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Rebounding May Be Key for the Bruins


PULLMAN, Wash. — A funny thing happened to UCLA this week while cornerback Matt Ware dreamed of returning to quarterback and implementing an option offense.

The Bruins were able to focus on repairing their psyches and patching up their defense in peace. They even had time to remind themselves the offense revolves around DeShaun Foster, regardless of who is handing him the ball.

Media attention centered on a potential quarterback controversy that never materialized because Cory Paus' thumb healed more quickly than Scott McEwan's ankle.

So questions that arose after the Bruins' unbeaten dreams were dashed in the 38-28 loss at Stanford last week weren't addressed. But as No. 9 UCLA prepares for another Pacific 10 Conference road game against another overachieving team with a high-powered offense, it's not too late to search for answers:

* Can a Bruin defense that went from punishing to porous contain scrambling quarterback Jason Gesser and a Washington State offense that average 40.6 points and 480.1 yards?

Not likely.

Like Stanford, No. 16 Washington State has a much more potent attack than the opponents UCLA stifled en route to a 6-0 start.

Ware, who led Los Angeles Loyola High to a championship at quarterback last season, admitted to fantasizing about running the option with Foster and Manuel White when uncertainty at the position reached a peak early in the week.

Now it's time to wake up. Gesser has passed for 2,107 yards and 20 touchdowns, mostly to dangerous wideouts Nakoa McElrath and Mike Bush.

Ware and the rest of the secondary will be busy. And they might be confused. Strong safety Jason Stephens is out because of a foot injury, which leaves coverage calls to free safety Marques Anderson.

Bruin coaches regret not blitzing Stanford quarterback Chris Lewis more often, so expect the linebackers to supplement pressure applied by the front four. However, all the defenders must keep their feet and look to make tackles instead of highlight-reel hits.

* Can a Bruin offensive line pushed around by Stanford establish physical dominance and open enough holes for Foster to have a Heisman-worthy performance?


Oregon tailbacks combined for 423 yards last week and the Cougars have had several injuries to their front seven.

Foster, held to 77 yards last week, needs to keep UCLA away from third and long by hammering for four-and five-yard gains, even when Washington State crowds the line of scrimmage. Eventually he will wear down the defense and break long runs the way he did against Washington and California.

"I saw what Oregon did," Foster said. "I want to get in a rhythm early and keep the chains moving."

* Can the Bruins overcome the most serious rash of injuries they've experienced this season?

Only if youth prevails.

Ben Emanuel will replace Stephens (foot) and John Ream probably will start in place of senior Troy Danoff (shoulder and ankle) at center. Both replacements are redshirt freshmen who have never started.

Coaches are convinced they can do the job physically, but mental mistakes at these key positions would be costly. Washington State will stunt and blitz to try to confuse Ream, who must call blocking assignments.

* Can the thin-skinned Bruins adjust to cold, possibly rainy conditions at Martin Stadium?

As long as they don't fall behind early.

Foster should run well on the artificial surface, regardless of the weather, and the defense might get better as the temperature drops. But if the Bruins must play catch-up and pass on every down, the way they did in the second half against Stanford, rain could turn to tears.

Bad weather might not be a factor. Temperatures should be in the high 40s and only scattered showers are forecast. Still, it didn't keep Cougar Coach Mike Price, a notorious jokester, from trying to cloud the issue.

"We do have snow blowers on rent," he said. "It'll be perfect, just like Christmas, just the way Bob Toledo likes it. I'd bring gloves and long underwear."

* What's the deal with the quarterbacks, anyway?

Ware won't be needed, at least behind the center. Neither will another converted quarterback who took snaps this week, fullback Ed Ieremia-Stansbury.

Paus threw as well Thursday as he has all season, which isn't to say every pass was on the money. He still throws the long ball better than the short one.

Taking snaps causes him the most pain, so expect UCLA to use the shotgun in obvious passing situations.

Ryan McCann, a forgotten man all season, got the most snaps at practice and showed improvement as the week progressed. Should Paus be unable to go, McCann will get his first opportunity since he had shoulder surgery near the end of last season.

McEwan is not expected to play. But if UCLA loses and Paus does no better than his five-for-16 performance against Stanford, quarterback questions will dominate next week as well.

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