The situation will be the same this Saturday. The Bruins will travel east to face the No. 8 Irish. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:43 p.m. and NBC will have the national television coverage. UCLA's head coach Karl Dorrell has his team at 4-2 after a loss last weekend at Oregon. He knows the significance of the contest for the program.
"It's an important game like any game," Dorrell said at his Monday press conference. "I'm treating this game like a Pac-10 game. It's very important. It doesn't reflect the Pac-10 standings but it's a very important game for us in a number of respects. One, for the sake of competing. You want to play against the best programs in the country. I always like that challenge and doing that.
"Secondly, it's a chance to do something we haven't done in 30-some odd years. This is a great opportunity for UCLA to go in and play well and get ourselves to be in position to do good things not only for ourselves but for the Pac-10."
The Bruin defense has vastly improved over the course of a year. In 2005, UCLA ranked 113th in total defense. This led to the hiring of DeWayne Walker, who spent last season with the Washington Redskins. Dorrell brought him to Los Angeles and the results have been staggering. Currently, the Bruins rank 9th in total defense. That's a jump of 104 spots. Walker actually spent some time with Irish head coach Charlie Weis in New England.
"It's interesting," Weis said about Walker. "He's obviously picked up a couple things. There's a Washington influence there, too. I'm pretty close with a couple of those guys with the Skins, as well. You could see a couple of those influences.
"But I think DeWayne had the influence before Pete (Carroll), before Bill (Parcells), before going down to Washington. He's been around for a while. I think he's taken a little bit of what we did. But he's definitely developed his own personality and his own identity as far as how they're playing."
Last weekend in the 30-20 loss to Oregon, the defense got behind early. The Ducks and their No. 7 offense in the nation raced out to a 20-3 first quarter lead. Overall, they gave up 404 yards of total offense and moved down the defensive rankings from No. 2 to No. 9. More surprising were the 256 yards surrendered on the ground by UCLA.
"We were surprised on defense," Dorrell said. "We were shocked by the elements of the game. On the second play of the game, they went right down the middle of the field against a Cover-2 coverage that usually is a safe coverage. They had to have the right play on at the right time to hit the weakest point. When that big play happened, the crowd really got into it.
"It wasn't our best game. Our defense had a big challenge to face against the best offense in the conference. They did a good job of staying in there and battling but unfortunately I think their size up front kind of overwhelmed us a bit. (Dennis) Dixon was in a pretty good rhythm and Jonathan Stewart ran the ball pretty well. We made some critical errors at inopportune times."
The Oregon defeat was also the first start for quarterback Patrick Cowan. He's filling in for Ben Olsen, who injured himself two weeks ago in a win over Arizona. Cowan actually came into that contest late and went 20-of-29 for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
That game was at home. The Duck contest was on the road at Autzen Stadium, one of the loudest and toughest places to play in the country. Cowan's performance proved the point that it's rough for any quarterback to come there and win, let alone one who's starting his first game. The redshirt sophomore went 16-of-31 for 112 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception. The starting tight end, Ryan Moya, broke his leg on the first UCLA play from scrimmage to make Cowan's job more difficult.
Another problem: at some point in the contest, he was hit in the throat. His voice was completely gone the last few series of the game. On the plane ride home, Cowan started to cough up blood and was immediately taken to the hospital once it touched down in Los Angeles. A quarterback needs his voice to give plays in the huddle and communicate with the team at the line of scrimmage. This week will challenge that assumption.
"His doctor said he's on a no-talk clause," Dorrell said. "He can't even speak. I'd be curious to see how he goes practice today. I know he'll be able to move around but he won't be able to say anything.
"That's a plan we have to partake in now. Given the circumstances that happened during the game, we weren't prepared for that to happen. Now that we're here, we're going to have to find a means of communication for him."
Cowan and company have a chance to redeem themselves on Saturday in South Bend. He'll be facing a Notre Dame team 75th in total defense and sometimes susceptible to the big play. For the UCLA defense, it'll be another challenge. The Irish are 34th nationally in total offense and they keep climbing the ladder after a slow start. Dorrell sees a formidable opponent on the horizon.
"A very good football team," Dorrell said. "They have very good balance on their offensive side. They have an experienced quarterback, a good running game and experienced wide receivers. On defense, they're solid. They're playing very well and coming off a bye week. They'll be fresh and ready to go. We need to get ourselves back to a level where we should be. I know we've been excited about this game and it's finally here. Now, we get a chance to prepare ourselves for a great opportunity this weekend."