On the mean side of the ball stands Bruin cornerback Ricky Manning. Although a diminutive 5-9, 181 pounds (we refer to him as "diminutive" with the understanding he doesn't know where we live), Manning walks tall among Pac-10 cover-men. So tall, in fact, that the senior has been chosen first team all-conference for three consecutive seasons.
Manning leads all Bruin defenders with four interceptions (returning one to pay dirt) and is sixth on the squad with 38 tackles. Nice numbers alone, but outstanding when considering that opposing offensive coordinators specifically design their game plan away from No. 9.
While the play of Manning didn't surprise anyone this season, the performance of Bruin tailback Tyler Ebell certainly did.
The 7-4 Bruins have felt the loss of quarterback Cory Paus - - out since week 7 with a broken ankle - - but the running of true freshman Ebell has eased the Bruin's offensive pains and made life easier for freshman QBs Drew Olson and Matt Moore.
"No question, he's dangerous," Washington State coach Mike Price said.
Dangerous indeed. At 5-9, 170 pounds, Ebell would seem to be the antithesis of the last great Uclan back, DeShaun Foster. But here we are at week 12 and Ebell finds himself just 86 hashes shy of a 1,000-yard season. More impressive still, the bulk of those 914 yards - - and his 9 rushing touchdowns - - have come in the last six games.
While Ebell is no longer a secret, neither is the obvious fact that the Bruins offensive fortunes against WSU Saturday hinge on his shoulders. In addition to the pair of greenhorn QBs, the Bruins will field only one experienced receiver - - team leading grab-master Craig Bragg - - as Tab Perry (ankle) is doubtful, and Ryan Smith (ankle), Jon Dubravac (broken toes), and Garrett Lepisto (ill) are out. Making matters worse for their passing attack, WSU will field - - with the return of corner man Jason David - - their regular starting secondary for the first time in over a month. Despite his absence, David still leads the Pac-10 in pics with six.
"We'd like to get Ebell enough carries to where he can make some big plays," Bruin coach Bob Toledo said. "They're (Wazzu) very good against the run."
But the elusive Ebell hasn't done it alone and won't have to when he faces Rien Long and his fellow Crimson Soldiers at the Rose Bowl. UCLA has arguably the best trenchmen in the Pac, with four of the five Bruin interior lineman receiving conference honors this week.
In addition, tight end Mike Seidman was named the best of the Pac at his position and is one of three finalists for the Mackey Award. The honor is named after Syracuse and Baltimore Colt great John Mackey and presented annually to the finest TE in the country. Seidman, a senior, has developed into a powerful technique blocker and is the second leading receiver on the Bruin squad with 37 catches.
Talented O-line or not, the Cougar defense will prove a mighty challenge for the Bruins. The Crimson defenders rank second in the Pac in ground defense, allowing just 2.5 yards per carry and average over four sacks per game, tops in the conference.
WHAT ABOUT BOB?
The annual "Fire Toledo" campaign is in full swing at Westwood, only up several notches in volume this year.
A loss to the Cougs would give the Bruins a 7-5 record with a bowl game remaining. No player on the UCLA roster has won more than 7 games while wearing the Blue and Gold.
Adding fuel to the fire, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has refused comment on Toledo's status. And when the coach himself addresses the issue, it sounds like dead man talking.
But Toledo supporters (those few remaining) are quick to point out that the Bruins were picked to finish in 6th place in the Pac-10 and will actually finish no worse than 4th, this despite losing their starting QB at midseason. And a win on Saturday, coupled with a bowl victory, would give Toledo's team a 9-5 mark. How, they ask, can you justify canning a 9-win coach?
Which leads us to…
…WHEN IS LOSING WINNING?
To many Westwoodians, losing to WSU would be a win, win, win.
Win No. 1: A loss to the Cougs would earn Toledo a pink slip.
Win No. 2: A Cougar victory would keep the Bruins dreaded rival Trojans out of the Rose Bowl (unless the unlikely but possible chance USC could face WSU in the Grandaddy).
Win No. 3: A Bruin loss could actually net them a better bowl (Holiday) then they'd be awarded should they win. (In case you're wondering, the Holiday Bowl is assigned the second place Pac-10 team but they have a clause to take any eligible team should the top two finishers be chosen for BCS bowls. UCLA, obviously, would be an attractive choice for the Holiday Bowl selection committee due to the large Bruin fan base and their proximity to San Diego. Phew!)
But don't expect the UCLA players to lie down for this one. All indications are that this prideful bunch of Bruins wants to erase their embarrassing loss to Southern Cal and knocking the 7th ranked Cougs out of the Rose Bowl would be a fine start.
*There's a good chance that Manning and Ebell could return kickoffs on Saturday. UCLA's normal return men, Perry and Jason Harrison (concussion) are doubtful.
*Perry was knocked out of last season's matchup - - a 20-14 Cougar victory - - due to a vicious Marcus Trufant hit. He spent four days in the Pullman Hospital to treat broken ribs and a collapsed lung and was visited daily by Cougar QB Jason Gesser, Coach Price, and others.
*Ebell has already made a name for himself as a punt-returner, averaging 11.6 yards per return, fourth best in the Pac-10.
*Manning is by no means an island on the Bruin defense. Despite giving up 52 points to cross-town USC last weekend, the UCLA stop group is loaded with talent. DE Dave Ball is considered by many to be the best in the league and Marcus Reese is one of the premier linebackers in the West. Ball suffered a concussion but will play against the Cougars.
*Defensive tackle C.J. Niusulu is out (appendicitis).
*Toledo on the status of injured Gesser: "Knowing him, I think he'll try to play. He's a great kid, a fierce competitor."
*13 bowl games are in limbo until the outcome of the Cougar-Bruin contest is settled. Feel the power, Cougfans!