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Dorrell Uses Scare Tactics to Prepare for Mildcats

October 11, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

TUCSON — The biggest challenge for UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell in preparing for today's game at Arizona wasn't so much fine-tuning an offense that seemed to be finding its stride, nursing some key defensive players back to health or eliminating the costly penalties that have thwarted several drives.

It was getting the Bruins to keep a straight face.

If not for lowly Texas El Paso, a team Arizona thrashed, 42-7, in its season opener, the Wildcats (1-5) might be considered the nation's worst Division I-A team.

Arizona has been outscored, 102-0, in the first halves of the last five games, losses to Louisiana State, 59-13; Oregon, 48-10; Purdue, 59-7; Texas Christian, 13-10, and Washington State, 30-7, an abysmal start that led to the firing of coach John Mackovic two weeks ago.

The Wildcats have lost 10 of their last 12 games and rank last in the Pacific 10 Conference in scoring at 14.8 points a game; scoring defense, 36 points; passing offense, 163.8 yards a game; rushing offense, 84.3; rushing defense, 187; total offense, 248.2, and total defense, 465.7.

They rank last nationally among 117 Division I-A teams in total offense and 113th in rushing offense and have scored one more point in their last five games, 47, than the Bruins scored in a 46-16 rout of Washington last Saturday.

In short, UCLA (3-2) should dominate Arizona.

Just don't tell the Bruins that.

"This game is scary to me," Dorrell said. "We need to go into it like any other game, not treat it any differently. Even though Arizona is going through some transition, with coaches changing and them not having quite the execution they need, they're going to do some things to try to change the direction they're going in.

"What we have to do is continue to get better, to stay focused. We can't look at their situation, thinking this is not going to be a tough contest on the road. We have to go into the game with a businesslike attitude of getting our work done."

To Dorrell's credit, he hasn't gone the Lou Holtz route, touting Arizona as a Pac-10 contender down on its luck. His players aren't that naive.

But in his own quiet way -- does Dorrell have any other way? -- he seems to have hammered his point home: The Bruins seem to respect Arizona, remaining confident they'll win today but not overconfident.

"To throw out another statistic, we know Arizona has played four top-25 opponents," UCLA defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti said, referring to LSU, Purdue, TCU and Washington State, which were all ranked when they beat the Wildcats.

"They've played some good competition, so we're going to prepare for this game as we do for any other, and if you saw the intensity of practice, the amount of time we spent in meetings, going over and over and over [the game plan] until it's pounded in, you know we're definitely not looking past these guys. We're going to play them like they're the No. 1 or 2 team in the country."

The Bruins actually played the No. 1 team in the country, losing at Oklahoma, 59-24, on Sept. 20, but they rebounded with a 20-10 victory over San Diego State on Sept. 27 and last week's thumping of Washington, a game in which UCLA scored 39 unanswered second-half points.

Quarterback Drew Olson passed for 258 yards in each of the wins, teaming with receivers Craig Bragg and Junior Taylor on several big plays, and the Bruin defense has been superb, recovering one fumble for a touchdown and returning one interception for a touchdown against the Huskies.

"People expect us to win this game, and we have a lot of confidence coming off the last game," Olson said. "But the coaches won't let us go through the motions. Even though we might not be going against what looks to be a great opponent, our preparation has to be even better. We still have to get a lot better as a team.

"We've got to prepare for Arizona like we did for Washington and Oklahoma. Arizona played TCU real tough, and you never know in the Pac-10. They can still come out and upset you."

The Bruins thought they could play with Oklahoma and actually led the Sooners, 10-7, after the first quarter, so who's to say Arizona couldn't hang with UCLA, at least for a little while?

"I've played against teams like this, teams that have gotten off to rough starts, and all they need is something to spark themselves," said Dorrell, a former UCLA receiver. "They start doing some things right, things start to go their way, and all of a sudden they're in a football game.

"We don't want to have those things happen to us. We don't want to misjudge any situation we're going into. We still haven't won a game on the road, so that's our challenge, to go into someone's backyard and come out with a win."

It helps to have bullies such as Boschetti and fellow defensive linemen Rodney Leisle, Dave Ball and Mat Ball, linebackers Brandon Chillar, Justin London and Spencer Havner, and cornerback Matt Ware, the backbone of a UCLA defense that leads the Pac-10 and ranks 16th nationally in total defense, has intercepted 10 passes in the last four games and seems hungry for more.

"As a defense and as individuals, we set our expectations pretty high," Boschetti said. "I think we can actually play better. If we cause five turnovers, we better cause six the next week. If we get five sacks, the next week we better have six. We want to improve every week, and that means improving every day, practicing hard and not looking past an opponent, no matter who it is."

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