From the Bye-ing pan into the Fire

It only feels like four score and seven years ago. But in reality, it's just been 11 months since the <A HREF=http://washington.TheInsiders.com>Washington</A> Huskies were last seen in any poll. Last October 4 found the Huskies ranked 18th in the country and riding into the Arroyo Secos on a three-game winning streak.

UCLA (0-0, 1-1) at Washington (0-0, 0-1)
Saturday, September 18 - 4:05 PM (PDT) – ABC TV (Regional)
Series All-time: UCLA leads, 33-28-2
Last Meeting: October 4, 2003 - UCLA 46, Washington 16
Line: Pick ‘em

And in the first half of their contest at UCLA they played like a ranked team, scoring on their first three possessions and taking a 16-7 halftime lead.

It would be cruel and unusual punishment to rehash just how "rank" their second half went, unless you happen to be a Bruin - or a Duck or Cougar.

But since that fateful 39-point Uclan massacre, neither team has shown a wont to rejoin the polling wars. Washington has been a stuttering 3-5 since, and UCLA an equally luke-warm 4-6 – with last week's 35-17 win over Illinois halting a six-game skein.

Bruin head coach Karl Dorrell returns to Husky Stadium for the first time since serving his one-year stint as Washington's offensive coordinator in 1999. Dorrell remembers what it was like in the Dawg House. "It's one of the best places to play in the PAC-10," recalls Dorrell with his usual quiet manner. "It's as loud as it comes. It's just a great environment for a college football game."

"And there's a lot riding on this game," adds Dorrell. "You want to start PAC-10 conference play on the right foot ... Unfortunately (for us) Washington had a bad start – I know they didn't like their result. And they'll want to get the ship righted.

"It will be a great challenge for UCLA."

It's an understatement to say Washington coach Keith Gilbertson was less than enamored with having a bye week after just one game, and then having his young Huskies dive headlong into conference play. Almost wistfully, Gilby made reference to the Bruins having two games to prepare. "I don't know if it did us much good having a bye week the second week of the season," Gilbertson extolled at his Monday press conference. "It would have been nice to have played another game."

"UCLA probably feels they improved from their first game, especially on defense."

Safe to say, Washington would love to experience that same level and feeling of improvement in their second game that the Bruins enjoyed last week in Champaign. After all – never mind it still being September - it's only for first place.

UCLA OFFENSE
TEAM STATS:  27.5 points, 462.0 yards (4th PAC-10,
             232.0 rush, 230.0 pass)
             5-8 in Red Zone offense (7th PAC-10)   

RUSHING:     Manuel While 40-242-3 TD (6.1), long 60 
             Maurice Drew 33-200-1 TD (5.6), long 47
             
PASSING:     Drew Olson 60-116-3 (.517), 660 yards, 4 TD 
            
RECEIVING:   Craig Bragg 7-160-2 TD (22.9), long 41
             Marcedes Lewis 6-85-1 TD (14.2), long 23
             Junior Taylor 2-34-0 TD (17.0), long 17

QB Drew Olson (14) of the UCLA Bruins throws against the University of Illinois Fighting Illini on September 11, 2004 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois.
Getty Images
New offensive coordinator Tom Cable – late of Idaho and a former Dorrell colleague at Colorado – married eight returning starters into his version of the West Coast offense. Four turnovers did them in against Oklahoma State, but a big opening drive versus Illinois set a confident, mid-season tone for an offense that finished in the conference basement in total yards a year ago.

An experienced offensive line has allowed no sacks in two games – though part of that is a by-product of OSU only throwing it eight times. The Bruins, led by the tailback tandem of Maurice Drew and Manuel White, ran for 273 yards in the win over the Illini - its highest total since DeShaun Foster rang up 301 against the Huskies in 2001. White, the bruiser, plowed for 145 yards against the Cowboys and Drew, the scatback, scampered for 151 in Champaign. Drew also had the PAC-10's longest touchdown run a year ago at 83 yards. Guard Steven Vieria and tackle Ed Blanton are both in their third year starting up front, and the versatile Paul Mociler moved back to tackle when stalwart center Mike McCloskey returned to the lineup after recovering from a broken ankle suffered in 2003.

Junior quarterback Drew Olson returns to the scene of his first-ever start - two years ago as a true freshman, he started for an injured Cory Paus and threw for 189 yards in leading UCLA to an upset 34-24 win in Seattle. No longer having Matt Moore to compete with/against, Olson is 2-0 lifetime against the Huskies while guiding the Bruins to a perfect 10-10 in red-zone opportunities in those two victories.

Seniors Craig Bragg and Tab Perry are the big guns in the UCLA aerial attack. Bragg, a probable All-American, has 11 touchdowns of 40-yards or longer in his career – including a 41-yard beauty a week ago - and has 174 career receiving yards against Washington. Bragg is riding an impressive 33-game streak in which he's caught two or more passes. Perry, just ruled academically eligible two weeks ago after missing the entire 2003 season, looks to make a bigger splash after breaking back in with one catch in each of his first two games. Tight end Marcedes Lewis is one of the more potent tight ends in the conference with 42 career grabs, while wide-out Junior Taylor has 40 career receptions for two scores.

GAME OUTLOOK: Though turnovers bit UCLA in week one, they've shown a remarkable balance, totaling 464 and 460 rushing/passing yards respectively to go with a 22-21 rush/pass first down ratio. They'll surely try to wear down the Dub-D with the White/Drew tandem, and Bragg has been a Husky thorn for two years. UCLA has outscored Washington 115-53 in winning the past three contests - but if anyone should have a bead on what the Bruins are doing, former UCLA and current UW defensive coordinator Phil Snow should.

