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Season May Blow Up in UCLA's Face

College football: Bruins need victory over No. 11 Longhorns to avoid 0-3 start.


AUSTIN, Texas — It's a team with a lit fuse, and the question is whether UCLA explodes.

Or implodes.

An explosion would produce an upset of 11th-ranked Texas today at Memorial Stadium.

The Bruins seemed ready for that as the practice week wound down Thursday.

An implosion could cost UCLA (0-2) a season before it really gets going in Pacific 10 Conference play.

That seemed a real possibility when a languid Wednesday practice prompted an early dismissal and a scolding from Coach Bob Toledo, who used the extra off-field time with an eye toward next year, calling recruits.

Toledo won't talk about such volatile extremes, because no matter what happens today, he has to prepare the Bruins for eight more games.

But he acknowledges a team on the brink . . . of something.

"It's kind of a pivotal game in the season," he said. "It's a team that still has a lot of confidence, because they know they're two scores away from being undefeated and probably a top-15 team. This is maybe one of those games that really gets you over the hump, or kind of sets you back just a little bit."

Or sets you back a lot. UCLA figures to struggle against a big Texas team playing in 94-degree temperature, 50% humidity at home.

The Longhorns (1-0) seem to use their namesakes to block for running back Ricky Williams, who at 220 pounds is no calf himself.

Texas averages 306 pounds on the offensive line, and the defense is no slouch up front, with tackles Chris Akins at 306 pounds and Casey Hampton at 307.

Bevo XII, the Longhorn steer who hangs around the end zone at Memorial Stadium, is a comparative mite.

"Their size wearing you down concerns me most," Toledo said. "They've got a huge offensive line. They've got a real big defensive middle. Their two guys over the guards are huge and they're quick. And the middle linebacker [Aaron Humphrey] is good. So they're strong down the middle, and we've got to control that middle three if we're going to have any success."

If the Bruins are going to have any success, they have to get it from quarterback Cade McNown, who passed for 400 yards last week in a 30-24 loss to Tennessee, and from Skip Hicks, who is averaging 135 rushing yards and 64.5 receiving yards a game.

And they're going to have to have it earlier than they have in the past two weeks. Both losses have come in games in which UCLA has rallied in the third and fourth quarters, but fallen to teams that had run up big leads.

"Offensively, I don't know if there's anyone on our schedule that's as diversified," said Longhorn Coach John Mackovic, who offers a defense with a completely new--and decidedly young--secondary for McNown to exploit . . . if he can escape the Texas pass rush.

"Skip Hicks definitely is a different kind of player, and the fact that he comes out of the backfield as a receiver . . . just adds to the difficulty of trying to shut down the offense.

"Cade McNown is a heck of a good quarterback. What he did Saturday, and the way he stayed alive and made the big plays, is impressive."

And to find success, UCLA is going to have to continue to improve defensively. Though the Bruins gave up three Tennessee touchdowns--one on an interception--they showed marked advancement on defense, but they face a quandary today: Will Texas have quarterback James Brown available or not?

If Brown, who suffered an ankle injury against Rutgers and hasn't practiced most of the week, can play his usual game, UCLA has to deal with a scrambling quarterback. If Richard Walton replaces him, the Bruins have to deal with a more predictable, but highly powerful offense.

But mostly UCLA has to deal with itself.

Weekly, Toledo says the key to the Bruins winning is avoiding the kind of mistakes that lose games. More games are lost than are won, he says, and UCLA's two losses reinforce his point.

Mackovic commiserates with his friend of about 30 years.

"I know it's tough when you lose a couple of games like that," he said. "Except for a couple of plays, you know where they'd be ranked. I figure if they convert that fourth and goal [in the fourth quarter] at Washington State and they hit that [fourth-quarter, fourth-down] pass against Tennessee, they're going in to score. They're going to wind up in the top 10, so that was a tough, tough loss."

Instead, the Bruins are a long way from the top 10 teams in college football and on the brink of doing a Titanic imitation.

Or of beginning a cruise back from oblivion.




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