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Bruins' Defense Is Suddenly Flooded

October 22, 2000|J.A. ADANDE

It was as if the worst Los Angeles stereotypes came into play. Superficial, fair-weather, lacking substance.

Oh, the UCLA Bruins were entertaining, resourceful and even resilient in the course of their 44-38 loss to Oregon State on Saturday at the Rose Bowl.

You can't say they lacked heart after they gave themselves one last chance with a late score and an on-side kick recovery after all hope seemed lost.

They just lacked the necessary stuff up the middle, in the trenches and at the key, buckle-up-and-shut-'em-down points of the game.

And Coach Bob Toledo is caught, stuck with a desire to master the basics while pulling enough tricks to keep the constituents happy.

He tried a compromise Saturday, play-actions and misdirections to keep from looking bland, but no gimmicky reverses or halfback passes.

But the Bruins lost on the basics. Four telling moments stand out.

A game-turning fumble during a brief rain shower in the fourth quarter.

A 22-yard dash for a first down on third-and-17. That was followed by a simple run up the middle that turned into a 66-yard touchdown while Oregon State was merely trying to run out the clock in the final two minutes.

And the first glance at the final stats sheet, showing Oregon State had 604 total yards in offense. 604.

It's mystifying how, after beating a Southeastern Conference school with an SEC-style rugged attack in the season opener against Alabama, the Bruins could go pastry like this.

One problem is the defensive line seems to lose another player each game. Saturday it was tackle Ken Kocher going out with a sprained left knee, which at one point left the Bruins with two freshmen and a sophomore in the trenches. And they might need a replacement for defensive end Mat Ball, a replacement who made his first start (an impressive one too) Saturday and broke a bone in his right hand.

But that doesn't explain all of the missed tackles, the cushy pass coverage and the fact that the offensive line isn't opening many holes these days. The Bruins gained only 101 rushing yards against Oregon State, and most of them were the kind where the running back does the work.

While on the subject of running backs, did we mention that Oregon State won this game in crunch time with its second-string and even third-string running backs on the field?

Ken Simonton, who might be the best back in the Pacific 10 Conference, didn't play in the fourth quarter. Oregon State Coach Dennis Erickson said Simonton had a nagging hamstring injury. But there was a nagging suspicion that Erickson was punishing Simonton for fumbling twice.

Whatever the reason, Oregon State still won without its best weapon.

Backup Patrick McCall rushed for 118 yards in the fourth quarter, including a back-breaking 66-yard touchdown on a late third-and-two. And his backup, Antonio Battle, broke loose for 22 yards when UCLA was down by six and had the Beavers at third-and-17, deep in their own territory with the clock winding down. Meanwhile, UCLA just isn't the same team without DeShaun Foster at the top of his game. We saw that when he was injured most of last year and when he sat out the California game because of a broken bone in his hand last week.

UCLA was so desperate to get Foster back in the lineup, he played even though he received medical clearance an hour before the game. The Bruins hustled him in on their second drive and had him play with a soft cast on the hand. Even though his timing wasn't sharp and he carried the ball almost exclusively in his left hand, he showed why he's so valuable to UCLA by rushing five times for 18 yards and a touchdown on that drive.

But Foster wasn't ready to carry the team the way he did when he rushed 42 times against Alabama. Saturday, Foster split time with Akil Harris and rushed 18 times for 56 yards.

Harris had the ball--briefly--when everything started to go bad for UCLA. UCLA held a seven-point lead when the raindrops began to fall. The rain came as a bad omen, like something out of film noir. Harris fumbled the wet ball, Oregon State recovered at the UCLA 20 and scored three plays later.

"We get enough rain in Corvallis," McCall said. "We knew rain wouldn't change our game plan at all. Just keep playing hard."

Playing hard. And playing smart. It seems the Beavers were better than the Bruins in both categories Saturday.

The Bruin defense relied on home runs and knockout punches, not singles and jabs. Unless they forced a turnover (the two fumbles and a deflected pass that Ball returned for a touchdown) or Oregon State was content to run out the clock, the Bruins had no way to stop the Beavers. Oregon State scored on eight of its 15 possessions, punted only twice and ran out the clock on two other possessions.

The Beavers converted 12 of 18 third downs.

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