#8 Washington (2-0, 4-0) at #7 UCLA (1-0, 4-0)
Saturday, October 13 -- 12:35 PM
Rose Bowl -- Pasadena, CA
Last Meeting: November 11, 2000 – Washington 35, UCLA 28
Series All-Time: UCLA leads, 30-28-2
For this edition of the UCLA Bruins can be described in five words. Well, seven, if you count the apostrophes.
They're good. They're really good.
Granted, with deep doses of humility, yours truly has picked the Westwood Blue Bears to win the PAC-10 the past three Augusts. Massive early-season injuries deemed the previous two predictions worthy of Lee Corso award nominations before September was over.
This year, at least to-date, the training-room reaper has stayed away from coach Bob Toledo's troops. And they're starting to roll with the same sort of confidence as the Cade McNown-led 1997-98 teams that reeled off 20 straight wins before dropping that 49-45 classic to Miami in "Hurricane Redux".
UCLA returned 17 starters from a year ago –- plus Kenyon Coleman, who missed most of 2000 with a knee injury –- including a 2,000-yard passer (Cory Paus), a 1,000-yard rusher (DeShaun Foster), a 50-catch receiver (Brian Poli-Dixon), and healthy complements of starting offensive and defensive linemen.
The Bruins also hired long-time ASU defensive coordinator Phil Snow to run the show on defense. The hiring of Snow has paid immediate dividends, to wit: Last season, UCLA set school-record for most points allowed (369), and yards allowed per contest (403.0). After four games of the 2001 season, the Bruins have allowed only 11.8 points and 271.5 yards per game, easily the best in the conference.
Each week UCLA has taken a positive step forward. After opening with a road win over Alabama, the Bruins took care of business in routing Kansas 41-17 at Lawrence. In their home opener, UCLA struggled getting the ball in the end zone against Ohio State but held the Buckeyes to 166 total yards; and when it counted, the offense was able to take all but 11 seconds off the clock in the final five minutes of a 13-6 win. Then it all clicked together against then 19th-ranked Oregon State –- a 38-7 pummeling that left Beaver coach Dennis Erickson scratching his head. "Are they 30 points better than us? I hope not," Erickson said. "But today, they sure in the heck were. And it could've been worse."
Coach Toledo, hinting that he'd just as soon not take the bye week and continue playing a hot hand, said immediately after the game, "I'm like a kid with a brand-new bike and it rides real fast, then somebody sticks a bat in the spokes. I want to keep riding."
But Toledo also senses that this year's bunch handled the bye week better than last year's edition, which lost two straight games after a week's furlough. "Our players are 4-0," he said. "They're very confident. They've worked very hard. They've done a great job of handling what's happened so far."
"I don't really know how many games we're going to win this year -- But this team can go as far as it wants to go."
After the win in Tuscaloosa to open the season, tailback DeShaun Foster hinted that he and his teammates were "looking forward to playing at home on January 3". The Rose Bowl, of course, is housing the Bowl Championship Series title game on that date.
Saturday's contest with the PAC-10's defending champs is worth a big piece of the championship puzzle for the winner. Washington tasted a bitter 1999 defeat in Pasadena, Chris Griffith's FG in overtime knocking them out of a New Year's Day return to the Rose Bowl. The Huskies got a measure of revenge last year, holding the ball for 38 minutes in a 35-28 win. In a rubber match of sorts, both teams figure to give the other their absolute best. It's still too early to tell if UCLA can run the table and fulfill Foster's bold September prophecy.
But certainly, the Bruins are good enough to erase the pair of Lee Corso smirks staring at yours truly from the mantelpiece.
UCLA Two-Deeps as of 10/10/01
Washington Two-Deeps as of 10/10/01
Some say that junior QB Cory Paus (6-2, 218) is off to a mediocre start, but a change in coordinators could have something to do with that. Paus, the first of the New Lenox, Illinois brothers to make their way west (we all know who the other one is), hasn't been as accurate as he'd like to be -- in fact, coach Toledo pondered a situational change early in the Oregon State contest when Paus opened the game 2-for-10 (he would end the half on a 6-for-7 spree). But like Washington's combo of Pickett and Barton, he's done what he's needed to do –- to go with five touchdowns, he's the only PAC-10 starting QB without an interception this year. Paus threw for 2,154 yards last season, and at that rate, will be pass Troy Aikman as UCLA's third all-time leading passer before the end of the year. The Bruins have ample backup experience should Paus falter in senior Scott McEwan and junior Ryan McCann -- both have starting experience.
