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STATE 20, No. 9 UCLA 14

Bruins Toss Unlucky 7

Pacific 10: Five interceptions, two lost fumbles leave UCLA plummeting from national and conference title contender to bowl hopeful.


PULLMAN, Wash. — At a quaint stadium amid rolling wheat fields and small-town sensibilities, UCLA completed a big-time two-week slide from national title contender to ... Idaho?

The Bruins ducked off to the airport near Moscow, Idaho, soon after reaching the height of frustration in a 20-14 loss to Washington State on Saturday.

Next destination might be Siberia. It surely would be the gulag if turnovers and penalties were crimes.

Five interceptions, two lost fumbles, 11 penalties and a Keystone Kops quarterback routine reduced a team that held serious championship aspirations to a collection of lost souls desperate for the state line.

"You feel very handcuffed right now," Coach Bob Toledo said. "It's a very empty feeling.

"I thought we were ready to play, we were looking forward to it, we were excited to be here."

Washington State was overjoyed. Many of the 33,462 at Martin Stadium charged the field, rocked the goal posts and generally reacted as if the Cougars had done something significant.

Maybe they had.

The Pacific 10 Conference race is coming into greater focus. And residents of this state are raising a steaming latte in salute. Washington State (8-1, 5-1 in conference) and Washington (7-1, 5-1) are tied for first.

UCLA (6-2, 3-2), meanwhile, is in free fall. The distance downward depends on how well the Bruins regroup for a home game next week against another contender, Oregon (8-1, 5-1).

"We have to concentrate on our next opponent rather than the big picture," defensive end Kenyon Coleman said. "We'll watch the tape of this game Monday, then put it behind us."

Call the film "It Takes a Thief," starring Cougar safety Lamont Thompson, who had a school-record four interceptions, including three to end UCLA's final possessions.

Wandering around with empty pockets and flustered looks are Bruin quarterbacks Ryan McCann and Cory Paus.

McCann, the third-stringer until this week, started because he took most of the snaps in practice. Paus, the starter the first seven games, has a minor thumb injury and second-stringer Scott McEwan has a sprained ankle.

McCann played the first quarter, completing three of eight passes, but had two intercepted.

The first, by Thompson, led to the Cougars' first score, a 27-yard reception by tight end Mark Baldwin.

The second, by Marcus Trufant, led to a Cougar field goal and 10-0 lead.

Enter Paus, whose best asset to date was avoiding interceptions. Until last week's 38-28 loss to Stanford, he had gone 198 passes without having one picked off.

But three of his 19 throws were caught by Thompson, giving him as many interceptions as any UCLA player had receptions.

"I was trying to make something happen," Paus said. "Sometimes you just try to make a play."

The game plan was for tailback DeShaun Foster to make the plays. He carried the ball on 11 of the first 12 first downs and finished with 102 yards in 28 carries, moving from sixth to third on the UCLA career rushing list.

But with the Cougars crowding the line of scrimmage and daring UCLA to pass, Foster's yards came with difficulty. Washington State also made a crucial adjustment, going from its customary 4-3 defense to a five-man line that surprised UCLA.

The entire first half was a struggle, and the Bruins finally scored with 4:50 to play after pressure from Tim Warfield resulted in a 30-yard Cougar punt from the end zone. Foster ran nine yards, then broke a 26-yard scoring run off left tackle to cut the deficit to 10-7 with 4:50 to play in the half.

That was as good as it got for the offense. The Bruins gained only 225 yards, rendering meaningless a spirited defensive performance led by middle linebacker Robert Thomas and freshman safety Ben Emanuel that held the potent Cougars to 276 yards, 204 fewer than their average.

"Offensively, we were totally inept," Toledo said. "We couldn't run the ball, couldn't throw the ball, couldn't get anything generated."

Thomas had a career-high 18 tackles, including two for loss. Emanuel, making his first start in place of injured Jason Stephens, had two interceptions, including one he returned 29 yards for a touchdown with 1:39 left in the third quarter that cut the deficit to 17-14.

UCLA had four more possessions, but the first was a three-and-out and the last three ended with Thompson taking possession of Paus' passes.

There were other mistakes as well.

Receiver Tab Perry fumbled after taking a vicious hit from Trufant two minutes into the second half. Perry suffered a broken rib and bruised lung and was carted off to Pullman Memorial Hospital, where he spent the night.

And Foster made perhaps the most costly error, fumbling two plays after Paus connected with tight end Mike Seidman on a 47-yard pass play to put UCLA in scoring position with the score 10-7. The ball was scooped up by Al Genatone and taken 73 yards for a touchdown and 10-point lead.

It appeared Foster never had control of the handoff. Now he and his teammates are losing their grip on a year that held such promise after a 6-0 start.

"We can still save the season," he said. "There's Oregon, USC and games after that to work for. The next week of practice will tell a lot."

Especially about the muddled quarterback situation. It can't be handled worse than it was last week, when McEwan, Paus and McCann were in the dark about their roles while trying to keep their comments politically correct.

Toledo waited until Saturday morning to inform McCann he would start, saying he had three series to prove himself. It turned out he got four, but Paus was not a change for the better.

Now there is a full-blown quarterback controversy.

Or maybe something worse: An empty saddle.

Is anyone capable of riding the Bruins to the finish line, even if it turns out to be the Las Vegas Bowl?

"Scott McEwan would be the quarterback right now if he was healthy," Toledo said.

The ifs are mounting, answers are elusive, and Idaho provided only fleeting refuge for a team that has serious challenges ahead.

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