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NOTES

Olson Gets Experience and a Bit More

September 08, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD and STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It wasn't the go-ahead touchdown that settled freshman quarterback Drew Olson down.

It wasn't that 15-yard pass to Tab Perry that gave UCLA a first-and-goal from the five, either.

"Actually, the play that settled me down was the one I got sacked on," Olson said. "It kind of calmed my nerves."

Coach Bob Toledo told Olson he was going to play in the second quarter.

Toledo didn't keep his word, deciding against it first because Cory Paus threw an interception and would feel he had been yanked, and later because he blew an opportunity with a penalty.

But Toledo kept his word on one thing. He told Olson he was going to get his feet wet.

Try soaked.

With the Bruins on to their seven-yard line in the third quarter, trailing by six, Toledo sent in the rookie.

"I thought maybe they might put me in at the 40-yard line, something like that," Olson said.

"It happened to be where it was. I was happy to go in. I was excited."

Not that he was complaining.

Especially after he directed a 52-yard drive early in the fourth that helped UCLA take a 14-13 lead.

"It was awesome. That was the best feeling, coming off the field," Olson said.

The idea was that without an experienced backup, UCLA had to get Olson some experience or risk having to play him an emergency without any.

The players said they weren't surprised at Toledo's move.

"He has confidence in him," tailback Akil Harris said. "He wanted to get his feet wet. It was the perfect time."

Well, not exactly perfect, Toledo admitted.

"We get the ball around the eight-yard line and here goes a true freshman in at quarterback. He was a little nervous but I tell you what, for a [19]-year-old kid he's a pretty poised player. He threw some good balls."

The reason his debut went so well, Olson said, is coaches prepared him. So did Paus.

"He gave me a lot of good advice about keeping my composure," he said.

He kept it, and now Olson, a 6-foot-2, 188-pound freshman from Piedmont, Calif., might be closer to his future than he thinks. The fans think so.

His debut has provided a whole new angle, sort of like Carson Palmer's freshman debut at USC did. Still, he completed only two of three passes for 24 yards.

"I mean, Cory's our starter," Olson said. "We're sticking behind him. He's leading the team right now. There's no battle or anything going on like that."

Isn't that how it always starts?

*

On a night when too many seniors started out playing like freshmen, a freshman named Junior struck the first blow for UCLA.

Junior Taylor, a 6-2, 193-pound freshman receiver from Mesa, Ariz., scored the Bruins' first touchdown on a spectacular 49-yard reverse in the second quarter.

Taylor, coming from the left side of the field, took a handoff from Harris and used his speed to gain ground as he headed right.

As the Rams caught on to the reverse, Taylor darted back in, cutting all the way back left and through a crowd of jerseys, 49 yards to the end zone.

One of the best blocks he picked up was from Paus, who up to that point had contributed little to the offense.

Taylor's run was the first offensive touchdown by a true freshman since DeShaun Foster scored four against USC in 1998.

Though Taylor originally signed with UCLA in 2001, he didn't meet NCAA eligibility standards and initially wasn't admitted to UCLA.

By last December, he had raised his aptitude test scores enough to gain admission for the winter quarter in January--and that allowed him to take part in spring practice.

But he remains a true freshman, with four years of eligibility.

*

Besides Taylor, who scored the first time he touched the ball, and Olson, freshmen who made contributions included safety Jarrad Page and tailbacks Tyler Ebell and Wendell Mathis.

Page, a true freshman from San Leandro, made a tackle near the goal line in the second quarter and knocked down a pass with less than a minute to play in the first half.

Ebell, a redshirt freshman from Ventura, eked out a first down on a two-yard sweep in the first quarter, had a seven-yard run in the third quarter and returned a punt four yards.

Mathis did not play until the fourth quarter. With Olson at quarterback, Mathis carried for five, then six yards on the first two plays of a 52-yard scoring drive that gave UCLA a 14-13 lead. He carried again on the drive for three yards.

*

Free safety Matt Ware hurt his ribs in the second half but did not believe the injury was serious.

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