2006 Still Fresh on Bruins' Minds

UCLA had the game in their sights. Last season, the Bruins were overpowering the Notre Dame offense in South Bend. Defensive ends Bruce Davis and Justin Hickman got pressure on Irish quarterback Brady Quinn time after time after time. After failing to get a first down, a punt gave the ball back to Notre Dame with just 62 seconds left and 80 yards to go, trailing 17-13. Game over, right?

Not exactly. Quinn found Jeff Samardzija for a 21-yard connection and followed it up with a 14-yard completion to David Grimes. On the decisive play, the Bruins dropped eight back in coverage and watched Quinn hit Samardzjia with a pass over the middle. The Notre Dame wide receiver did the rest, running through the UCLA defense for the game-winning 45-yard touchdown.

In three plays, 80 yards and 35 seconds, the 10th-ranked Irish snatched victory from the jaws of defeat to win a thrilling 20-17 contest. It's a painful memory for the Bruins team as the two teams will meet Saturday night in Pasadena for the rematch.

"That is on their minds, for sure," head coach Karl Dorrell said. "Last year's game and how that ended, that'll be on our minds for years and years to come. Probably 20 years from now they'll remember that. It's definitely fresh on their minds and we had a discussion about it. But we can't let that get in the way of how we need to progress ourselves as a football team. This is about us getting better and playing hard and building on all the stuff we've done these last couple weeks."

A UCLA win on Saturday would make it five teams this year to beat the Irish, a season removed after Notre Dame did the same to them. The Bruins came into season with high expectations. With 20 starters returning, UCLA was a sleeper pick by some to make a lot of noise this year in college football.

The season started off right. An opening 45-17 victory over Stanford was followed by a 27-17 win over BYU. Both contests were played in Pasadena. The third game of the year was a road trip to Utah. Ten penalties, five turnovers and a second half that saw the Utes outscore the Bruins 30-0 led to a 44-6 Utah victory. UCLA had been embarrassed in a game which they were the favorites.

Dorrell has got his team to rebound. The Bruins have won the past two games, a 44-31 win over Washington followed by a 40-14 triumph at Oregon State. In the victory against the Beavers, UCLA was down 14-0 after the first quarter. But the Bruins scored the next 40, including four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the contest away. Quarterback Ben Olson, who didn't play in the Washington game, threw for 220 yards and two scores. After throwing three picks in his last performance versus Utah, the senior signal caller led an attack that totaled 353 yards of total offense.

"They're getting better," Dorrell said of his team's offense. "I'm going to be cautious about turning corners. But we're getting better. Ben played really well. The only mistake I saw him make was on the interception. He knew that when he walked off the field. But how he responded to it after was a big, big deal. He really responded great and threw some great passes and converted on third down. It's shown how he has grown and dealt with adversity and put some things behind him."

Olsen will be facing a Notre Dame team with a bit of momentum. No, the Irish didn't win at Purdue and added their fifth loss in five games, a first in school history. But a second half performance that held the Boilermakers to 109 yards of total offense and saw the lead dwindle down to 26-19 midway through the fourth quarter is some progress for the young, struggling team. The offense actually outgained Purdue and the hope is that there will be a carryover this weekend in Pasadena.

"They're playing better now," Dorrell said of Notre Dame. "That's one thing I saw from this past weekend. They started to make some progress offensively. I believe this was the their best week offensively that they've had all season. Their backup quarterback came on in the second half and engineered a few drives and hit some passes for the first time all season. I'm sure that's encouraging for them and encouraging for the direction they're trying to go in."

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis said on Tuesday that if Jimmy Clausen is healthy after sustaining a hip injury in the Purdue loss, the freshman would start at quarterback. If not, junior Evan Sharpley would get the nod. Weis said he would have to see Clausen's performance in practice this week before making a final decision.

Both played against the Boilermakers, with Clausen completing 18-of-26 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown and interception each while Sharpley countered with a 16-of-26 performance for over 200 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. So far this year, UCLA is a lowly 100th against the pass. Dorrell will play it safe and is assuming his Bruins will see both on Saturday night.

"Both of them are good players," Dorrell said of Clausen and Sharpley. "They have excellent arm strength and have good range all over the field. Their passing game came alive in the Purdue game. I noticed it. I'm sure they're going to build with it. When they look at our defense, even though we played well last week, there has been some openings in the passing game. We need to make sure we show progress in the passing game that we made last week."

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