Besides this week, that is.
Two teams in search of some healing – UCLA of the physical kind, Washington of the spiritual – will endeavor to put on an unexpected show of unrankeds Saturday afternoon for a nationwide cable audience. In the wake of Cory Paus' potentially season-ending ankle break two weeks ago, the Bruins will be breaking in a freshman starter at quarterback; while the Huskies will be trying to shake an entirely forgettable October that found them one Reggie Williams 80-yard slant away from a winless month.
"I'm real proud of our guys for playing so hard and winning last week in an adverse situation. We're keeping the playbook simple," says UCLA coach Bob Toledo with regard to his quarterback situation – Paus and freshman backup Drew Olson (separated shoulder) both going down against California, forcing the redshirt off of true freshman Matt Moore last week against Stanford. Moore did all he needed to do in bringing the Bruins back from an early 15-0 deficit to beat the Cardinal, as Olson was given an extra week to heal - though Toledo said Olson "could have played if he had to." Olson will be given the full week of practice to try and usurp Moore from the starting role.
Either way, whoever starts at quarterback will be serving his road baptism. Typically, coming into Husky Stadium for a first road start means instant doom. However, this isn't a typical season – Washington's defense hasn't struck fear into opponent's hearts, and so neither does a home crowd who follows the defense's lead - and it could be the perfect time to get a freshman his first road dose. Quarterback questions aside, Toledo is understandably more upbeat this week. "It's a big game for both teams," Toledo says. "It's their homecoming, they've had some adversity, it's going to be hostile, and we're looking forward to the visit."
The Huskies, meanwhile, are staring squarely at its' first losing season since 1976 if they don't take care of business at home. Judging from their latest two-game road disaster, and with Oregon and Washington State still busily prepping their own Dawg grills, it's even money Washington could complete the season winless on the road for the first time since 1973, when the Huskies went 0-4 (Washington did go 0-3-1 in the 1987 regular season, but later beat Tulane on a neutral field). So if anything positive is going to come of this season, it has to happen at home.
"If we're tough minded and go about our business in a tough way, we will get back sooner than later," Husky coach Rick Neuheisel had said before facing ASU. Then his team went out and got drilled, changing the harried coach's tone from a hopeful ‘sooner' to a more frantic ‘now'. "The bottom line is we aren't performing like a Washington football team should perform," Neuheisel says. "It's imperative that all of us associated with the program do everything now in our power to do the fundamental things that are required of football teams so that we can give ourselves the best opportunity to turn this thing around."
And a little homecoming cooking would be a good place to start.
Oh, the answer to the trivia question? The year was 1989. Washington beat UCLA in that one, a 28-27 barnburner. Just the kind of game the TBS folks are pining for this week.
And hoping there will be some non-partisans still interested enough to watch it.
TEAM STATS: 30.1 points (7th PAC-10), 390.0 yards (6th, 140.4 rush, 249.6 pass) RUSHING: Tyler Ebell 135-632-4 TD (4.7), long 73 Akil Harris 69-266-3 TD (3.9), long 35 Manuel White 53-238-3 TD (4.5), long 30 PASSING: Matt Moore 7-19-0 (.368), 142 yards, 1 TD Drew Olson 9-15-0 (.600), 104 yards, 0 TD RECEIVING: Craig Bragg 39-652-7 TD (16.7), long 71 Tab Perry 27-539-1 TD (20.0), long 55 Mike Seidman 26-424-4 TD (16.3), long 64Simple is as simple does. It worked for Forrest Gump, and it worked for UCLA against Stanford last week – the Bruins ran it 46 out of 65 total plays in Matt Moore's Bruin debut as a starting quarterback, including 30 out of 35 second-half snaps. With Washington statistically having a much better rush defense than the Cardinal, offensive coordinator Kelly Skipper may have to give a bit more to whomever the Bruins start.
Both Moore (6-4, 180) and Olson (6-2, 211) were starting for their respective high school teams a year ago, and now find themselves roading it for the first time in a venue that can be cruel to first-time starters. With an extra week to get ready, Olson could get the call on Saturday, though Toledo was pleased with Moore's outing last week. Either way, it could be a difficult baptism if the Husky defense – and crowd – can find it in themselves to bring out the heavy rattles.
Manuel White's hamstring injury, suffered in the early going against Oregon State, continues to keep him sidelined, and the Bruins have been riding RS-freshman tailback Tyler Ebell (5-9, 170) ever since. Ebell, a former High School Heisman winner at Ventura high, is now third-leading rusher in the PAC-10 with 632 yards, and has a four-game 100-yard streak going. He greased the ‘skin 39 times for 160 yards against Stanford – including 13 of the Bruins' 16 fourth-quarter scrimmage plays. Junior Akil Harris (6-0, 216) has made four starts but seems destined now for a career as a backup.
Senior tight end Mike Seidman (6-5, 254) is waging war with Oregon's George Wrightster as the PAC-10's best tight end. His 26 receptions are already six more than his career total entering the season. Sophomore Craig Bragg (6-2, 192) is having an all-conference year, his seven touchdowns ranking him fourth among PAC-10 receivers. Bragg caught nine balls for 230 yards against Oregon. Junior Tab Perry (6-3, 220) got off to a slow start, with only eight receptions in the first three games, but has averaged 21.8 yards in 17 grabs over the last four.
Senior tackles Mike Saffer (6-5, 204) and Bryce Bohlander (6-6, 296) will be called upon again to open the lanes for Ebell. Bohlander will be starting his 34th straight game, and Saffer has only missed one game during that span. Sophomore Eyoseph Efseaff (6-3, 301) has the highest game grade of anyone on the front five, grading out at 95 percent against San Diego State. RS-freshman center Mike McCloskey (6-5, 280) has played all but one series in his first eight games as a Bruin.
