last year's contest against Illinois. Illinois fans may remember him last year as he carried the ball on nine of UCLA's last sixteen plays from scrimmage for forty yards, including the first seven plays of the Bruins' final nine-play possession, effectively icing the game for the Bruins.

Joining White in the backfield is Maurice Drew, who led the Bruins in rushing yards last year with 582 yards. He took over the starting running back job from White after he was injured, and was effective on the ground for the Bruins at the end of last season. Against Oklahoma State, Drew had 136 all-purpose yards including 92 yards on receptions out of the backfield. Drew also will spend time as a kick returner for the Bruins, as role for which he was named to the Sporting News All-Pac 10 Freshman team last season.

The wide receivers of the Bruins may be the strength of their offense. They are lead by All-American candidate Craig Bragg. Last season Bragg caught 73 passes for 1,065 yards and 5 touchdowns. He picked up right where he left off last season against Oklahoma State with four receptions for 87 yards, but he did have a costly fumble after a reception that led to a Cowboy touchdown. Bragg will be Drew Olson's go to guy. He is already the only player in UCLA history to have two 50-catch seasons, and he is trying to become the only player with three 50-catch seasons this year. After Saturday's game, Bragg has now caught a pass in 37 consecutive games.

Starting at the split end opposite Bragg is true junior Junior Taylor. Last season Taylor caught 24 passes for 302 yards, but he did not catch a pass against the Cowboys. Other players that will be seeing the ball from Olson include sophomore Joe Cowan who had two catches Saturday and Tab Perry who returns after not playing in the 2003 season after being ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA. Perry was declared eligible by the NCAA on September 3rd, the day before UCLA's opener.

The strength of the Bruins offense probably lies in their offensive line. The Bruins return all five starters on the line from last years team, but the status of weak side guard Eyoseph Efseaff is still up in the air for the Illinois game. He missed the Oklahoma State game and has missed extensive practice with a groin injury. Replacing Efseaff at the right guard position is junior Robert Cleary (listed as the first string player on the depth chart as on Monday).

Senior Steven Vieira has been in the Bruin starting lineup for 32 of the last 33 games. He is at a different position on the offensive line for the third time in three straight seasons at UCLA. Vieira played the entire opener against Oklahoma State at strong side guard.

Red shirt junior center Mike McCloskey returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Game 5 of the 2003 season in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma State. McCloskey suffered a fractured ankle in the Washington game last year that caused him to miss the Bruins' final eight games of the season.

Senior Paul Mociler played ten games at right tackle last season, and was looking to be the Bruins' center during the start of practice in 2004, but he will also be on his third different position in under two seasons for the Bruins. He won the starting strong side tackle in Fall Practice, and played the entire Oklahoma State game at that position.

Red shirt junior Ed Blanton is in his second season as a starter on the Bruin offensive line. He is the starting weak side tackle, and will be starting his fifteenth consecutive contest on Saturday when the Bruins take on Illinois.

The UCLA offense is a much different offense than the Illini faced last weak from Florida A & M. The Bruins are much more traditional, and will rely more on their running attack than the Rattlers did. The strong and experienced offensive line of the Bruins could give the Illini's defensive front eight big time problems, and open up gaping holes for the Bruins running backs. Manuel White is coming off a career game, and last season he saw his previous career game against the Fighting Illini.

The one thing the Illini can hold their hats to is the Bruins are very turnover prone. Olson has shown a penchant throughout his college career to throw drive and game killing interceptions. The Bruins had two huge fumbles last Saturday that lead to fourteen Oklahoma State points, too. Last week the Illini defense played nearly perfectly after the Rattlers first drive, and they may need to play near perfect again and take advantage of the Bruin mistakes that are bound to happen.

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