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UCLA REWIND

Focus on Future Becomes Battle Cry

November 24, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell and his assistants will hit the recruiting trail this week, and you can bet their sales pitch to potential Bruins won't be, "Sign with us, and maybe you'll get a chance to play in the Silicon Valley Classic!"

The emphasis will be on the future, the program Dorrell is building, the offense he expects to mature. It will be on the finer points of higher education that UCLA can offer. Any emphasis on the present might be risky.

UCLA closed the regular season with a 47-22 loss to USC on Saturday, and a once-promising season that began with a 6-2 record and talk of a possible Rose Bowl berth ended with four consecutive losses and, with any luck, a berth in the (no drum roll necessary) Silicon Valley Classic.

The Bruins will spend two weeks in bowl limbo, not knowing if they've played their last game or will gain an invitation to play a Western Athletic Conference team -- probably Tulsa or Fresno State -- in San Jose's Spartan Stadium on Dec. 30.

If USC defeats Oregon State on Dec. 6, Oregon State, Washington and UCLA will finish in a three-way tie for fifth in a conference with six bowl tie-ins, the final two Pacific 10 slots going to the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 24 and the Silicon Valley Classic.

Because UCLA played in the Las Vegas Bowl last season, Oregon State, which also would finish with a better record (7-5) than UCLA (6-6), would probably get the Las Vegas Bowl berth.

The Silicon Valley Classic would then choose between Washington (6-6) and UCLA, and it appears the Bruins might have an edge because of their strong alumni base in the Bay Area and their 46-16 thumping of Washington on Oct. 4.

While the Silicon Valley Classic logo won't appear on UCLA's recruiting brochures, the game would allow the Bruins to wipe the sour taste of this season out of their mouths and, more important, give UCLA a few more weeks of practice in December.

"I don't want my career to be over," senior defensive end Dave Ball said. "I still want to play more. I don't want to go out a loser. I want to leave the field with my head up one last time."

It's been almost a month since the Bruins had that feeling. UCLA's last win was over Arizona State on Oct. 25.

Whether it was a lack of talent, execution or understanding -- or all three -- Dorrell's new West Coast offense was a flop -- the Bruins rank 107th nationally among 117 Division I-A teams in total offense (305.8 yards a game), 114th in rushing (93.9) and 93rd in scoring (19.9 points).

Dorrell waffled in the second half of the season on a starting quarterback, and neither sophomore Drew Olson (162 of 294 for 1,971 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions) nor sophomore Matt Moore (52 of 103 for 555 yards, two touchdowns, six interceptions) provided much hope for the future.

Freshman tailback Maurice Drew, who carried 118 times for 517 yards and five touchdowns and had a 28.2-yard kickoff return average with two touchdowns, showed promise, but he also had a tendency to fumble. Craig Bragg (68 receptions for 994 yards and four touchdowns) had a fine season, but the depth at receiver tailed off considerably after him.

The offensive line was young and inexperienced and overwhelmed at times -- the Bruins gave up a conference-high 49 sacks for a loss of 367 yards -- and the offense as a whole was so ineffective, converting only 66 of 192 (34%) third-down conversions, that Chris Kluwe set a school record with 82 punts.

UCLA lacked discipline -- the Bruins were penalized 104 times for a loss of 921 yards, an average of 76.8 yards a game -- it gave up six special-teams touchdowns, and that obscured a solid defense that will lose five seniors in ends Dave and Mat Ball, tackles Rodney Leisle and Ryan Boschetti and linebacker Brandon Chillar, who led the team with 127 tackles.

Athletic Director Dan Guerrero made it clear that, despite the howling of many UCLA boosters, Dorrell will return for the second year of his six-year contract. But Dorrell probably will make some staff changes.

The job of offensive line coach Mark Weber, a holdover from Bob Toledo's staff, could be in jeopardy, and there is speculation that Dorrell will make another run at Tom Cable -- who will not return as head coach at Idaho -- to serve as the Bruins' offensive coordinator.

"My job is to work as hard as I can to get our program back to where it should be," Dorrell said. "That's going to take a great deal of effort in recruiting, in what we do in the off-season. I understand that challenge ... and where we need to go."

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