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Linemen Get a High Five

UCLA: Considered the weak spot last season, they give Foster plenty of running room.


They were beaten, bloody, bowed. They were inexperienced, inefficient and frequently inept.

Five young giants spent nine months of days that began at 6:30 a.m. in the weight room being told they were the reason UCLA was 4-7 a season ago.

That they were weak. And soft.

That was the tough one. Nobody who weighs 300 pounds and pushes people around to earn his education wants to be called soft.

"Today was payday," said Mark Weber, UCLA's offensive line coach, after the Bruins had run for 171 net yards Saturday in beating Alabama, 35-24.

He was hardly effusive, for 10 games remain. Weber spoke softly after his charges had wielded a big stick against the Crimson Tide, ranked second in the nation on defense a year ago and with most of those stoppers back.

The UCLA offensive line is a year older and wiser, and it's about 100 aggregate pounds bigger than the one that walked off the field after a loss against USC last November. And it's the same line, the same faces, though some in new places.

But all of the practice, all of the theory, would have meant nothing if Alabama had run them off the Rose Bowl field, as the smart money said would happen.

Their reward came Saturday and DeShaun Foster wrote the checks. He ran 42 times for 187 yards and scored three times. After the linemen had done their jobs, Foster rattled 'Tide tacklers with stiff arms, juked enough to make some miss and added yards to those earned by his blockers.

They did their jobs, then he did his with the extra yards. Linemen like that.

An intelligent man, Foster credited those who cleared the way, the better to keep that way uncluttered for the rest of the season.

"The offensive line did what I knew it would do," said Foster, who deflected some personal criticism concerning his conditioning and desire with the best day for a UCLA running back since Skip Hicks stepped off 190 yards at Washington State in 1997; and the busiest since Karim Abdul-Jabbar also carried 42 times against Stanford in 1995.

"The offensive line played great. Last year they were young and they were hurt."

This year they are older and healthy.

The linemen served notice on UCLA's first drive, a 19-play, 64-yard excursion to Foster's tying touchdown.

UCLA had gone down, 7-0, on Freddie Milons' punt return and had lost starting quarterback Cory Paus because of a shoulder injury. Ryan McCann stepped into the huddle, and the line galvanized, largely in front of Foster, who carried on 10 of the 19 plays, and caught a pass on No. 11.

"It was awesome," said Brian Polak, the only one of the linemen who has shrunk, from 330 a year ago to a svelte 310.

"I love watching him run. Sometimes, at practice, I'll stand on the sideline and just watch him."

On Saturday, Foster ran behind him, then past him, then ahead of him on a drive that spanned 9:06 and served notice that UCLA wasn't going to go away.

"That's the kind of drive that's a lineman's dream," Polak said. "You go 19 or 20 plays, and then you walk off the field and you still feel fresh. And then we had a 13-play drive [early in the second quarter] and we felt fresh after that too.

"And [Alabama was] tired. You could see it. You could feel it."

Said Alabama defensive end Jarret Johnson: "I had never heard of DeShaun Foster."

The word is out now.

UCLA's mission Saturday was to be standing while Alabama slumped at game's end.

To perhaps be bloody Bruins, but no longer beaten or bowed.

Mission accomplished.

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