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This Challenge Is On the Field

College football: Adversity hasn't stopped Bruins yet, but now comes unbeaten Arizona at Tucson.

October 10, 1998|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TUCSON — Through the injuries, around the natural disaster, headfirst into the discipline, over the other teams. . . .

This isn't a football season, it's an obstacle course.

UCLA arrives at Game 4 listing but still upright, arguably having had its stability challenged more than its ability, the schedule being one of the few factors that has gone right. For that, the Bruins can be thankful. Neither Houston nor Washington State, their most recent opponents, could deliver a punch to match the impact of one from, say, a guy at an off-campus party early last Sunday morning.

They are 3-0, ranked third in the nation, and are still on their feet. Except that now, Arizona, 5-0 and No. 10, gets its chance to do what circumstance has previously been unable to, knock off the Bruins tonight at sold-out Arizona Stadium in the critical Pacific 10 Conference showdown.

Keith Brown will be starting for the suspended Jermaine Lewis at tailback.

Santi Hall will be starting for the injured Michael Wiley at outside linebacker.

Ryan Nece will be starting for the injured Ramogi Huma at inside linebacker, though Huma may be able to play some.

And so on.

"There's been a lot of adversity, if you want to call it that," UCLA Coach Bob Toledo said. "But that shows character on a football team. I think they've done well with that. It's easy if everything stays the same.

"There's been distractions. But there's always distractions. I think that's part of football and part of being a team."

It's just that this one has lived several months in several weeks.

"It seems like toward the end of the season," Brown said.

Hurricane Georges wiped out, at least temporarily, the Miami game. Hurricane Bob wiped out the original rotation in the secondary. Numerous injuries have done damage. A single scuffle left one of the combatants needing stitches and the other in tears when told he would not play tonight in what might be the biggest game of the season.

Between the opener against Texas, back on Sept. 12, and the projected lineup tonight as the Bruins try to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 1988, they have decided to, or been forced to, change starters at nine of the 22 positions. Including the special teams--kicking, punt return, kickoff return--11 of the faces are new.

No area has been left unscathed:

* Backfield. Brown, the Phoenix native, and DeShaun Foster, and their combined 39 carries replace Lewis, just in time to face the No. 2 rushing defense in the conference.

* Receivers. Brian Poli-Dixon in at split end, Brad Melsby out.

* Offensive line. James Ghezzi will continue to start at left guard, at least for now. Part of that is because Oscar Cabrera is still working his way back from the ankle injury that cost him the starting job, but the other part is the play of the junior college transfer.

"Ghezzi did a nice job when he was in there," Toledo said.

* Defensive line. Travor Turner went into the opening lineup when Kenyon Coleman suffered a knee injury, but the entire unit has been in almost constant flux. One true freshman, Ken Kocher, was counted on from the outset, but another, Anthony Fletcher, had to be pressed into action. One-time starter Stephen Sua traveled with the Bruins on Friday, but his availability for tonight is to be determined.

* Linebacker. The right side has offered some stability with Brendon Ayanbadejo and improving sophomore Tony White, but the left will be down two starters tonight, Wiley and Huma. It will be the third consecutive miss for Wiley because of back and ankle problems.

* Secondary. There are different starters at three of the four spots. But Toledo's critical comments lighted a fire under Marques Anderson, and Ryan Roques has two interceptions in as many games, so there are encouraging signs for the unit that was revamped after the second game.

* Special teams. Freddie Mitchell's broken leg made Foster the new No. 1 on punt returns and put him as one of the deep men with Lewis on kickoff returns. Lewis' suspension puts Roques back with Foster.

"We've kind of faced a lot of adversity so far," Ayanbadejo said. "We've played three games and are about to play our fourth, and to have already gone through these types of things that most teams go through all season long? Hopefully we're getting it all out of the way."

TONIGHT

No. 3 UCLA at No. 10 Arizona

* Time: 7:15 p.m.

* TV: Fox Sp. West

* Radio: AM 1150

* UCLA REPORT

Arizona looking for some night magic, even if it's only on cable. Page 4

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