First Down: Quick Hitters
UCLA @ Stanford – October 29
Last Meeting: UCLA 21, Stanford 0 ('04)
Side-by-Side Stats: (UCLA/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 7/10
2004 Rushing Yards Per Game: 185/81
2004 Passing Yards Per Game: 225/246
Returning Defensive Starters: 8/5
2004 Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed: 210/143
2004 Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 223/249
2004 Record: 6-6/4-7
Vegas' Predicted 2005 Record: 7-4/4-7
Second Down: Offense
May this be the first and last time you read a writer attempting a pun about the Olson twins living up to expectations in Hollywood. No familial relation between Drew and Ben, who lead one of the strongest units on this Bruin squad. Just this weekend, Drew Olson was named the starter, no big surprise for a true senior who has started games in all three of his years at Westwood, completing 57% of his passes last year for 20 touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Ben Olson is a quarterback for the future. He was a top quarterback recruit in the 2002 class, originally signed with BYU, and transferred to UCLA after completing his two-year Mormon mission.
Though he's been overshadowed by a certain crosstown college quarterback the last few years, Drew Olson has been one of the Pac-10's most consistent quarterbacks, in large part due to a slew of talented wide receivers. Last year's starting receivers, Craig Bragg and Tab Perry, have both departed to the NFL as sixth-round draft choices, but the wideout cupboard remains stocked, alongside last year's Mackey Award finalist tight end Marcedes Lewis, who led the team with 7 TD receptions last year. Despite losing both starting receivers to the NFL, Drew Olson should be able to lead a high-octane passing game in his senior season.
Making Drew Olson's life much easier will be a stud rushing attack that should continue to give opposing defenses fits. The offense as a whole averaged nearly five yards per rush last season while allowing less than two sacks per game. Those numbers should remain stellar with three of last year's starting linemen returning, though the two departures did garner All-Pac-10 recognition last season. At tailback, junior tailback Maurice Drew gained over 2,000 all-purpose yards and over 1,000 rushing yards on more than six yards per carry in just eight games last season before getting injured. After a strong showing in the off-season, a healthy Drew could challenge Marshawn Lynch for the conference's rushing title. All told, this offense looks to be one of the most explosive in the land, and should top the 30 points per game it racked up last season.
Third Down: Defense
Despite scoring north of 30 points per game in 2004, UCLA played only .500 ball because of a porous defense. While the defense should improve somewhat, defensive coordinator Larry Kerr's unit should remain the Achilles heel that will keep this squad from truly cracking into the upper echelon of the conference.
The strength of this defense is the linebacking corps, as all three of last year's starters return in 2005 for their senior season, though projected starting outside linebacker Wesley Walker is out four to five weeks after recently undergoing his second arthroscopic knee surgery. Inside linebacker Spencer Havner is the star of the unit, and with Lofa Tatupu and Matt Grootegoed having graduated from USC, last year's Second Team All Pac-10 standout should make a heavy push for First Team honors this season. Havner led the conference with 125 tackles last season, and while that's an incredible individual statistic, it speaks somewhat to the weak defensive line playing in front of him.
In 2004, the Bruins ranked dead-last in the Pac-10 in both total yards allowed and rush yards allowed because of a defensive line that returned no starters and yielded over five yards per carry, by far the worst mark in the conference. After the growing pains of last year, the vast majority of the two-deep returns this season, although projected starting defensive tackle Kevin Brown was lost for six to eight weeks with a high-ankle sprain. With the returning experience, the Bruins should (and, by the law of averages, almost inevitably have to) improve somewhat against the run, though only time will tell how significant the improvement. One factor that should help the rush defense is that the coaches are planning to implement many more eight-man fronts this season, a luxury coaches can employ when the secondary is comparatively stronger.
Indeed, the secondary figures to be about average in the Pac-10, which should outpace the rush defense by a fair amount. With an average height above six feet, the secondary will exhibit decent size, and with two returning starters, the secondary will exhibit decent experience. The unit may yield more yards than would be expected, as the cornerbacks will often have to defend on islands when the Bruins try to jam the line of scrimmage to stop the run. All told, none of the back four figure to challenge for conference honors, so while the pass defense shouldn't be outstanding, neither should it be a liability like the rushing defense.
Fourth Down: Extra Points
- The special teams should be one of the strongest in the country. Junior kicker Justin Medlock was named First Team All Pac-10 for hitting 11-of-14 from outside 40 yards last year. Redshirt freshman punter Aaron Perez averaged nearly 43 yards per punt in high school. And Maurice Drew, a poor man's Reggie Bush, should see plenty of action in the return game.
- UCLA's 21-0 shutout of the Cardinal last season marked the Bruins' last Pac-10 shutout since their 49-0 victory over Stanford in 1987. The shutout is all the more embarrassing due to the fact that the Bruins' defense allowed over 25 points to every unit it faced save for lowly San Diego State, Illinois, Arizona, and, alas, Stanford.
- In one of the strangest scheduling quirks around, because ABC moved the USC-UCLA showdown to December 3, the Bruins have two bye weeks, or 20 days, to prepare for the Trojans. With the influx of conference championship games as late as early December and low-tier bowls as early as mid-December, some teams have less time to prepare for their bowl games.
- Head coach Karl Dorrell enters his third year on the job with a 12-13 record and a contract extension through 2010. The extension was a necessary public display of support as the calls for Dorrell's termination became deafening after UCLA's uninspired 24-21 loss in the Las Vegas Bowl to Wyoming, a team about 50 slots south of the Bruins in the annual recruiting rankings. Dorrell is now 0-2 in bowls after laying another clunker in a 17-9 loss to a similarly undermanned Fresno State squad the season previous.
- For a team that has won no more than seven games each of the last six years, the Bruins are receiving an inordinate amount of media attention entering this season. Apparently the puff pieces are going to these writers' heads: various magazines publications have picked them as high as second in the conference.
- In contrast, my expectations are much closer to Vegas' 7-4. Parsing out the Bruins' schedule: the out-of-conference slate against San Diego State, Rice and Oklahoma and Pac-10 matchups against USC, California and Washington should all see the Bruins either double-digit favorites or underdogs. Those six contests are a fairly safe bet to produce a 3-3 record (with the losses to USC, Cal, and Oklahoma), leaving home dates with Arizona State and Oregon State and visits to Washington State, Stanford and Arizona as the toss-ups. While 4-1 against those five is a possibility, I think 3-2 or 2-3 is much more likely, placing the Bruins either 6-5 or 5-6, right on the cusp of a bowl.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!