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First Things First for Bruins' Dorrell

September 06, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

BOULDER, Colo. — With three weeks of spring practice, several months of physical conditioning and mental preparation for a new offense and defense, and two weeks of grueling two-a-day practices behind them, UCLA football players finally open the 2003 season today at Colorado, a week later than most schools.

But their wait pales in comparison to that of Karl Dorrell, the former Bruin receiver who spent 15 years as a college and professional assistant before getting his first head-coaching job and will make his UCLA debut today.

"I've been waiting for this opportunity for 16 years, the chance to see what I'm made of," said Dorrell, who replaced the fired Bob Toledo in December. "I believed I had the potential to be where I'm at today, and to finally get that chance ... boy, I'm going to do the best I can to show why I got this opportunity."

But now that he is finally here, what kind of coach will the 39-year-old Dorrell be? Well, he won't be Bear Bryant -- church clothes and a houndstooth cap aren't part of his sideline attire.

"I'm not a coat-and-tie kind of guy," Dorrell said. "I'm going to wear what the other coaches wear, golf apparel. It won't be anything extraordinary."

And he won't be the next Steve Spurrier, the gunslinging, mudslinging former Florida coach who piled up the points on the field and stirred it up in the papers, or the next Hal Mumme, the former Kentucky coach who never met a fourth-down predicament he didn't think he could conquer.

Dorrell is conservative by nature, both in his close-to-the-vest dealings with the media and his on-field approach. Whereas Spurrier and Mumme thought nothing of going for it on fourth down in their own territory, Dorrell, who is not an advocate of trick plays, will take the more conventional, safer routes.

"Am I the gambling type? Traditionally, no," Dorrell said. "A lot of that will be dictated by how well the team is playing. A fourth-and-one in the first half is not as important as one in the second half. A lot of things come into play with those decisions. But if I have to make a play, I will go for it."

If Dorrell is something of a mystery, he will begin to reveal himself today, when UCLA takes on a 24th-ranked Colorado team that racked up 504 yards -- but also gave up 585 -- in a 42-35 victory over Colorado State last Saturday.

The Buffaloes steamrollered the Bruins last Sept. 24, amassing 325 yards rushing in a 31-17 victory in the Rose Bowl, but they have more of a frequent-flier look this year with sophomore quarterback Joel Klatt, a walk-on who completed 21 of 34 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns in his first college start last weekend.

Klatt, probably the first non-scholarship player -- he won't receive financial aid until January -- to win national player-of-the-week honors, connected with former Cal State Northridge standout D.J. Hackett 10 times for 103 yards and a touchdown, and Derek McCoy four times for 192 yards and two touchdowns, one of them an 82-yard play.

The concern for Bruin fans is that new defensive coordinator Larry Kerr, who spent the last 10 seasons at Colorado State, designed the same gap-control, Tampa Bay Buccaneer-style defense that both Colorado State and UCLA employ.

"There are similarities, but there are also subtle differences," Kerr said, declining to elaborate. "Those are things I don't want Colorado to know. It's just some different thoughts about how to approach the game. We have a real advantage in that regard because we got to see them play."

The biggest defensive difference between UCLA and Colorado State is that the Bruins have superior athletes, especially in the secondary, and shouldn't be as prone to the big play as the Rams were last week. UCLA has more speed at cornerback, with Matt Ware and Matt Clark, and more talent and experience at linebacker and up front than Colorado State.

"I don't like to see any offense throw for that many yards," Ware said. "Obviously, they're going to make some plays. You just don't want to let them get to the house, to go the distance."

On the other hand, UCLA quarterback Matt Moore, who will be making his second college start today, was happy to see Colorado State quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt carve up Colorado for 339 yards passing. It gave him nothing but confidence.

"Any time a team puts up 500 yards against a defense you're playing, it's nice to know," said Moore, who will direct UCLA's new West Coast attack. "With our receiving corps and running backs, I'd like to think it's possible for us too."

Today's game is more than a debut for Dorrell -- it's also a homecoming for the former Colorado offensive coordinator and several staff members.

Folsom Field, Colorado's high-altitude home, will at least be familiar to Dorrell, but his vantage point for today's game -- on the field as a head coach instead of upstairs as an assistant -- will be new.

"I haven't even been on the sideline for the last eight years," Dorrell said. "I've been in the booth, so I don't have any particular style. I'm just going to be me, and I'll react to whatever I need to react to as the game unfolds.... It's something I'll get used to quickly. The bigger deal is, I've got to get used to paying attention to every phase of the game, instead of just offense."

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