UCLA DEFENSE
TEAM STATS:     24.0 points, 452.5 yards
                (10th PAC-10, 317.0 rush, 135.5 pass)
                7-9 in Red Zone defense (5th PAC-10)  

TACKLES/TFL:    Spencer Havner 33/2.5
                Ben Emanuel 18/0.0
                Wesley Walker 13/1.0    

PASSES DEF/INT: Aaron Whittington 2/0
                Chris Horton 1/1 
                Jarrad Page 1/0
                
SACKS:          Wesley Walker 1.0
                Danny Nelson 0.5
                Justin Hickman 0.5

SS Ben Emanuel and LB Spencer Havner (41) give chase.
AP/Mark J. Terrill
Only five starters return to defensive coordinator Larry Kerr's 4-3 alignment. Graduating losses meant that an entirely new D-line had to be developed, with no less than 12 players seeing action up front against Illinois – and all 10 traveling to Seattle could play. With the exception of senior Eyoseph Efseaff - who's also in a learning mode after moving to defensive tackle from a three-year starting stint on the O-line - UCLA is truly young in the interior. "None of our guys have really sustained a level where they can play 60-70 plays," says Dorrell of his merry-go-round D-front. "That's just where we're at. But they're all getting better, so that's a good thing."

Junior tackle C.J. Niusulu returns to the lineup after having his knee scoped two weeks ago. Niusulu qualifies as the veteran of the bunch, even though Saturday will mark his first career start. Freshmen Bruce Davis and Kenneth Lombard have both started this season, while sophomore Justin Hickman gave Illinois fits, knocking QB Jon Beutjer out of the game. JuCo transfer Kyle Morgan was ticketed for a starting spot until he had the dreaded "scope" in August, but he's been seeing more field time as well.

In Wesley Walker, Justin London and Spencer Havner, the Bruins have three solid linebackers who simply make plays. Havner is always near the ball, having 16 and 17-tackle days already this season. He is just about to break 200 career tackles as a junior, and he has a 72-yard interception return to his credit. Walker has already started both outside and inside, and will be slotted accordingly depending on the health of the junior London. London had 98 tackles a year ago – 8.5 of them for loss – to go with three interceptions. But he tweaked an ankle during fall camp, and is just now getting "start" ready this week.

The DBs have some goodly experience. Senior Ben Emanuel and junior Jarrad Page share 12 career picks between them at the safeties - Emanuel has returned a pair of them for touchdowns, including one in his first career start. Page has forced two fumbles already in the early going. Senior Matt Clark is a two-year starter at one corner, and while junior Marcus Cassel is in his first year on the front line, he's been a special teams whiz for two seasons.

GAME OUTLOOK: After Oklahoma State ground them into 429-yard rushing hamburger, the Bruins also came out flat against Illinois – until a fourth-down goal-line stand on the Illini's first series and subsequent 96-yard TD drive revved things up. Still, a young line has yet to find itself, and it could be a good starting point for a Husky offense that will be trying to do some finding of its own.

UCLA SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING:  Justin Medlock 2-2 FG (long 52), 7-7 XP
                              
PUNTING:       Chris Kluwe 8-35.2 (long 54),
               .500 inside the 20
                
KICK RETURNS:  Tab Perry 1-32.0 (long 32), 0 TD
               Maurice Drew 1-25.0 (long 25), 0 TD
                               
PUNT RETURNS:  Craig Bragg 4-11.8 (long 33), 0 TD

On paper, UCLA looks to have a nice advantage here. The Bruins have a field-position weapon in senior punter Chris Kluwe and a points-weapon in sophomore placekicker Justin Medwick. Kluwe has already popped four punts inside the 20, and averaged 43 yards per boot a year ago. Last year he put two kicks inside the Arizona two-yard line to garner PAC-10 POW honors. Medwick has 16 three-pointers in 21 career attempts – seven-for-nine of them outside of 40 yards – and has never missed a PAT. He nailed a career-best 52-yarder against Oklahoma State.

Craig Bragg handles the punt-return duty, and is in the league's elite alongside Charles Frederick and USC's Reggie Bush – remember that in 2002, Bragg led the conference in the discipline. Maurice Drew returned two kickoffs for scores last year, while Tab Perry holds the school record for most kickoff return yards.

GAME OUTLOOK: The Bruins blocked six kicks a year ago, and had nary a boot touched of their own. Conversely, the Huskies registered a minus-three in the kick-snuff department. Kluwe is a proven weapon, while Sean Douglas is still getting his foot wet. Washington's special teams – with perhaps the exception of the return team – has been anything but special the past couple of seasons. If it becomes a field-position battle, it's advantage UCLA.


KIBBLES AND BITS

Eleven true freshmen have seen playing time for the Bruins ... Unless something good happens this Saturday, September 22 will mark the third anniversary of Washington's last field-goal block (Larry Tripplett against Idaho). It also marks the same anniversary of UW's last scoring kickoff return (Roc Alexander) ... UCLA has won their last three PAC-10 conference openers ... The 2-0 – yes, 2-0 - Stanford Cardinal hasn't allowed a second or third quarter point so far while outscoring San Jose State and BYU by a combined 80-13 ... ASU's Derek Hagan has a string of five-straight 100-yard receiving games, and Cal's J.J. Arrington is averaging 11.2 yards in his 32 carries ... Devastating as Hurricane Ivan will no doubt be, the 10th-ranked Bears may be the one entity that catches a break from the impending gulf storm. With their trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi being postponed until perhaps December, they now have an extra seven days to prepare for a more manageable two-game road trip (to Oregon State and USC) instead of enduring a cross-country three-gamer and playing on four days rest ... Rain and temps only in the upper-50s is in the Seattle forecast for Saturday afternoon ...
Rick Samek can be reached atrsamek1@comcast.net

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