The best running back in the conference right now is senior DeShaun Foster (6-1, 215). His three fumbles against Ohio State aside, Foster has become the dependable (and dangerous) workhorse UCLA has always expected him to be. Coach Toledo, who was on the USC staff during Marcus Allen's Heisman year, says of Foster, "he's the best tailback I've ever coached." Foster, a legitimate Doak Walker candidate, leads the PAC-10 in rushing with 128 yards per game. He's scored four times, and clearly loves the work. At 4.6 yards a carry, he's been wearing out defenses. Sophomore Akil Harris (6-0, 203) broke off a 54-yarder against Oregon State, broke the 100-yard barrier against ASU last year when Foster went down with a hand injury. UCLA is drooling over the prospects of freshman Manuel White (6-3, 240). There's plenty of leadership at the fullback spot, with seniors Ed Ieremia-Stansbury (6-2, 256), a valued receiver. Senior Matt Stanley will miss the contest with an ankle sprain, so freshman Pat Norton (6-1, 240) will be the backup.
Senior Brian Poli-Dixon (6-5, 215) was a thorn in Washington's side last year while the Huskies were trying to keep Freddie Mitchell in check. Dixon's 165 receiving yards and two scores kept UCLA in the game. He got off to a slow start, catching only four balls in the first three games; but against the Beavers exploded for six catches and two TDS, including the 39-yarder backbreaker to end the half. Dixon is second on the all-time Bruin list for career TD catches with 20. True sophomore Tab Perry (6-3, 220) averages a gaudy 23.4 yards on his 11 receptions, with two touchdowns, and set a school record with 598 kickoff-return yards as a freshman. Perry suffered a concussion against the Beavers –- he still says he remembers nothing of the game –- but has been cleared to practice. Sophomore Ryan Smith (6-3, 201) caught his first career TD pass against Ohio State. The rich get richer at tight end, where senior Brian Fletcher (6-5, 235) and junior Mike Seidman (6-5, 245) reside. The two shared four catches for 74 yards in the win over the Buckeyes.
An offensive line thrust into early starting roles because of injury two years ago is now emerging as a force. Juniors Bryce Bohlander (6-6, 295) and Mike Saffer (6-5, 304) are now three-year starters at tackle, as is senior center Troy Danoff (6-5, 307). Saffer is fighting through a sprained knee, but hasn't missed a game so far. Sophomore Shane Lehmann (6-5, 291) and RS-freshman Eyoseph Efseaff (6-3, 298) man the guards. Efseaff says he models his game after former Washington lineman Kevin Gogan. The only other senior in the interior two-deeps is tackle Ed Anderson (6-6, 281). A sophomore and four freshmen are listed on the second-team, including high-school All-American Paul Mociler (6-5, 302).
Some say it's new coordinator Phil Snow, some say it's just experience. Whatever the reason, it's clear that this Bruin unit is far removed from last year's sieve. First in the PAC-10 in total defense, first in passing defense, and first in scoring defense. Allowing a paltry three scores in seven red-zone invasions. Coach Toledo says of this unit, "if we had this defense the last couple of years, our record would be quite different."
After two injury-depleted years, the interior line is mostly healthy for a change, and it is as big (and deep) up front as Washington will face all year. Senior Kenyon Coleman (6-6, 288), a Lombardi candidate, missed most of last year after tearing a knee ligament. He's returned with a vengeance, leading all UCLA linemen with 17 tackles. Senior Ken Kocher (6-4, 306) separated his shoulder against Alabama, but came back quickly and wrecked Ohio State's interior with five stops up the middle. Kocher has an iffy knee, but he's gutted out injuries before. Sophomores Rodney Leisle (6-4, 298) and David Ball (6-6, 276) were both starters as freshmen -- Leisle is starting his 17th straight game. Senior Anthony Fletcher (6-4, 301) has a lot of experience and will see plenty of time as a third tackle. Junior Rusty Williams (6-4, 263) is still rounding into form after shoulder surgery. Williams started 22-straight games before the injury.