GAME OUTLOOK: No question that UCLA will be looking to smash it, like they did last week against Stanford and a year ago against Washington, when DeShaun Foster blasted them for 301 yards. The Huskies have statistically the best rush defense in the conference – now is the time to prove it.
TEAM STATS: 22.8 points (5th PAC-10), 326.6 yards (3rd, 142.6 rush, 184.0 pass) TACKLES/TFL: Marcus Reese 64/3.5 Spencer Havner 60/6.5 Brandon Chillar 49/7.0 PASSES DEF/INT: Ricky Manning 7/3 Spencer Havner 7/2 Ben Emanuel 4/2 SACKS: Dave Ball 7.0 Brandon Chillar 3.0 Steve Morgan 2.5After a sluggish start, mostly due to new personnel, defensive coordinator Phil Snow has his guys primed to defend their 2001 ranking as the top defense in the PAC-10. The Bruins' pass defense tops the conference, and they've allowed only 208 yards through the air in the last two games – including a conference-best 75 against Stanford.
Pre-season All-American Rodney Leisle suffered a broken foot against Oregon State, and he was sorely missed the following week in a loss to the Ducks, but the ship now appears righted. Senior Steve Morgan (6-3, 313) and junior Dave Ball (6-6, 279) anchor the defensive front, both with 22 tackles. Ball has a sack streak going at six straight games. JuCo transfer Ryan Boschetti (6-4, 274) has swatted a pair of passes away to go with his 21 stops.
RS-freshman Spencer Havner (6-4, 232) is a prime candidate for freshman All-American honors. The linebacker has two interceptions (one for a score) and five pass break-ups, has forced two fumbles, and he leads the teams with eight tackles-for-loss. Junior Brandon Chillar (6-3, 234) has seven TFL, and led the charge against the Cardinal with 11 tackles and two sacks. Senior MLB Marcus Reese (6-1, 225) is the leading Bruin tackler with 64, giving him 132 on his career. Reese has also blocked three punts in two years.
Senior corner Ricky Manning (5-9, 180) has 27 stops and three picks in leading the UCLA defensive backfield, but the All-conference performer – who surprisingly scored his first career touchdown against Oregon State this season - likely won't draw Reggie Williams. That honor will go to sophomore Matt Ware (6-3, 204), who was moved from safety to help deal with the PAC-10's taller receivers. Ware, who is also a Seattle Mariner farmhand, leads all Bruin DBs with 35 tackles. Freshman safety Jarrad Page (6-1, 200) has four pass break-ups in his five starts.
GAME OUTLOOK: The Bruins battered Taylor Barton last year in the Rose Bowl, and Phil Snow got a good look at the Sun Devils stopping Pickett and Co. last week in similar fashion. The Huskies couldn't contain Suggs last week, and face similar problems with Dave Ball and an active linebacking corps. Washington has created a lot of their own problems by being sluggish and passive – they must be quicker, and perhaps more importantly, meaner. Pancakes are allowed, after all.
UCLA SPECIAL TEAMS
PLACEKICKING: Chris Griffith 8-14 FG (long 46), 25-26 XP Nate Fikse 5-6 FG (long 44), 1-1 XP PUNTING: Nate Fikse 39-42.5 (long 63), .256 inside the 20 KICK RETURNS: Tab Perry 16-23.2 (long 38), 0 TD Jason Harrison 5-25.8 (long 46), 0 TD PUNT RETURNS: Tyler Ebell 23-11.6 (long 53), 0 TDNate Fikse only tried one field goal prior in his career to last week, when he stepped in for a struggling Chris Griffith and went 5-5 in tying a conference record and garnering special-teams PAC-10 Player-of-the-Week honors. Fikse has the look of an NFL-caliber punter – his hang times are amazing. Sophomore safety Ben Emanuel (6-3, 206) has a blocked field goal and a two-point defensive conversion to go with his two interceptions. Tab Perry is fourth in the conference in kick-returning, while Tyler Ebell ranks third in punt returns. UCLA only ranks ninth in kick-return coverage, however.
KIBBLES AND BITS
The Bruins are 3-1 on the road this year . . . Though Cody Pickett was held to 210 passing yards last week, he's still on pace to surpass the 4,000-yard season mark. The PAC-10 record is 3,637 yards, held by Ryan Leaf. Pickett needs to average 206 yards per game the rest of the season to set the new conference standard. He only needs 517 yards to surpass Brock Huard as the Huskies' all-time leading passer . . . It's the fifth appearance for Washington on TBS. The Huskies are 2-2 overall on Ted Turner's meal ticket . . .Charles Frederick is now Washington's season leader in all-purpose yards . . . Matt Moore became the third Hart High School (Valencia) quarterback to start in the PAC-10 this year. The others? California's Kyle Boller and Stanford's Kyle Matter . . . It could be that UCLA wants Washington to come out smoking. The Bruins are 4-1 when their opponent scores first – and in all four of those victories, they started in at least a 10-0 hole . . . When the Huskies gave up zero points in the second quarter against ASU, it marked the first time in 17 frames Washington didn't allow any points in a quarter, going back to the first stanza against Idaho . . . Ten true freshmen have played for UCLA so far this season . . . Bob Toledo is 4-2 against Washington, while Rick Neuheisel is 1-2 against his alma mater. Washington and UCLA are the two least penalized teams in the conference . . .
Rick Samek can be reached at RSAMEK1@ATTBI.COM . . .