Senior middle linebacker Robert Thomas (6-2, 222) is third in the conference in tackles with 39, tied for first with four sacks, and leads the PAC-10 by far in tackles-for-loss with 13, justifying his Butkus Award candidacy. Thomas shadowed OSU's Ken Simonton, part of the reason he was held to 26 yards rushing. "I attack the target -– that's my job", Thomas says with a smile. He will be the most active linebacker Washington has seen this year. Senior Ryan Nece (6-3, 224) has made 23 tackles the past two seasons against the Huskies. He has nine sacks and 242 total tackles in his four-year Bruin career. True sophomore Brandon Chillar (6-3, 230) has been starting at the strongside 'backer, but junior Marcus Reese (6-2, 227) and sophomore Mat Ball (6-6, 266) can also start and will interchange. Mat is David Ball's twin brother. Chillar was one of only three Bruins to play as a true freshman last year.
Leading Thorpe Award candidate Ricky Manning (5-9, 180) already has two (of his eight career) interceptions on the season, and the Beavers flat refused to throw it to his side. Manning has yet to taste the end zone in his UCLA career, but he's done just about everything else. He also returned to his punt-return duties against Oregon State, netting 26 yards on three tries. True freshman Matt Ware (6-3, 199), a USAToday first-team high school All-American, won the other corner job in fall camp and hasn't disappointed. He made his first career interception against Ohio State and registered five tackles against Oregon State. Senior free safety Marques Anderson (6-0, 214) is second on the team with 26 tackles and leads the DBs with six passes defensed. The starting strong safety last year, he has seven career interceptions and five career fumble recoveries, also causing eight fumbles. Anderson says of playing for coach Snow, "I've learned more this year than in my other years combined." Senior Jason Stephens (6-2, 189) is making the most out of his first starting opportunity, with 21 tackles and an interception from the strong side. Sophomores Kevin Brant (6-0, 199) and Joe Hunter (5-11, 175) will both see time in the nickel and as key backups.
UCLA SPECIAL TEAMS
Junior Chris Griffith (6-2, 196) has yet to try a 50+ yarder in his three years as the Bruins' place-kicker, but he's felt the joy of the game-winning kick, beating Washington with a 22-yarder in overtime in their last Rose Bowl meeting. He's a consistent 66-percenter from close in and long-range, with a career-best of 49 yards. He's 7-of-9 in three-pointers this year, and he's only missed two extra-points in his career. Junior punter Nate Fikse (5-9, 185) has averaged 43-yards per boot in his three years, and was a second-team All PAC-10 selection as a sophomore. Seven of his 22 punts have been inside the 20, and he has a career-best effort of 76 yards. Senior Jeff Grau (6-4, 248) has been UCLA's exclusive long-snapper for all four of his years.
Kick returning has been a problem, as the Bruins rank last in the conference in both kickoff and punt returns. They also allow a league-worst 30.3 yards per kickoff, however they've only had six kickoffs returned.
KIBBLES AND BITS
Starting with former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel, listing all the ties found in this game would require another server to compile . . . The Huskies still have not allowed a rushing touchdown this year (the only PAC-10 team that can make that claim) . . . John Anderson's game-ending kick last week was the first time since 1988 (when John McCallum's 25-yarder beat Cal with two seconds left) a Husky placekicker won a game in the last ten seconds. UCLA has lots more experience at it: Brad Daluiso beat both Stanford and Washington in 1990, Louis Perez beat Oregon in 1992, Chris Sailer beat the Ducks in 1998, and of course, Chris Griffith daggered the Huskies in OT two years ago . . . The only other time Washington and UCLA faced each other as Top-10 teams was in 1981 in Seattle -– a 10-7 Washington victory . . . Willie Hurst is 132 rushing yards from cracking the Husky Top-10 all-time. He would surpass Beno Bryant . . . Who needs seat cushions? If the seats in Husky Stadium appear softer, it is because of the multitudes of paint coatings. Husky Stadium is the fifth-oldest stadium in Division 1-A. It is also the fifth-best stadium in the country to play home games in, according to the Sporting News . . . The last time UCLA went unbeaten and untied was in the 1954 season (9-0). That team beat Washington 21-20, and outscored everyone else 346-20. In fact, it's the only unbeaten, untied season UCLA has had. Their only other unbeaten season was 1939, when the Bruins went 6-0-4 . . . Not to jinx him, but Reggie Williams is on pace for 1,031 receiving yards this season. That would beat Chris Juergens' all-time Husky freshman receiving record –- by 617 yards. Williams is only 39 yards away from eclipsing Juergens . . . Turnover Advantage? UCLA has converted seven-out-of-ten turnovers into scores of some kind. Conversely, the Bruins have allowed only one score in the eight turnovers they've coughed up . . .
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